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As Upper West Side rezoning debate rages, a private school sells itself as an option for angsty parents

In 2016, the Community Education Council in Manhattan's District 3 approved a controversial school rezoning aimed in part at integrating schools.
In 2016, the Community Education Council in Manhattan's District 3 approved a controversial school rezoning aimed in part at integrating schools.
Christina Veiga/Chalkbeat

If timing is everything, the backers of a new private school on the Upper West Side couldn’t have stumbled on a more opportune moment.

The district has been roiled in a school rezoning dispute for more than a year, with some unhappy parents threatening to go elsewhere if their neighborhood school changes.

Starting next fall, families will have a new alternative to consider: Basis Independent Manhattan, a private school that seems to be capitalizing on parents’ angst, is opening on Columbus Avenue.

“School tension on UWS sends parents searching for new options. Meet Basis Independent Manhattan,” the school proclaims in the subject line of a promotional email.

In an interview, Mark Reford, chief of business development for Basis, pointed out that the school would be opening regardless of the current uproar.

“We play no role in the public policy discussion,” he said.

But he did say the rezoning has come up in interviews with parents and admissions counselors.

“This whole process is really making them think about what are the alternatives, and we offer a pretty amazing alternative for these parents,” Reford said.

With campuses in Silicon Valley and Brooklyn, the school promotes itself as a relatively affordable private school. For $29,000 per year, parents can enroll their children in Mandarin and engineering classes — starting in kindergarten.

According to its advertising materials, Basis offers liberal arts and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). The school culture is “joyful.” Younger students benefit from two teachers per classroom in the early grades, and teachers in the upper grades hold PhDs.

Just as the rezoning debate comes to a climax — the city Department of Education is expected to unveil its final rezoning proposal on Wednesday — Basis is holding information sessions ahead of its grand opening.

Reford called it “extraordinarily good timing.”

“There’s a tremendous amount of anxiety on the Upper West Side at the moment with the zoning process,” he said. “This whole process is really making them think about what are the alternatives, and we offer a pretty amazing alternative for these parents.”

The new school hopes to enroll 450 students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

In addition to its private schools, Basis runs 20 charter schools — mostly in Arizona and Texas. They have been rated among the top charter schools in the country, according to Newsweek rankings. But some of its schools in Arizona have also been criticized for having student bodies that aren’t reflective of the local demographics, according to media reports.

Reford said the charter schools “reflect the communities in which they’re placed, and we don’t target any particular group of people.”

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