Engineering Smarter Schools

Samantha Brenner ’08, executive director of strategic initiatives and partnerships for the division of instructional and information technology at the New York City Department of Education, talks about her goals for New York City's public schools.

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Samantha Brenner '08

Matthew Septimus

Her Big Apple Impact

With more than 100,000 employees and 1.1 million students in 1,700 schools, the New York City Department of Education is the largest school system in the country. Not surprisingly, the DOE invests tens of millions of dollars a year in technology. Supporting schools’ use of these digital tools is a necessary but daunting challenge—one that makes Samantha Brenner ’08 tick.

As executive director of strategic initiatives and partnerships for the Division of Instructional and Information Technology, Brenner leads a team that helps schools use technology to enhance programming and operations. “We serve as a bridge and translator between the tech and program sides of projects,” she says of her team, which was created in February 2014. For example, when the DOE promoted using Google Apps for Education in schools last fall, many schools had already been using the cloud-based education apps, but Brenner’s team “made it easier and for the first time made central support available,” she explains.

Brenner recently established the Technology Investment Steering Committee, which regularly convenes senior leaders from every division of the DOE to review large-scale technology projects. A future goal is to roll out a map that will show which technologies each NYC school uses to facilitate collaboration across schools, help families select schools for their children, and inspire philanthropic investments.

Her New York Story

Herself a product of the New York City public school system, Brenner first got her feet wet with an internship at a nonprofit charter school management organization, made possible by a Social Enterprise Summer Fellowship from Columbia Business School. Her experience that summer solidified her commitment to improving  support for technology in schools. “It’s a place where a lot can get lost,” she says of IT. “I [help] connect the dots.”

The Benefit of the Big Apple

“I grew up here. My love for New York runs deep and wide,” Brenner says with a laugh. But the major advantage to working in the Big Apple? “I’m plugged into an incredible network of super-smart people,” she says. “Just saying that I work for the New York City Department of Education gets my phone call or e-mail returned. We’re the biggest kid on the playground, and everyone’s interested in connecting with us.”

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