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Is Avenues the Best Education Money Can Buy? -

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A committee was created to manage events, like galas and book fairs and bake sales, even though, as a for-profit school, Avenues couldn’t hold any events that raised money. (Did Avenues even want book fairs, some wondered? That was debated, too.) A task force was formed to investigate the safety of the neighborhood after at least one mother fretted that her child had seen the upper outlines of a homeless man’s backside en route to a playground. The complaint became known as the butt-crack e-mail. Other debates waged over the classrooms (were there enough books?); pickup (it was mayhem); identification cards (the photos were too high-resolution); and the school uniforms (was anyone enforcing the policy?). “I think we underestimated the degree of their energy and creativity,” says Gardner P. Dunnan, the former Dalton headmaster and Avenues’ academic dean and head of the Upper School. “They would take over if they could. They are New York parents.”

And then there was the food committee. After the PowerPoint presentation concluded in the black-box theater, the questions started flying: Why so much bread? What was the policy on genetically modified organisms? Why no sushi? Nancy Schulman, the head of Avenues’ Early Learning Center, who was sitting among the parents that night, has a theory about the wealthy parents of young children. Privileged parents want to control everything in their kids’ lives. When the kids go to school, the parents can’t control what happens for eight long hours; hence, food. She dutifully worked with parents to implement many of their ideas, including more education about nutrition, and more snack time.

Parenting in a pathologically competitive, information-saturated city can make anyone crazy, even those parents lucky enough to be worried about fennel burgers in school lunches. And while Avenues offers its students every imaginable educational benefit — a 9-to-1 student-to-teacher ratio, a Harvard-designed “World Course” — it has also tapped into an even deeper, more complicated parental anxiety: the anxiety of wanting their kids to have every advantage, but ensuring that all those advantages don’t turn them into privileged jerks.

The Food Committee?!?! Geez.

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