Chelsea’s New School Goes “Glocal”



Three-year-olds learning Mandarin, middle-school students studying immigration and sharing science fair projects through Skype – Avenues, The World School sees these as essential to its mission of raising global citizens.

But as the new private K-12 school in Chelsea prepares for its August 2012 launch, community members and Avenues staff have continued to discuss how to incorporate the surrounding community into the makeup of curriculum, staff and students at its location facing the High Line Park at 25th Street and Tenth Avenue.

The Avenues team approached Community Board 4 in 2008, said District Manager Robert Benfatto. The board, which oversees the Chelsea neighborhood, asked that the school offer a certain percentage of the financial aid to students in the area to help with the $39,750 annual tuition, an amount that Avenues CEO Chris Whittle said is comparable to other city private schools.

Avenues pledged to put aside $4 million in scholarships for the entire school per year, and to reserve a portion for District 4. They are offering partial and full financial aid packages to at least 10 percent of the projected total of 1,635 students, and hope to increase the amount as their revenue increases.

CB4 also required Avenues to hold job fairs to recruit from the district for the 250-person staff, and contacted community organizations such as Hudson Guild, New York City Housing Authority and Head Start about the opportunities.

“It’s the first school of its kind,” Benfatto said. “I can’t see how it will have anything but a positive impact on the neighborhood.”

The board also discussed traffic flow and the possibility that the school might cause a “hole” in the street – a section of 25th Street, perpendicular to the High Line Park, that would be deserted after school hours.  Avenues responded with plans to keep the street level active by incorporating activities such as art galleries and events.

Interacting with local institutions, museums, New York University and Chelsea-based artists will be part of the curriculum, Whittle said. He called the effort “glocal,” a merging of international education and local resources.

“One of our philosophical goals as we plan the school is to try to use the city as a campus as much as we can,” said Tyler Tingley, co-head of the school and former principal of Phillips Exeter Academy.

Whittle, an educator and author, worked with international educators to create the concept of a world school, discussing everything from how to teach algebra to how to build institutional relationships for high school study abroad programs. He plans for the Chelsea campus to be the first in the 20 campuses envisioned across the world.

“All of the things we do fall under broadly what we call global preparedness,” Whittle said.

Whittle and Benno C. Schmidt, former president of Yale and current chairman of Avenues, also co-founded Edison Schools in 1993, which was criticized for not reaching the academic milestones it promised.  It exists today in the form of Edison Learning, an education management and consultant organization.

Avenues plans to have a total of 108 students in each of its 15 grades, but will begin with students up until ninth grade when it opens next August.

The first round of early notification applications, with a deadline of November 1 for preschool and kindergarten, and December 1 for first through ninth grade, has revealed so far that students will come from all of New York City’s boroughs, New Jersey, Westchester and other nearby areas.

There were many applications for financial aid among the 1200 students who applied in the first cycle, according to the Avenues admissions staff. Whittle expects the regular admission cycle, which started in July 2011, to continue the trend.

While almost one third of the applicants come from families who have lived abroad, Tingley, who is leading the curriculum planning, said the courses should be relevant for all students, regardless of their origins.

“The whole idea of being linked to a community is important, and for us it’s the combination of global and local,” Whittle said.