By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Packer Collegiate Institute headmaster Bruce L. Dennis says he was thrilled about last week's large New York Times article that touted the Joralemon Street pre-K through high school as increasingly coveted by Manhattan parents.
“We’re becoming more of a New York City school located in Brooklyn than a Brooklyn school,” the Times quoted Dennis. It reported that this fall roughly 70 percent of the incoming freshman class will come from Manhattan, a figure that caused a buzz on parent chat boards like UrbanBaby.
Packer parents made it “abundantly clear” on a parent survey that a top priority is “to avoid becoming another overly affluent pressure-cooker of a school,” and to maintain a character described as “nice.”
In any event, the kind of exposure provided by the Times might be described as … priceless.
“I’m hearing from people I haven’t heard from for 30 years,” Dennis told the Eagle. “People thought we had a great PR person.”
He said, however, that Packer had not reached out to the Times, but had been approached by Times education reporter Jenny Anderson. “We were happy to speak to her about our school,” he said.
“Brooklyn schools have a terrible inferiority complex,” a school administrator with experience in two of Brooklyn’s five “name” private schools (Saint Ann’s, Packer, Brooklyn Friends, Berkeley Carroll and Poly Prep) told the Eagle.
Aligning with Manhattan schools “is a way to dig out of this inferiority complex,” she said. “The fact that the article is in the Times is itself an indication that they want to throw off the yoke of Brooklyn.”
Is Packer walking a tightrope between two identities?
“A tightrope? It’s always interesting to see the meaning that others make of things,” Dennis remarked. “Sure there are families who covet Packer as their little secret. But others are happy the school is getting broader recognition.”
Packer grouped itself with several Manhattan schools in the parent survey because those are the schools Packer competes with for teachers and students, Dennis said.
“Teachers we talk to look at many Manhattan schools as well, including Dalton, Trinity, Riverdale, Spence. We’re all talking to the same families and kids. Some families who see it in a more limited way are not trying to hire faculty.”
Dennis emphasized that Packer was maintaining its traditional values and said he was proud of the school’s progress.
“The quality of the faculty continues to improve. It’s all been about the program, the teachers, and insuring that the teachers cherish their relationship to the students.” He also said that Packer is committed to diversity — 17 cents of every dollar goes out as financial aid.
“There is no mad race to change our market share,” he said. “Our focus is doing a good job for the kids. We value our close relationships with our families — we’re not a ‘drop off your kids and pick them up 12 years later’ school.”
Is 70 percent correct?
Is it true that 70 percent of the incoming high school class hails from Manhattan?
“Let me clarify that,” Dennis said. “It’s not 70 percent of the whole grade — it’s 70 percent of the newly added ninth-graders. We also have eighth-graders moving up. The net effect, in the total class of ninth-graders, about half are from Manhattan.”
But Dennis doesn’t see why that figure should raise eyebrows. “I don’t see the distinction between Manhattan and Brooklyn families. Brooklyn is changing as a borough,” he said.
“A number of families who came from Manhattan have moved to Brooklyn. I like to believe that Packer is partially responsible for the emergence of Brooklyn — not that we can take all of the credit,” he laughed.
UrbanBaby: Feeding frenzy?
A commentator on the UrbanBaby website concluded: “If Packer was in Manhattan it would be a feeding frenzy.”
“It’s weird that I agree with UrbanBaby,” Dennis said.
If the point of the article was to attract more Manhattan families, it may have already started to work. In response to the query on UrbanBaby, “What private schools would be good for a bright, fun boy who is really into math and building?” one respondent shot back, “Packer! Did you see today’s article in the New York Times?”
Packer was originally the Brooklyn Female Academy, becoming a co-ed institution in 1972. It's been located at 170 Joralemon St. since its founding in 1845.