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 Sanoh, who has since withdrawn her children.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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Comments

  1. The saddest part of this story is of course the students who did not get the education they could have. I agree hiring a well-qualified, and proven, principal would have (hopefully) helped the situation. The bright side of this story is the school is in fact getting shut down. While it would have been great if this didn’t happen in the first place, hopefully educators can take the lessons learned and apply them elsewhere.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    Considering what these kids’ “whole world” is like, she may have succeeded.
    Whose idea was it that discipline should be so mild? I know that certain of the wealthy think perps are misunderstood and vics either deserve it or should get over it, as long as it’s somebody else’s kid.
    But did this Lady Bountiful have the input for this or did they just have bad luck?

  3. I think the best solution is to close the school and that the appeal should be denied. It is a cautionary tale for charter schools – innovative curricula and pretty furniture will never improve education without discipline. I’m all for charter schools and I’m all for the ability to close ones that are ineffective, including after just a couple of years. The same level of scrutiny should exist for all public schools. I know some localities are starting to do this, but it’s not the case where I live.

  4. I doubt that even a better principal would have helped… the school’s fate was sealed once Ms. Ross came up with the idea to create a progressive school to educate the whole child.

  5. Reminds me of Summerhill.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Robert.
    Exactly. I had to read that in college going on fifty years ago. I had the feeling I was chewing on some kind of candy that had gone off a bit.