Harbor School and Léman Prep seek more students

BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER  |  Two local schools with disparate facilities and missions have one thing in common: they’re both on the hunt for more students.

Representatives from the New York Harbor School and Léman Manhattan Preparatory School came before Community Board 1’s Youth & Education Committee on May 8 to discuss expansion goals and plans.

The schools could not be more different. The New York Harbor School, a public high school on Governors Island, is a career and technical education high school that was started in Bushwick, Brooklyn in 2003. The school moved to Governors Island in 2010, where it occupies one building set amid the island’s 172 acres. Léman is a private school, grades nursery to 12, with well-appointed facilities at two Lower Manhattan campuses. For all but the youngest children, tuition at the school is $36,400 a year.

The Harbor School, which now has 425 students, has plans to physically grow and is also entertaining the possibility of doubling in enrollment.

“With 425 students, it’s hard to offer six career and technical education programs and a program for an [Advanced Placement] class,” said Murray Fisher, the school’s co-founder. “You can’t do a real ocean engineering program in a small classroom.”

It is a Title I school, meaning that it serves an economically disadvantaged student body and receives supplementary funding from the federal government. More than 70 percent of its students qualify for free or subsidized lunches.

“Students travel from all over the city to come to us,” said Fisher. “Our entering freshman class has students from 60 zip codes.”

However, while some Harbor School students are from Chinatown and the Lower East Side, only a small fraction of the total student body comes from Lower Manhattan. Fisher said he would like to see more of them.

With the help of the City Council and private donations, the Harbor School recently completed a $4 million capital campaign to create a marine science and technology center in a renovated building on Governors Island. Four of the school’s six core programs will be run out of the center once it is completed in early 2013.

“Once this is built,” Fisher said, “there will be nothing like it in the city in terms of giving New York City public school kids access to the water so that they can learn skills and be trained in fields where there are jobs.”

Though the Harbor School is subject to budget limitations that affect all schools in the city public school system, the school still manages to provide after-school and summer programs for its students with funds it raises on its own.

Unlike the Harbor School, the Léman Manhattan Preparatory School is awash in facilities. Between its 41 Broad St. campus for lower school youngsters and its 1 Morris St. campus for students 5th grade and up, it has two swimming pools, two full-size gyms and a 109-seat theater.

The school, which currently has an enrollment of 500 students, has the space to accommodate up to 1,500 pupils. Léman Manhattan would need more students than it now has in order to be profitable for its investors, Meritas and Sterling Partners.

Last spring, Meritas, an international network of schools, bought what is now Léman Manhattan from Claremont, which had opened in 2005 with 54 students in kindergarten through 5th grade. With four headmasters in six years, Claremont ran into administrative and financial difficulties.

Claremont was a for-profit entity as is Meritas, which is owned by Sterling Partners, a private equity firm with offices in Baltimore, Chicago and Miami.

More than three-quarters of Léman’s current students live in Lower Manhattan. The rest are from Upper Manhattan, Jersey City and parts of Brooklyn.

The school was recently accredited to teach 12th grade, making next year’s 12th graders the first graduating class.

The upper school leases four floors of a landmarked building built by the Cunard steamship line on lower Broadway, but it is only occupying three of them at the moment. The remaining floor is meant to accommodate additional students down the line.

As part of what Gerard Widder, Léman’s managing director, called the school’s “corporate responsibility,” Léman makes its underutilized facilities available to other organizations pro bono. The New York Stock Exchange is in discussions with the school about using Léman’s classrooms this summer for a six-week program for teachers who come to New York City to learn about financial markets. Also beginning this summer, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council will be using the ballroom at 41 Broad St. as rehearsal space for River to River Festival events.

And, starting in September, Harbor School students have tentative plans to take scuba diving lessons in one of Léman’s pools.

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One Response to Harbor School and Léman Prep seek more students

  1. There is a perfectly good pool at Governor's Island which could be used for scuba diving lessons, especially if it were enclosed. Having the Harbor School students go off island to take scuba lessons doesn't seem good use of their time. Many of these kids have long commutes to begin with.

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