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New for-profit Mandarin immersion in New York City: $38,000 a year

July 9, 2011

Update 7-12-2011: According to a press release from the school, they now have over 1,200 applications for early admission. I’d be very curious to know who’s putting together their Mandarin program and where they taught before. There can’t be too many candidates out there with the necessary experience, given how new most Mandarin immersion programs are. Anybody know?

-Beth

The Best School $75 Million Can Buy

The New York Times

By JENNY ANDERSON

Published: July 8, 2011

How do you sell a school that doesn’t exist?

If you are Chris Whittle, an educational entrepreneur, you gather well-to-do parents at places like the Harvard Club or the Crosby Hotel in Manhattan, hoping the feeling of accomplishment will rub off. Then you pour wine and offer salmon sandwiches and wow the audience with pictures of the stunning new private school you plan to build in Chelsea. Focus on the bilingual curriculum and the collaborative approach to learning. And take swipes at established competitors that you believe are overly focused on sending students to top-tier colleges. Invoke some Tiger-mom fear by pointing out that 200,000 Americans are learning Chinese, while 300 million Chinese have studied English.

Then watch them come.

As of June 15, more than 1,200 families had applied for early admission to Avenues: The World School, a for-profit private school co-founded by Mr. Whittle that will not open its doors until September 2012. Acceptance letters go out this week. Gardner P. Dunnan, the former head of the Dalton School and academic dean and head of the upper school at Avenues, said he expected 5,000 applicants for the 1,320 spots available from nursery through ninth grade. “You have to see the enthusiasm,” Mr. Whittle crowed.

And this for a school whose building remains a construction site, where the curriculum is still being designed and only 8 of 180 teachers have been hired.

The for-profit model for primary and secondary schools, while popular abroad, is relatively untested in the United States. And while tuition at Avenues will cost about the same as Horace Mann’s or Collegiate’s in 2012 — almost $40,000 annually — the new school has no track record.

The same cannot be said of Mr. Whittle, whose last venture, Edison Schools, did not revolutionize public education as he had envisioned or make the money he had thought he could.

None of that may matter, thanks to the brute reality of the Manhattan private-school admissions race: There is a serious supply-demand imbalance between school seats and children, especially downtown. The population of children under age 5 in Manhattan has risen 32 percent in five years, while the number of seats at top independent schools has inched up by 400 in the past decade, Mr. Whittle said. And, he said, those spots are going to siblings and legacies.

But Avenues is not just about offering new private-school seats. It also proposes to educate children differently. The world has changed, Team Avenues says, and the way private schools educate has not.

The founders say students at Avenues will learn bilingually, immersed in classrooms where half of the instruction will be in Spanish or Mandarin, the other half in English, from nursery school through fourth grade. The school will be part of a network of 20 campuses around the world with roughly the same curriculum. If Mom and Dad move to London, little Mateo doesn’t have to find a new school, or maybe even miss any class. When Sophia is in middle school, she can spend her summers in Shanghai, and when she’s in high school, she can globe-trot by semester. Avenues will foster “mastery,” finding students’ passions early and building on them.

“Schools need to do a better job preparing children for international lives,” Mr. Whittle said. He and his team call themselves “fervent evolutionaries,” purposefully shying away from the r-word since, as they (now) acknowledge, most parents aren’t too keen to mix “revolution” and “my children.”

Read more here.

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