NEW YORK - Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said Wednesday his foundation will donate $51-million to create 67 small, academically rigorous public high schools in poor neighborhoods.
"This commitment to high schools is critical," Gates said. "I think it's the kind of thing that's going to keep this country at the forefront."
The grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was announced at Morris High School in the Bronx, which has been made into five small schools with money from an earlier Gates gift.
"The small school really makes learning easier," said 10th-grader Siobhan Pearson, who attends one of the schools.
Schools chancellor Joel Klein, the onetime head of the Justice Department's antitrust division who once launched the case to break up Microsoft, on Wednesday thanked the billionaire for his "monumental commitment."
"We now know that these high schools work," Klein said, saying graduation and college attendance rates have grown dramatically at city schools with revamped curricula.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who took office at the start of 2002, said the donation was the largest education grant the city has received during his administration.
"It's really the beginning of a new era in education," Bloomberg said. "We've had the old era for really too many years."
In an interview on NBC's Today show, Gates said he has faith that New York's schools can be an example for other educational systems in the country.
"The biggest challenge is in the urban schools," he said. "If we can renew the urban school districts a lot of that can affect the overall education system."
The grant is part of a wider plan by the city to boost graduation rates by creating 200 small high schools, replacing large, struggling high schools. The grant will support the creation of 67 of those schools, which will be developed by seven nonprofit groups and will open between 2004 and 2007.