International is all the rage in private, profit-making schools in New York these days.
There is Avenues: The World School, Chris Whittle’s latest education undertaking, which is to open in 2012. There is the World Class Learning Academy, the British school chain outpost that could not call itself the British School because that is too similar to the name of another new commercial school called the British International School.
Now Claremont Preparatory School is going global. The downtown profit-making school, founded in 2005 and sold in April to Meritas, a global chain of commercial schools, is renaming itself Léman Manhattan Preparatory School. While New Yorkers may immediately reference Lehman Brothers, the once swaggering investment bank that blew up with spectacular repercussions in 2008, the name comes from Collège du Léman, a selective Swiss boarding school that is part of the Meritas family of schools.
“We are global citizens,” said Drew Alexander, the new head of Léman Manhattan, explaining the mad rush to build “internationally” branded schools. He knows of what he speaks: Before taking on Claremont, he worked at or ran international schools in Cairo, Singapore and Moscow. “We’re responsible internationally as well as locally,” he said.
Claremont had a rocky first few years. Turnover was high, and the school struggled to enroll students. Built for 1,500 students, only 484 children will attend prekindergarten through 11th grade this fall. Mr. Alexander said the school would grow “thoughtfully.”
Claremont did not have an international bent until its previous owner, Michael Koffler, explained in 2010 that the school was heading in a new direction. The following spring, under mounting losses, he sold Claremont to Meritas. Mr. Alexander is pushing for an International Baccalaureate curriculum for the high school and hopes to expand the language offerings, he said.
The decision to rename the school came after meetings with families (they liked the name) and market research (which did not). Nursery school directors, who send their students onto “ongoing” schools like Claremont, voted for rebranding, he said.
Collège du Léman was the obvious choice as it is the heavyweight in the Meritas stable of 10 international schools, which includes a school in China, one in Mexico, the Collège du Léman in Switzerland and seven in the United States.
Was there an “Avenues effect” on the sudden decision to rebrand? After all, Mr. Whittle has taken Manhattan by storm with a few high-profile hires, high-priced marketing and an aggressive early admissions process.
“We truly believe Avenues is seeing the right stuff,” Mr. Alexander said, arguing that more educational options for families are best for everyone. “But what our school offers is reality. We’re backed by an international system of schools, and Avenues wants to put that in place,” he said. (Avenues plans to build 20 campuses around the world, starting in 2014.)
Mr. Alexander, whose children were educated in international schools around the world, said the “international” concept was not a catch phrase or a fad. “It’s about being open-minded and respectful and really valuing diversity,” he said.
He recalled being at the helm of the international school in Cairo during the intifada and then the 9/11 attacks. His students included Israelis, Palestinians, Muslims and Americans, and he said it was his job to create a safe place for them to talk about what was happening. “It was about humans, not about politics,” he said. The exchange of ideas in a safe place: “That’s what an international school is all about.”