View Full Version : All NYC Is Avenues: The World School in Chelsea the Best Education Money Can Buy?

05-06-2013, 12:59 PM
From N.Y. Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/magazine/is-avenues-the-best-education-money-can-buy.html) by Jenny Anderson:

One night last winter, more than 120 parents filed into the black-box theater at Avenues: The World School in Chelsea, to learn about what their kids were eating. Ever since the $85 million for-profit start-up opened its doors in September, food had been a divisive issue. After the first week of classes, a group of parents sent a seven-page e-mail detailing concerns: there were not enough snacks, not enough “worldly” snacks like seaweed, zucchini bread with quinoa flour and bean quesadillas (so long as the beans came from BPA-free tin cans). Unlike other New York City private schools, with their decades of institutional wisdom, Avenues was founded on the premise that its parents were partners in building a new community. So it was ready to hear them out.

In the black-box theater, Avenues’ chief administrative officer helped assure parents that their kids’ diet was sufficiently organic, local and healthful. The regional director of its food-service contractor was on hand to address any fears about carbohydrates. A doctor from Mount Sinai Hospital was ready to answer questions about allergies. A 25-page PowerPoint was presented.

Everything in the black-box theater, like the Sol LeWitt line drawing on the wall, was researched and intentionally chosen, just like all the other details at the school. That was why many of the assembled parents applied in the first place. Avenues, which was founded by the media and education entrepreneur H. Christopher Whittle; Alan Greenberg, a former publisher of Esquire magazine; and the former Yale president Benno C. Schmidt Jr., was designed to be “a new school of thought,” unencumbered by legacy. It hired seasoned teachers and brought in consultants on everything from responsive classroom training to stairwell design. Mandarin or Spanish immersion begins in nursery school; each kindergartner gets an iPad in class. Students will someday have the option of semesters in Săo Paulo, Beijing or any of the 20 other campuses the school plans to inaugurate around the world. The cost for all this: $43,000 a year.

In September, Avenues opened with 740 students, from pre-K to ninth grade. And with those students came 740 sets of parents, many of them determined to design the perfect 21st-century school in their own high-earning, creative-class image. They were entrepreneurs and tech millionaires, talent agents and fashion designers, Katie Holmes, hedge-fund managers and artists who refuse to live above 23rd Street. And they wanted to be heard. The school subsequently formed a parents’ association, but it had no rules. So there was a debate about who got to go to the meetings and who got to vote. Bylaws had to be created, which, in Avenues’ case, meant collecting the rules and regulations of 30 other private schools so as to determine the best way to even make bylaws. “There was nothing in place,” says Jacquie Hemmerdinger, head of the standards and values committee on the Avenues Parents Association, “and they empowered 700 parents.”

A committee was created to manage events, like galas and book fairs and bake sales, even though, as a for-profit school, Avenues couldn’t hold any events that raised money. (Did Avenues even want book fairs, some wondered? That was debated, too.) A task force was formed to investigate the safety of the neighborhood after at least one mother fretted that her child had seen the upper outlines of a homeless man’s backside en route to a playground. The complaint became known as the butt-crack e-mail. Other debates waged over the classrooms (were there enough books?); pickup (it was mayhem); identification cards (the photos were too high-resolution); and the school uniforms (was anyone enforcing the policy?). “I think we underestimated the degree of their energy and creativity,” says Gardner P. Dunnan, the former Dalton headmaster and Avenues’ academic dean and head of the Upper School. “They would take over if they could. They are New York parents.”

Parenting in a pathologically competitive, information-saturated city can make anyone crazy, even those parents lucky enough to be worried about fennel burgers in school lunches. And while Avenues offers its students every imaginable educational benefit — a 9-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, a Harvard-designed “World Course” — it has also tapped into an even deeper, more complicated parental anxiety: the anxiety of wanting their kids to have every advantage, but ensuring that all those advantages don’t turn them into privileged jerks.

As Manhattan, and particularly downtown, is transformed by a staggering infusion of wealth, there is a growing market for creating emotionally intelligent future global leaders who, as a result of their emotional intelligence, have a little humility. In fact, when the nearby Grace Church School was researching whether to start its own high school, it asked top college-admission officers what was lacking in New York City applicants. The answers coalesced around the idea of values, civic engagement, inclusiveness and diversity — in a word, humility.

And so Avenues students may run to their “Empire State of Mind: Thinking About Jay-Z in a New Way” “mini-mester” while passing a Chuck Close self portrait, but they do so with the intent of being “humble about their gifts and generous of spirit,” as the school’s mission statement puts it. “We wanted a school that was innovative and wouldn’t force our kids into any particular mold,” says Sheree Carter-Galvan, an Avenues parent and a general counsel at Yale University. Or, as Ella Kim, mother of a 4-year old, explains, Avenues took the anxiety of a New York parent — albeit of a certain type — “and designed a school around that.”

read more>> (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/05/magazine/is-avenues-the-best-education-money-can-buy.html)