View Full Version : BK-All As Brooklyn's Packer Collegiate Raises Its Profile, Questions of Identity Arise

05-07-2012, 01:26 PM
From N.Y. Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/07/nyregion/as-packer-collegiate-raises-profile-identity-questions-arise.html) by Jenny Anderson:

The entrance of the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn Heights feels like a well-worn living room, with faded and thinning green carpets, dark wooden benches from a different era and battered backpacks bulging with textbooks strewed about the hallway.

Up the stairs there are three renovated, $500,000 science labs for the upper school and a new one for the lower school. Two more labs for the high school will be completed this summer. There is a sprawling, light-filled art studio, renovated in 2008; an expanded admissions office; and a 10-person information technology department, which includes three people who focus solely on fixing broken laptops.

Think of Packer as having two personalities: intimate, cozy and warm, with its Brooklyn roots, and ever-expanding and state-of-the-art, with facilities that reflect increasing competition among private schools, including those in Brooklyn.

“We’re becoming more of a New York City school located in Brooklyn than a Brooklyn school,” said Bruce L. Dennis, Packer’s head of school.

Increasing demand for private school seats, combined with millions of dollars of program upgrades, has raised Packer’s profile, and in the process made it competitive with some of the city’s best-known private schools. But it has also forced it to wrestle with the question of what kind of school it wants to be, and how to preserve the intangible selling point often referred to as “identity.”

In a 2010 survey, parents made it abundantly clear, Mr. Dennis said, that a top priority was to avoid becoming another overly affluent pressure-cooker of a school, and to maintain a character that parents, students and administrators describe — often apologizing for the overuse of the word — as “nice.”

Some parents even balked at the group of schools that Packer, which charged $31,555 tuition this year, was comparing itself to in survey materials — mostly elite Manhattan schools, rather than the smaller group of their Brooklyn peers, which includes Saint Ann’s, Brooklyn Friends and Berkeley Carroll.

Despite Packer’s stated desire to keep itself more brownstone than classic six, however, it possesses many of the attributes of a high-striving New York City private school.

For the past four years, over 50 percent of the incoming freshman class has come from Manhattan; this fall the figure will reach 70 percent. Packer’s high school “yield” — the percentage of accepted students who matriculate — is about the same as the Trinity School’s (50 percent, though more apply to Trinity, in Manhattan). Applications to the kindergarten have increased by 53 percent since 2006-7, and by 13 percent in the most recent year alone.

If sparkling new science studios add to Packer’s profile, Brooklyn’s gentrification has also played a role, as has Packer’s proximity to Lower Manhattan, where private schools are scarce and demand is great.

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