Brooklyn Heights school throwing off ‘the yoke’ of Brooklyn?
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn Heights has been used as the set of the television show “Gossip Girl,” about Manhattan’s elite Upper East Side private schools. Now Packer has proclaimed — via the New York Times — that the school is aligning itself with Manhattan’s elite, competitive private schools.
In Sunday’s article by Jenny Anderson, Packer headmaster Bruce L. Dennis was quoted as saying, “We’re becoming more of a New York City school located in Brooklyn than a Brooklyn school.” This fall roughly 70 percent of the incoming freshman class will come from Manhattan, Dennis added.
But he also pointed out the tightrope that Packer is walking. Parents made it “abundantly clear” Denis said, that a top priority was “to avoid becoming another overly affluent pressure-cooker of a school,” and to maintain a character described as “nice.”
Some parents commenting on the popular Urban Baby website said that they were shocked at the high percentage of Manhattan kids commuting to Packer. “Every family I know who lives in Brooklyn only applied to Brooklyn privates, aiming for a more low-key ‘Brooklyn’ vibe,” said one. “There always seems to be way too many qualified kids aiming for very limited spots. I had no idea Packer was drawing so many Manhattan families!”
“If Packer was in Manhattan it would be a feeding frenzy,” said another commenter.
“Brooklyn schools have a terrible inferiority complex,” a school administrator with experience in two out of Brooklyn’s five “name” private schools (Saint Ann’s, Packer, Brooklyn Friends, Berkeley Carroll and Poly Prep) told the Brooklyn 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.”
Illustrating the dilemma Packer faces is the fact that some parents at Packer have balked at the group of schools that Packer was comparing itself to in survey materials — mostly “elite Manhattan schools, rather than their Brooklyn peers,” which the Times listed as Saint Ann’s, Brooklyn Friends and Berkeley Carroll.
Headmaster Dennis described Packer as different than its Manhattan competition. “Something special gets forged here; part of it is the school, part of it is the scope and scale. It’s smaller and deeper. It’s special,” he told the Times.
If the point of the article was to attract more Manhattan families, however, 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?"