* World School aims to open in 20 cities, starting in NYC
* Focus on languages, non-Western-centered curriculum
* Educators ask, ‘Do we need yet another private school?’
By Andrew Stern
CHICAGO, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Educational entrepreneur Chris Whittle, who pioneered charter schools and classroom television, is set to open the first of a network of 20 private schools to groom the next generation of global citizens.
“Avenues: The World School,” will open in a soon-to-be renovated warehouse in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood in fall 2012, Whittle told Reuters in an interview. He also plans to open additional campuses in the world’s leading cities — from Mumbai to London, and from Buenos Aires to Chicago.
“We believe, and we think parents believe, that kids in the century ahead need to be very internationally skilled. We will be particularly known for languages,” Whittle said.
Parents can choose between having their toddler taught Mandarin or Spanish starting in nursery school, with another language offered in high school and multilingual fluency the goal. Beginning in late middle school, children will be able to spend semesters at “Avenues” campuses overseas.
But education experts questioned the need for yet another elite private school in New York City.
“New York City has a million of these private schools,” said Jack Wuest of the Alternative Schools Network which helps troubled youths. “Here in Chicago, they’ll be competing with some high-end public schools.”
Whittle said there is room for more schools.
New York City’s private schools receive 20 to 30 applications for each spot, as fewer city dwellers are moving to the suburbs after having children, Whittle said. The city’s population of young children has grown 30 percent the past five years — six times faster than the city’s overall population, he said.
“In the world’s great cities there’s a huge demand for good schools and there hasn’t been a lot of new schools. Opening a new school is not an easy prospect because the real estate requirements are dramatic,” Whittle said.
Of $75 million raised from private equity funds LLR Partners in Philadelphia and Liberty Partners in New York for the first phase of “Avenues,” $4 million is set aside for scholarships for 160 pupils. Tuition will be set at the average of private schools in each city — $35,000 a year in New York.
Ultimately, the school sitting next to High Line Park aims to have 100 students per grade through high school.
The goal is to open campuses first in China and India, followed by Europe and Latin America. Whittle’s list of targeted cities included London, Paris, Moscow, Mumbai, Delhi, Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong.
Whittle and his team, which includes former leaders of three top U.S. prep schools, have visited 17 of the cities.
The necessity of creating a new curriculum was questioned by education expert Barbara Radner of DePaul University in Chicago. She cited the existing International Baccalaureate program used by scores of public and private schools globally.
“It’s coherent, it’s thoughtful, it’s idea-centered. It really exemplifies the best standards that’s out there. Why reinvent the wheel when we’ve already got one in the International Baccalaureate program?” Radner said.
The global curriculum at “Avenues” begins earlier than most such programs and “we’re going to work very hard to let a child discover his passion” to build confidence, Whittle said.
Whittle and “Avenues” partner Benno Schmidt, a former Yale University president, pioneered charter schools when they founded Edison Schools in 1992 and took it public. The company’s stock soared, then dropped, over four years and Whittle took it private again. He is on the board at Edison, which educates 450,000 pupils.
Whittle said there were no plans to take “Avenues” public.
He previously launched “Channel One,” TV news, features and quizzes aired in classrooms which drew criticism as students had better recall of the advertising than the programming. (Reporting by Andrew Stern, editing by Matthew Lewis)