FINANCIAL DISTRICT — The former Claremont Preparatory School has gone through a lot of changes in a very short time.
After being bought by the international for-profit Meritas group of schools last spring, the 491-student private school also got a new name — Léman Manhattan Preparatory School — and a new leader, Drew Alexander, this fall.
Alexander, 59, hopes to bring a sense of stability and a greater international focus to the six-year-old school, which has grown rapidly with campuses at 41 Broad St. and 1 Morris St., but recently struggled with high turnover among its headmasters, teachers and students. Annual tuition is $34,650, though the school offers some scholarships.
Before taking over Léman Manhattan this fall, Alexander most recently directed the Anglo-American School in Moscow, and has previously worked in Cairo, Singapore and Juneau, Alaska.
Alexander and his wife decided to return to the United States to be closer to their three grown children and four grandchildren, all of whom live in Alexander's native Arkansas.
Alexander, who grew up teaching his younger siblings as the middle child of seven, has a bachelor's degree in English and a master's degree in guidance and counseling from Henderson State University in Arkansas, and he received an administration certification from the University of Alaska-Southeast.
He recently sat down with DNAinfo to talk about the changes at Léman Manhattan and his early memories of school.
Q: Why did Claremont change its name to Léman Manhattan?
It reflects the change of ownership from MetSchools to Meritas, which runs the Léman School in Geneva and the Léman International School in Chengdu, China.
Q: What else has changed besides the name?
We're going to personalize instruction, develop international connections and promote critical thinking. Those are things that are all new since the name change. We're not bound by tradition. What do we want this school to look like? The fact that people have chosen this school knowing it's a new school, knowing that we're creating our own traditions, is an exciting part of being part of Léman Manhattan.
Q: And your mascot changed, too?
We were the Wolverines, and we talked about, "Do we want to stay the Wolverines, or do we want to become a different mascot?" That was a discussion throughout the whole age range. So what do you think they chose? The Bulls. And obviously right in front of our Morris Street campus is the "Charging Bull" sculpture. I think it was a wise choice.
Q: When you were growing up, what was your best subject in school?
I loved languages, and I did Spanish, French and Latin. I was a good student, and I really can't say I had a favorite subject. I probably enjoyed the challenges of math more than anything else.
Q: Did you play a sport or an instrument?
I was a trombone player, all the way from elementary school through high school. My brothers were all the athletes, but I was not an athlete. I did try out a couple times, but I never got very far.
Q: Did you ever get in trouble at school?
Back when I was in school, corporal punishment was in, and I always took pride in the fact that I never got a pat. I never got into trouble. I had a brother who was two years older who was always in trouble, always testing the rules and limits, whereas I was always a person who was compliant and enjoyed the parameters.
Q: Looking back, are there any teachers who stood out?
Miss [Elizabeth] Brinkley, my sophomore year biology teacher at Henderson State University. I remember really struggling in that class. I had taken the exams and done the lab reports, and I was making maybe a C. But at the end of the semester, I made an A. Some people would just keep their mouth shut, but I really thought I should tell her she made a mistake. So I went and told her, and Miss Brinkley said, "Drew, what did you make on your final exam?" And I said, "I made an A on it." And she said, "That shows me that you have learned everything that really is important in this course." She taught me that learning is a process.
Q: What was your first teaching job?
It was back at the high school I'd graduated from, West Memphis High School in Arkansas. When I left high school, it was still segregated. You had a few [black] students who chose to come to this white high school. Then when I went back, it was when there had been integration, so it was a total combination.
Q: Where are you and your wife living now that you've moved to New York?
We live in the Gehry building [at 8 Spruce St.]. We wanted a place where we felt like we're in New York. We love the views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Midtown, and I can walk to work. It's small, but you have expansive views.
Q: Up until about a month ago, there were a lot of Occupy Wall Street protests near Léman Manhattan's Broad Street campus. How did that affect the students?
There were a few occasions when there demonstrations in front of the school, [but] there was a minimal impact. There was one time in the afternoon when there was some noise that was coming into the school, but overall it was probably more of a learning experience. We had conversations about: What does this mean? What is the message that's being given?
Q: Looking ahead, where do you see Léman Manhattan in five years?
We want to be known as an institution that has high expectations and very, very positive results for our kids. We will have a large international boarding component [with 25 percent of the students traveling from overseas], and we'll be very unique in New York in terms of that. People will be coming here and living and learning and sharing their culture, their language, their experience with the other students.