Private schools are popping up around town
Geoff Jones, head of school for Gems World Academy Chicago, which is under construction.
As well-off families move into downtown Chicago, private schools are seeing an opportunity for growth. Six private schools are opening or expanding in the city in the next two years, catering to families who prefer private education or don't want to tackle the highly competitive enrollment process at the top-performing public schools.
One of the new schools is for-profit Another is Bennett Day School, which is backed by venture capitalist and , former chief technology officer for the Obama re-election campaign. It will open in a storefront in the Fulton River neighborhood near Google Inc.'s new headquarters and will feature a “TinkerLab” dedicated to creative problem-solving., which will open an elementary school next year and a high school in 2015 in .
“If you built five more like this, the demand would be there,” says Mr. Tullman, who a decade ago co-founded Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, a Chicago-based private college.
Also on the way: The British School of Chicago, currently in the Clybourn Corridor, plans to expand to the South Loop. Lycee Francais de Chicago, in Lakeview, is building a $32.5 million school on the site of the former Ravenswood Hospital that will open in 2015, increasing enrollment to 800 from 690.
This month, the German International School Chicago purchased the Lakeview building it has rented for five years. The school offers pre-K through fourth grade and plans to grow a grade a year through 12th grade. Also this month, the University of Chicago Lab Schools opened Earl Shapiro Hall for students in nursery school through second grade. The new facility has allowed Lab to increase enrollment by 300. (In a similar development in downtown Evanston, the Beacon Academy Montessori High School will open next fall.)
Keith Shahan, who heads the Independent Schools Association of the Central States, a Chicago-based umbrella organization of private schools, calls the growth “a simple case of economics. Demand is greater than supply.”
Research by the shows that Chicago has fewer independent private (nonparochial) schools than several other cities. Chicago has a school-age population of 614,033 and 16 independent schools.
St. Louis, by comparison, has 64,544 school-age children and 24 independent private schools. San Francisco, with a school-age population of 109,544, has 26 independent schools.
The number of households with children has declined by 3 percent over the past five years in the city as a whole, according to census figures. But a few thousand families have moved into the downtown area in the past decade, and private school officials say that has created intense demand for the limited spots in both private schools and selective-enrollment public schools, such as in Old Town (which is building an annex to accommodate 300 more students).
Ald. Robert Fioretti, whose 2nd Ward encompasses the South and West Loop, says, “There are so many families that they're knocking down the doors to go to St. Mary's,” a Catholic elementary school that opened in the South Loop two years ago. “People are staying because they want to or because they haven't been able to sell their homes to move to the suburbs,” says Mr. Fioretti, who successfully fought to add space for 300 neighborhood students in the new public high school in the South Loop.
Latin School of Chicago, Francis W. Parker and the Lab Schools, the most notable private schools in the city, get far more applicants than they can accommodate. Over the past five years, Latin has received an average of 244 applications for the 45 to 50 spots available for each ninth-grade class, says , head of school at Latin.
“The number says we've got room for competition. It means there are more options for families in the city,” Mr. Dunn says.
Tuition will run from $28,000 for lower grades to $35,000 in high school at Gems World Academy Chicago. It's run by Dubai-based Gems Education Ltd., which has schools worldwide and hopes to make inroads in the U.S. Headed by a former Lab Schools principal, Geoff Jones, the school will feature an International Baccalaureate curriculum that allows families to transfer from one Gems school to another.
Bennett Day School was founded by Cameron Smith, a former executive at private-equity firm CHS Capital LLC in Chicago. The school's early-childhood campus, including pre-K to first grade, will open for the 2014-15 school year. The school will move to a flagship campus in 2015 and add a grade a year up to eighth grade. Tuition will run from $17,748 in the lower grades to $24,205 in the upper grades.
Educators say there's no easy answer as to whether the growth of private schools is good or bad for the public school system.
Barbara Bowman, co-founder of the Erikson Institute, a graduate school focused on child development in Chicago, says private schools cater to a small number of school-age children and are far less of a threat to traditional public schools than charters, which often are cost-free to families. “The issue isn't about private schools but about improving the quality of public schools,” she says.
Mr. Shahan, who worked for 15 years in public schools, sees it both ways. “The easy answer is it's bad because it takes away a higher socioeconomic group,” he says. “But you can also make the argument that it's good to have schools doing things really well. It gives public schools an impetus to do better for their brighter kids and special-needs kids.”
BENNETT DAY SCHOOL TO OPEN FALL OF 2014 IN CHICAGO
Private PK-8 school will bring together veteran educators, tech heavyweights and community and corporate trend leaders to advance creativity, innovation, and lifelong learning in Chicago’s children.
CHICAGO – Bennett Day School, a new kind of PreK-8 grade school in Chicago will open its doors to a first class of students beginning fall of 2014.
An inquiry-based learning community rooted in the Reggio Emilia approach to education, Bennett Day School will encourage cognitive understanding inherent to multiple intelligences, as well as global and social awareness.
"At Bennett Day School, we are committed to advancing creativity, leadership and a love of learning within all our students," said Kate Cicchelli, Principal & Chief Academic Officer. "Our school is a place where children of all ages learn through questioning, exploring and discovering. But perhaps most importantly, Bennett Day School will contextualize their learning within a greater conversation about community and citizenship. Our belief is that, by providing this context, we will empower every student to better understand their place in our world and develop the responsibility and leadership qualities that will stay with them throughout their lives.”
Leading the charge at Bennett Day School is a group of veteran educators and professionals, including Cicchelli, COO Shuchi Sharma, and CEO Cameron Smith, whose diverse professional experience will be tremendous assets in helping the school carry out its mission. Bennett Day School with also be partnering with celebrated creative talent and prominent thought leaders here in Chicago and internationally.
The school’s leadership has also appointed an Advisory Board that includes high-profile community leaders and educators such as Erikson Institute professor Jie-Qi (Jackie) Chen; veteran strategist Cyrus Patel; founder and first principal of Walter Payton College Prep High School Gail Ward; Chairman and previous President and CEO of Tribeca Flashpoint Academy, Howard A. Tullman; and CTO for Obama for President and Threadless Harper Reed.
Following the school’s 2014 start date at its Early Childhood Campus located at 657 West Fulton, Bennett Day School plans to add an additional grade level each year, in their new Flagship Campus. When completed, the middle school program will provide a rigorous academic, arts, and athletic program for all attending students, both new and returning.
Bennett Day School’s application process opened August 12th, 2013. Interested parents and guardians are invited to sign up for information sessions provided on Bennett Day School’s website.
About Bennett Day School
Bennett Day School strives to be a progressive school that provides unparalleled experiences – in our program offering, instructional approaches, and nurturing environment – that will shape our community for a fulfilling, successful, and impactful life. Compelled by curiosity, immersed in complex questions about the world around them, and supported by a diverse faculty and peer population, the Bennett Day School community will ask and seek the answers to those questions that derive from creativity and innovation. Individual and collaborative learning will be central to the work of our school day; students and teachers will be held to the highest standards, not simply in terms of final outcomes, but in the planning and realization of their own learning.