Private school to open

By Elizabeth O’Brien

Lower Manhattan parents and students dreading a public middle school application process that leaves them few local choices will have a new option next year, with the opening of the private Downtown School in September, 2004.

The location for the new, not-for-profit independent school has not been determined, but its founders have a vision of a learning center that will be both a geographic and a philosophical alternative.

Teaching at the school for grades six through 12 will escape “the tyranny of curriculum,” according to Dr. Robert Golden, the school’s founder and executive director and former director of academic affairs at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx.

In addition to instruction in core subjects, the school will provide outside mentors for students and help them pursue their own interests, with the possibility of internships at local businesses for the older students.

“Learning is not simply a matter of acquiring civilizing facts,” said Peter Rojcewicz, a member of the advisory board for Downtown School and the head of the humanities department at the Juilliard School. “It’s more about relating one’s personal aspirations to the social world.”

He and Golden did not offer any specifics about the curriculum at a lightly attended informational meeting on the school last week. Golden estimated that the annual tuition for the school would be about $18,000 and said his goal is to provide 30 percent of the students with partial scholarships.

Golden said that he hopes to finalize a temporary or possibly permanent location for the school within four months. A real estate developer has agreed to help find a permanent place for the school and to contribute substantial funding for its installation, Golden said.

This fall, officials will begin accepting applications for the sixth grade. The school will grow grade by grade, with 35 students beginning in sixth grade in 2004. Admissions will be based on a combination of classroom performance, teacher recommendations and scores on tests administered by the Educational Records Bureau, a testing service for students seeking to enter independent schools, Golden said.

“I love your idea,” said Ellen Offen, educational director of The Park Preschool on Greenwich St., who attended last week’s meeting. Offen said that forward-thinking parents often come to her for advice on middle school admissions, and she said feels badly that she can’t recommend many good local places. “For me to be able to say, ‘I have an option for you,’—I’m looking forward to seeing the smile on their faces.”

Currently, there are no private schools accredited with the New York State Association of Independence Schools located south of Canal St. There are only a small handful of public middle and high schools in Lower Manhattan, and some area parents have expressed frustration that I.S. 89, the middle school on Warren St., is not zoned specifically for neighborhood children.

One notable addition to the roster of Downtown public high schools is Millennium/ Tribeca High School, which is scheduled to move to 75 Broad St. this fall, although sources have expressed doubts that the construction on the former office space will be finished in time.

A draw of Downtown School is that parents and students would not have the stress of applying to high school, organizers said.

For more information on Downtown School, Robert Golden can be contacted by phone at 917-447-3700 or via e-mail at


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