Streams

Coming Soon to Manhattan: More Preschools

Wednesday, September 07, 2011 - 03:19 PM

Applying to kindergarten in New York is blood sport. It’s no wonder, considering the numbers as reported in this article about sibling preferences.

But New York City parents know the war starts earlier. The lines are not drawn when kids are 4 and contemplating kindergarten, but when they are 2 and thinking about preschool. In many neighborhoods, finding a spot is maddening, time-consuming and just odd. (These are 2-year-olds we are talking about.)

But some relief is on the way. Gabriella Rowe, a veteran preschool head, is opening two new preschools in 2012. One will be in the TriBeCa-Battery Park City area, and the other near Lincoln Square. With Avenues: The World School, Chris Whittle’s new profit-making school being built in Chelsea to open in 2012, these schools will relieve some of the demand pressures.

Ms. Rowe runs the Mandell School, a preschool on the Upper West Side that was founded by her grandfather in 1939. She has run it since 1999, and in 2009 she opened a separate school for kindergarten through eighth grade.

Children graduating from Mandell preschools will be offered early acceptance to the ongoing school if they want it. This will no doubt be a plus to parents who find the whole process of applying to preschool infuriating, since they have to repeat the process — with even worse odds — a couple of years later for kindergarten.

Families can choose to leave Mandell. If they do, the school will provide the services of Robin Aronow, founder of School Search NYC, an independent admissions consultant, to help place them elsewhere.

Ms. Rowe’s reasons for starting the schools are fairly obvious. The city needs more preschools. Mandell is a commercial school, and preschools are highly profitable businesses (high schools, not so much). “There are no preschool alternatives,” she said. “People aren’t starting them. The fashion is elementary school and high school.”

Then there are the numbers. Ms. Rowe is a former investment banker (“recovered,” she likes to say), and she did her due diligence. According to the demographic study she commissioned, based on the latest census data, certain neighborhoods staged staggering growth in the last decade.

For example, from 2000 to 2010, total occupied housing increased by 103 percent in the Battery Park City-Lower Manhattan area. The population of children under 5 in the area that encompasses Manhattan Community District 1 (Battery Park City, TriBeCa, the financial district and Civic Center) increased 42 percent from 2000 to 2010, with 2,272 young children living there in 2010.

Preschool is no bargain (the cost of Mandell’s preschool ranges from $12,400 to $21,750 based on age, schedule and length of day). Many of the families in these neighborhoods are wealthy and work in finance, the study says. In the TriBeCa ZIP code where the school plans to down its roots, the estimated median house/condo was valued at $948,482 and the estimated median household income was $176,394.

But Ms. Rowe said financial aid would be available at all of the schools, to all families — even white middle-class ones. Currently, the K-8 schools awards $2 million to $2.5 million a year in assistance.

Ms. Rowe considered opening another K-12 school, but decided against it. “I think that battle has to take place and be over before I get in,” she said, referring to the spate of profit-making schools arriving in the city over the next two years. Aside from Avenues: The World School in Chelsea, started by Mr. Whittle and the former Yale president Benno Schmidt, there is the World Class Learning Academy and Claremont Preparatory School, which was recently rebranded Leman Manhattan. Meritas, a chain of commercial secondary schools, bought Claremont in April.

If it seems like a crowded field, there are rumors of one more. Before Mr. Whittle started Avenues: The World School, he opened Nations Academy with Sunny Varkey, founder of GEMS International, a chain of commercial private schools. Mr. Varkey was thinking about opening two schools in 2012, said two people who heard of his plans.

A spokesman for Mr. Varkey declined to comment.

Editor's Note: This post was changed to correct the spelling of Robin Aronow's name.

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