Whittle Opens in DC and Shenzhen

The Whittle School in DC just opened.

Per this, it’s been a challenging journey to get the building ready. Congrats to them for succeeding!

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Enrollment is the next challenge.

More than 180 students from pre-school through 10th grade entered the school in Van Ness as faculty, staff, and parents cheered them on at a welcome ceremony.

I wonder if they’re operating all grade levels, or just opening a few grades for Year One. It seems like the former. 180 kids across 13 grade levels would be about 14 kids per grade.

I wonder if that hit their enrollment targets. My guess is they came in on the low side. But so long as they held to their admission standards – only admitting kids their teachers strongly believe they can succeed with – the 180 kids should serve as a good start. If they “wow” those kids and parents, next year demand will be much stronger.

Often the key challenge for new schools is they admit kids their teachers don’t believe they can serve well, and a couple weeks into the school year, those kids are becoming disruptive. Then there are tense faculty meetings about “What is our school really about?” That’s one reason why AltSchool didn’t get the enrollment it needed.

Meanwhile, according to the Washingtonian, other private schools are “freaking out.”

Whittle is making some members of Washington’s traditional private-school world nervous for other reasons. It has poached faculty and administrators from Sidwell Friends, National Cathedral School, and Georgetown Day School, among others. A bigger concern, at least among some educators and parents, is the impact Whittle could have on the student pool.

Whittle’s base tuition is about $49,000—thousands of dollars higher than Sidwell’s or NCS’s. But it’s offering both merit- and need-based scholarships—unlike Sidwell, GDS, and other elite institutions that allocate financial assistance purely according to need. That means Whittle could end up luring some students who would have been paying full fare at other places.

For the inaugural year, according to Whittle, roughly half of its students—who are drawn from all eight DC wards and as far away as Bulgaria and Ghana—will receive financial aid or merit-based scholarships, including a $20,000-per-student DC Embassy Scholars Program that targets Washington’s diplomatic corps.

The Embassy Scholars program is a business stroke of genius! Get parents who are cash poor but have enormous social capital. It will instantly create the “global” feel for the school, much more than the educators themselves. It will temporarily help fill the school with part-pay parents who will be appealing to future full pay parents who decide to kick the tires.

Right now, Whittle has only 200 students. But if it achieves its goal of expanding to 2,500 within the next five years, “that will have an enormous disruptive effect on the private-school market,” according to one veteran educator. “Nobody’s tried to plant a school this size at a single moment in time.”

Whittle’s ambition includes many schools around the globe.

Upper School students will have the opportunity to study abroad at the Whittle School’s second campus in Shenzhen, China, which also opened this week.

As the Whittle global network grows, opportunities for global rotation will increase with campuses across the United States, Asia, Europe, Latin and South America.

Here is the website for Shenzhen.

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