The Best School $75 Million Can Buy caught my eye. A new private school is always exciting news for this veteran observer of the private school scene both here at home and abroad. But the opening of a new private for-profit school in an under-served market such as New York City? Wow! That takes guts, tons of money and superb planning and execution of that plan. And you know what? Based on what I read, it's going to be a school funded by experienced business people and run by seasoned education professionals. That's what any private school in the 21st-century needs in order to be successful, solid funding and skilled management.
Now, to that interesting question. "Should you consider sending your child to a new school?" I am not being evasive, but my answer is a simple "It depends". It depends on several things. Let's look at some of the factors which will help you decide.
Does the new school meet your educational requirements?
Does the school offer what you require for your child's education? New York City has a strong demand for places in private schools and a very low inventory of available places. Several Roman Catholic elementary and high schools have been forced to close in recent years. Demand for places is also driven by a robust mix of high-income families with school-age children and demanding parents who want the very best K-12 education for their children money can buy. Perhaps if you live in another city with a similar situation of high demand for private school places and few available seats, a new school will be an option to consider.
These days parents are more aware of the need for a solid preparation for an increasingly competitive world. Language, math, and science skills are a necessity not a luxury. Examine very carefully the proposed curriculum. Ask about the teaching methods the school plans to use. Is developing your child's critical thinking part of the overall emphasis? It should be. Ask about the assessment strategies. Will grades be important? Will you have easy access to teachers to discuss progress and concerns?
Extracurricular activities and sports programs will take time to establish themselves in a new school. Make sure that the outlines of those programs are viable, practical and will benefit your child.
Are you willing to take a chance on a new school?
Are you willing to take a chance on a school which is untested? Probably that's the biggest hurdle which you have to get over. That's where so much rests on the credibility of the principals. It is even more important for you to do your due diligence. Go to the 'recruiting' meetings. Ask questions. Listen carefully to the answers. If your antennae tell you that something is amiss, then go with that gut feeling. You may not know how to run a school. But you have enough experience in a whole lot of other things to determine what you are comfortable with and what you are uncomfortable with.
Should you be convinced by what others say? To the extent that the people with whom you consult are trusted advisors and experts in such matters, I would say "Yes". Personally I would ignore gossip and sensational, speculative stories whether they are in the press or at a social gathering. You need informed opinion. Seek that out.
On the other hand, think of a new school like a condominium project which is still on the drawing boards. The developers are telling you that the condos will be built and will have the amenities described in their prospectus. If the location and the amenities fit your needs, you will probably purchase a unit. Same thing with a new school. Listen to the sales pitch. Read all the fine print. Have your attorney review any documentation BEFORE you sign anything.
Review the school's admissions standards. Where is the bar set? Can anyone get in? What role will the parents play? What are the long term plans for growth? What are the plans to establish a healthy endowment or capital reserve for the new school?
How do you assess a new school?
I have always advocated visiting any school which you have on your shortlist. But how can you do that when there is no school to visit? Obviously you can't. You will have to make your decision on faith and trust in the principals backing the school and the team which has been assembled to run it. There will be no track record to review, no lists of schools which accepted their graduates, no teachers to meet and/or observe, no tours of the campus, and all the other 'normal' things you'd expect to review and see in an established school.
Probably most importantly for me, there will be no culture to experience and savor. Established schools have that certain something which we intuitively call 'culture'. You can feel it when you set foot on campus and enter the buildings. An established school's culture permeates every corner of the community and campus. A school's culture takes years to build as seemingly ordinary things the community decides to do become 'traditions'.
But, having said that, the advantage which a brand new school has is the excitement of its leaders. They have bought into the school's vision. Indeed in most cases, they probably are the vision of what the school can and will be. They are excited about what they plan to accomplish. And accomplish it they will. New ways of doing things, fresh approaches, cutting edge curricula and methods of teaching are at the top of their list.
My own personal feeling is that any new school is worth looking at. I was the vice-principal in a new private high school which Senator Elliston Rahming established in Nassau, the Bahamas back in the 90s. My two sons attended that school. I most certainly didn't have the resources the school in Manhattan mentioned at the beginning of this article has. But I had the enthusiastic support of all the parents who want this school to succeed. Like The World School | Avenues Dr. Rahming and I had set out to do things differently. They still used corporal punishment to discipline students back then in The Bahamas. But not at our school. That was huge. Different. Exciting. Yes, we had a few students test the limits, but our 'new' idea of zero tolerance worked. No other school had a work-study program, much like the Cristo del Rey schools have. We did. New ideas. New approaches. The excitement was palpable.
Sometimes, too, 'new' is not really 'new, is it? Rather, 'new' often means a return to basics. In education circling back and focusing on the core can't hurt. In fact, it will lay the foundation for a lifetime of learning if done properly. Isn't that what you want for your child?
Avenues got through its first year. Rather successfully from what I read too. When you consider that the clients are the most demanding in the world - New York City parents are definitely demanding and then some - I would say that is quite an accomplishment. You can read a review of that first year in Jenny Anderson's article in the New York Times Is This the Best Education Money Can Buy? A new school requires everybody to believe in it. Everybody has to pitch in and make the dream come true. That is not easy to pull off. But when you manage to get through that first year, that is a major accomplishment. Indeed in the eyes of many insiders, I am sure that you might even call that accomplishment a miracle.
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