Last week The New York Times published a piece entitled, "The Best School $75 Million Can Buy," detailing Avenues, a new nursery through 12th grade independent school, opening in the fall of 2012. The article questions Avenues' future success as a for-profit business, pointing out that it will carry the same nearly $40,000 per year price tag as the city's top-tier private schools without prestige or a proven academic track record. Further muddying the venture is Avenues' untested ultra-progressive, bi-lingual based curriculum and Herculean goal to establish twenty additional satellite schools across the globe, giving its students the opportunity to study in exotic locations without skipping a beat. Indeed, it all seems rather "pie-in-sky" for an institution without a single semester under its belt, but it won't matter. The school will be a success.
The rich and powerful do not enjoy rejection, yet well-to-do New York City families continue to submit themselves to the always unpleasant, often humbling independent school admission gauntlet in record numbers. Why? Most obviously, they believe it's the only option for their children to both receive high-quality education and a leg-up in the college admission race. Less openly discussed, but perhaps more important, is the connections parents believe their students will make. Similarly, parents hope that private school culture will instill a healthy fear of failure and promote a life-long mission to succeed.
There is no doubt that Avenues' students will make the types of connections its families desire and there will undoubtedly be a culture of high expectations. The "pedigreed" senior staff -- in particular Gardner Dunnan, former head of Dalton, who is the head of the upper school, and also Tyler Tingley from Exeter and Robert Mattoon, formerly at Hotchkiss -- all well known to elite institutions, will be able to make up to a certain degree for the unsure status of Avenues' students. However, at first, only a relative few will be accepted to the Ivy League because admission officers won't really know what an "A student" at Avenues means.
Still, it won't be a deterrent. In fact, no reputation has its advantages. At least ten Manhattan independent schools are widely known as misfit repositories -- places for students either expelled from top-tier schools or hindered by serious learning disabilities. Yet these schools thrive despite preposterously high tuition and a weak economy. With that in mind, an architecturally stunning, forward thinking school with no reputation seems like a wonderful opportunity and it just might be.