Downtown Brooklyn Macy’s site of third campus for global private school

There's new competition for Brooklyn Friends, Saint Ann’s and Packer Collegiate.

November 8, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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A high-end, for-profit private school is headed to Downtown Brooklyn.

Whittle School and Studios, an educational organization with facilities so far in D.C. and China, has its sights set on the old Macy’s Building at 181 Livingston St.

When it opens in 2020, the private institution will be the third in a global network of independent K-12 schools headed by entrepreneur Chris Whittle. By 2026, its founder hopes the Brooklyn campus will be one of 36 across the globe.

It will take up 10 stories of a new development above the historic Macy’s building, heads of the school unveiled Wednesday at a launch party at the Brooklyn Museum.

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“Our vision for modernizing education is anchored in science, innovation, experience and appreciation of new global challenges and opportunities,” Whittle said in a statement to the Brooklyn Eagle, adding that the campus will be under the stewardship of local education bigwig Dr. Larry Weiss, who previously headed Brooklyn Friends and St. Ann’s in Brooklyn Heights for nine and six years, respectively.

Whittle, who also co-founded the private Avenues School in Chelsea, has said he wants to reinvent private education from the ground up by creating the world’s first “global school.”

“For us, a key part of modernizing education is re-thinking the physical design of the traditional school. We are passionate about design and its potential to transform and enhance the educational experience,” he told the Eagle, noting that the Livingston Street development “is an amazing space with so much potential. It serves as a great blank canvas from which we will build a vibrant and diverse school community.”

Officials say the 621,500-square-foot site will be a “modern campus,” including classrooms, boarding facilities, a gym, theater accelerator labs and spaces for sports, robotics and other programs. Its glassy design will echo the look and feel of the flagship Whittle schools in Shenzhen and Washington, D.C., complete with large, light-filled rooms with 16-foot ceilings and an ample amount of open space.

“As in Shenzhen and Washington, D.C., before it, a big part of establishing Brooklyn campus will be working with the local community,” Whittle said. “It is our aim that each campus reflect and work to enhance the surrounds, interests and needs of the local community in which it is located. We look forward to partnering with local organizations to help enhance our student’s experience in and beyond the classroom.”

Weiss, who speaks Mandarin, expressed excitement Wednesday about the school’s dual-language program. The program, he said, will provide pre-K classes with two teachers — one fluent in English and the other fluent in Mandarin.

“We will create an emphasis on cross-cultural, experiential learning,” Weiss said.

Ray Bordwell, the architect of the coming Brooklyn Whittle School and Studios, speaks at a launch party. Eagle photo by Caroline Ourso

Officials say the Brooklyn campus will cost about the same as other “top-tier” private schools. The cost of tuition at the Whittle School in D.C. is nearly $5,000 more expensive than at a nearby private school, according to the Washington Post.

Whittle’s Avenues school in Chelsea goes for roughly $56,000 a year, according to Business Insider. The current starting prices on the school’s website are $42,000 for pre-K through kindergarten and $49,000 for grades one through 12.

But, Borough President Eric Adams, who also attended the Brooklyn Museum launch, praised the institution for its scholarship programs.

$14 million in scholarships looking to do what Yale knew for so long — that we should not deny people based on their economic status, but open the opportunities based on the ability to comprehend the information, to be a contributor to this great country we call America,” he said.

“Whittle should have opened their first school in Brooklyn,” Adams went on, noting that 47 percent of the borough speaks a language other than English at home, a fitting environment for a globalized education system.

Whittle’s initial campuses are designed by architect Renzo Piano, who officials said Wednesday formed the organization’s architecture and design philosophy. The forthcoming Brooklyn space, designed by Perkins Eastman, embraces the concept of adaptability.

That theme appears to expand beyond the building’s architecture.

“We are on a mission to educate our students to the ways of global life,” Ian Thomas, vice-chair and president of Whittle School and Studios said Wednesday. “We are also working to educate ourselves about Brooklyn; to learn how we can add value to this extraordinary and diverse community.”

With additional reporting by Caroline Ourso.

Correction (Nov. 9): A previous version of this article mistakenly reported the Brooklyn campus was designed by Renzo Piano. It was designed by Perkins Eastman. 

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  1. If the twentieth century was the American century, the twenty first will surely be the Chinese. In China English is taught in grade school. While I applaud the teaching of Mandarin, it’s unnecessary imo.