Dear Commons Community,
An article published yesteray in the New York Times was sent by Jeff Allred to the Hunter College Listserv. It describes New York City’s newest private school (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 and current CUNY Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Benno C. Schmidt Jr. The article goes on to state:
“[Avenues] 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 São 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.”
The article provides the views of one set of parents:
“Ella Kim, a merchandising consultant for Coach, organizes a kind of salon for moms to discuss everything from neuroscience to technology to bilingualism in child-rearing. Kim, a voracious researcher, invited Ph.D.’s in child development to run the group so that it had a scientific basis and not just anecdotal musings. Petite, with long black hair, Kim is sharp and warm and aware of the hazards of overthinking how to be a good parent. “Our generation of parents, we are self-realized in that we know it’s not just about achievement,” she said. “The end of just achievement is a lot of disappointment. Our kids will find their excellence and their contentment in finding themselves.”
Kim’s husband, Charlie, who was born in Hawaii and raised in Nigeria, talked to the Avenues administration and ACE — Avenues Community Engagement — about what he learned in running his own technology company, Next Jump. When he and his co-founder started the company, while he was still in college, they hired the smartest, most motivated engineers they could find. Ultimately they fired two-thirds of them and mined their data to figure out the common thread of weakness. It was arrogance, he said. The success stories, Kim discovered, all pointed to humility. “Not meekness,” he said, “but a sense of failing fast and using it to grow.” The Kims said they chose Avenues because of the mission statement’s phrase about humility. “How do you build humility as early as possible?” Charlie wondered aloud.
The better question might be: How do you build humility at a school that costs $43,000 a year? Where students are tended to by a 10-person success team and are expected to find a passion — any passion — around which expertise, confidence and college admission may come? As the Kims spoke in their West Village town house, their son, Jackson, emerged in checkered pajamas from playing a “Star Wars” game on a Mac and broke into a number of songs in Mandarin, including “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” His aquarium was buzzing in the background, and his scooters, strollers and bikes filled up the entryway. The Kims may be concerned with ensuring that Jackson is humble, but they are also acutely aware of the advantages that speaking Mandarin will give him. “He will have such a leg up compared to his peers,” Ella said. “He’ll be so marketable coming out of college with that language fluency. There’s enough competition domestically!”
Now if we can only find a way to offer an option for this type of education to all children.