New UWS Middle School for Gifted and Talented Students to Open Next Fall

By Emily Frost on September 17, 2012 11:51am 

UPPER WEST SIDE — The Upper West Side's Speyer Legacy School will open a new middle school for gifted and talented students next year and move the entire school to a bigger space, a school representative said.

The independent elementary school at 86th Street and Columbus Avenue will stay in the same neighborhood, the spokesman said.

"The dearth of gifted and talented spaces in the city is particularly stressful for parents of middle school students," said Paul Deards, director of the new upper school.

In 2010, 14,000 New York City students tested as gifted and talented, but there were only 300 spots available city-wide, he said. 

The new school, at a yet undisclosed 80,000-square foot landmarked building south of its current home, will make room for an inaugural sixth grade class of 20 to 22 students. The school will also add another fourth grade class and a fifth grade class, both with 16 to 18 students. 

The school, which has two classes per grade and charges $31,000 in annual tuition, focuses on social justice and building character and tries to discourage an obsession with perfection that often comes along with academic success, said Deards. 

Open houses are scheduled throughout the fall and admissions interviews are starting now, said Connie Williams Coulianos, the head of school. 

"Some families have said 'we wish we had known about you in kindergarten' — this is a wonderful opportunity for those families to join us," she said. 

After leading the Hollingworth Preschool at Columbia's Teachers College for many years, Coulianos said she finally heeded the call of parents who wanted to continue their children's education in her style of an intellectually advanced curriculum with an emphasis on creative thinking. Coulianos opened Speyer Legacy in 2009 with her colleague, Dr. Esther Kogan and several founding families. 

"Sometimes smart kids are viewed as high maintenance," Coulianos said. And at both private and public schools, "very bright children will slide through [the curriculum] or become disenfranchised.

"There's a great danger that they won't risk anything and that they won't know what it means to work," Coulianos said. 

Each classroom at Speyer Legacy is led by two teachers who are each trained in teaching advanced students.

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