By Caroline Ourso
DOWNTOWN — Whittle School & Studios revealed the vision for its future Brooklyn campus during a private launch event at the Brooklyn Museum on Wednesday evening, dazzling guests with grandiose visions of the future of education against a backdrop of classical European paintings in the museum’s Beaux-Arts Court.
Chris Whittle, the school’s chairman and CEO, treated his guests to a dramatic presentation of his global vision, one that’s already in practice on campuses in Shenzhen, China, and Washington, D.C.
“It’s very hard to be modern without being global,” said Whittle, who is no stranger to private, for-profit education and hopes to open schools for this latest venture across the world in 30 major cities.
For this ambitious undertaking, Whittle has gathered a team of faculty, staff and board members boasting impressive résumés, including Benno Schmidt, former president of Yale University; Nicholas Dirks, former chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley; and Jean Liu, president of rideshare company Didi Chuxing, China’s largest mobile transportation platform.
“Whittle School & Studios is going to be your most significant, innovative and meaningful venture that you’ve ever done,” said Schmidt to Whittle during his introductory speech.
Schmidt, who serves as as co-chair of the Global Advisory Board, is a long-time business partner of Whittle, and the two founded Edison Schools (now EdisonLearning) together in 1992.
“Chris and I built and managed more charter schools than anyone else in the U.S.,” said Schmidt. “We were kind of pioneers of that movement.”
Eric Adams, Brooklyn’s borough president, appeared to throw his weight behind the school, praising Whittle for his scholarship programs during an impassioned speech.
“$14 million in scholarships looking to do what Yale knew for so long,” said Adams, “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.”
A Whittle School & Studios education comes with a hefty price tag pre-scholarships. Campus tuition is $48,000.
“Whittle should have opened their first school in Brooklyn,” said Adams, noting that 47 percent of the borough speaks a language other than English at home, a fitting environment for a globalized education system.
“Galileo said the Sun is the center of the universe — it’s Brooklyn, baby,” joked Adams.
In 2020, the Brooklyn location will be opening Early Learning and Studios programs and will support boarding and older students in future years. The school will accommodate both commuting and boarding students who are admitted to the school system as a whole and are encouraged to travel from one campus to another as part of the school’s focus on “experiential learning.”
“We will create an emphasis on cross-cultural, experiential learning,” said Dr. Larry Weiss, who previously headed the Brooklyn Friends School for nine years and will serve as the executive chairman of the Whittle School’s Brooklyn campus.
Dr. Weiss, who speaks Mandarin, said he is especially excited about the Whittle School’s plans to immerse its students in a dual-language program, providing pre-kindergarten classes with two teachers, one fluent in English and the other fluent in Mandarin.
Out of a total of 180 faculty members, a large percentage of the Whittle School’s teachers hold PhDs, including even an early learning teacher, said Li Jing, who is the global head of enrollment, marketing and communications for the Beijing and New York headquarters.
“I’m personally very confident your children are surrounded by very experienced, very accomplished but also, very importantly, very happy faculty members of the Whittle community,” said Jing, “who believe everything they are doing inside the classroom and outside the classroom are truly making a difference to the world.”
Each campus features a program of study unique to its location, said Jing; the Brooklyn school will provide a journalism program.
The Brooklyn campus, which is set to open along Fulton Mall, will sport 10 floors of varied learning environments, said Ray Bordwell, who is the global head of architecture for Whittle School & Studios.
“If you’re going to have engaged learning, then you need spaces for that to happen,” said Bordwell, noting that multiple studios and makers’ spaces will be available throughout the campus, along with a parent cafe.
Architecture is a point of pride for Whittle, who commented that building design for schools over the years in America has not always been ideal.
“Old-school architecture was really the kissing cousin of a cell block,” said Whittle.
Architect Renzo Piano designed their initial campuses in Washington D.C. and Shenzhen, and formed the organization’s architecture design and philosophy.
Perkins Eastman designed the Brooklyn space and focused around the concept of adaptability, said Bordwell. The lower school will be on the lower floors and the high school on the upper floors, with a common floor in-between.
Each floor will feature 16 ft. ceilings, which Bordwell said enhances students’ learning experience and cognitive ability.
“We are on a mission to educate our students to the ways of global life,” said Ian Thomas, vice-chair and president of Whittle School & Studios.
“We are also working to educate ourselves about Brooklyn, to learn how we can add value to this extraordinary and diverse community.”