Yoga, fireplaces, organic food — and failure

Courtney Sale Ross, the very wealthy widow of a Time Warner CEO, put $8 million of her own and her friends’ money into Ross Global Academy, a New York City charter school that promised “an innovative curriculum that would spiral through different historical eras, small class sizes, yoga, Mandarin lessons, an extended day and organic food prepared by a chef,” reports the New York Times. After five years, the city plans to close the K-8 school for low performance. Ross Global lost its appeal last week, though Ross pledges to fight on.

Ross had started a successful private school in East Hampton. She recruited the dean of New York University’s education school for the board of Ross Global.  But the East Village charter, which primarily enrolls black and Hispanic children, went through six principals in five years and lost more than 40 percent of teachers each year. Many parents pulled out their children, often complaining of poor discipline.

Much of the extra funding seems to have gone for decor.

Mrs. Ross and her backers spent $3 million making the school look “like an Ikea showroom, with working gas fireplaces, lounges and daybeds in the hallways,” said Mariama Sanoh, 32, who had three children at the school. But in the classrooms, there was often chaos.

“The middle school was extremely violent,” said Ms. Sanoh, who has since withdrawn her children. “There were students cursing, breaking chairs, out of control, and there was no strong disciplinary action. Children just knew they would be suspended for several days and come back.”

Charles Hosang, 35, withdrew his third-grade son after three years because of a “very bad bullying problem.”

In a 2006 interview, Ross told the New York Times about her desire to provide “a 21st century skill set, interdisciplinary, integrated thinking, and innovative leadership” to city children, educating “the whole child for the whole world.” If she’d hired a competent principal and prioritized spending, it might have worked.

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