Despite the fact that the school will not be opening its doors until September 2012, more than 1,200 families have already applied for early admission to a for-profit private school in Manhattan known as Avenues: The World School. According to the New York Times, acceptance letters to the school will be coming out this week. Yet, many experts are expecting another 5,000 applications to be submitted to the school, which has just 1,320 spots available.
While there is a great deal of excitement surrounding the new school, the site for the building is nothing more than a construction site and the curriculum is still being developed. Furthermore, the school has only hired 8 of the 180 teachers needed for the school. Yet, the school will be commanding a $40,000 annual tuition despite the fact that it has no track record and for-profit primary and secondary schools are relatively new in the United States. Given these facts, many are wondering why this particular school has garnered so much attention.
According to many in the education industry, it is partially due to the fact that the population of children below the age of 5 in Manhattan has grown significantly. Furthermore, there is a large gap between the number of children in Manhattan and the number of seats available in private schools in the area. Of those seats that are available, many are going to siblings of other students or to legacies. As such, parents who are looking for an alternative do not have many options available to them.
“Finding something in our neighborhood that both of our kids connected to, where we could have them in the same school – and one with a highly talented and wonderfully pedigreed senior staff – seemed like a great find,” said Liza Landsman Gold, who has two children who are currently attending two different public schools.
In addition to responding to demand, officials at Avenues also claim the school will be educating children differently than other private schools. As part of a network of 20 campuses throughout the world, the school will focus on bilingual teaching while also teaching the same basic curriculum at all of its schools. As such, if the student’s parents move to another country, the student can enroll in one of the other campuses without missing a beat. Similarly, families will be able to travel while still ensuring their children keep up with their studies.
“Schools need to do a better job preparing children for international lives,” said Chris Whittle, who is the educational entrepreneur who founded Avenues.
While the school seems to have plenty of supporters, there are also those who are skeptical of the school and what it claims to offer. For example, some are concerned about the curriculum and how it will affect college admissions. Others are concerned that money will serve as the primary force behind the decisions made at the for-profit school, while others are not convinced the building will be constructed in time.
“I generally believe in the private sector and for-profit might be better than not-for-profit,” said one father in the New York Times article. “My objections are execution and speed, and the dogmatic certainty they have about both.”
Despite the doubts of some parents, Avenue officials are confident the building will be constructed on time and that things will go smoothly when it opens its doors to more than 1,000 students in 12 different grades.
“Everything is going to go 99 percent right,” said Whittle.
Yet, if history is any indicator, things might not go as smoothly as planned. The last for-profit school to open in downtown Manhattan, Claremont Prep, ran into many problems after opening its doors in 2005. Recently, the school was sold to Meritas, which is a for-profit chain of schools.
“There are things you can’t anticipate until you are in operation,” said Irwin Shlacter, who headed the school for four years. “You can’t plan to perfection.”
Whittle isn’t concerned about the past, however, as he is confident his school has what it takes to deliver. Not only are 35 full-time employees already working on preparing the school for its opening day, but the school has also raised $75 million from two private-equity firms. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what happens after the acceptance letters go out to those who took advantage of the early admissions option, as a $4,250 deposit is due in August. While Whittle seems confident that many of the students will enroll, others feel the large number of application does not represent the true amount of interest in the school.