As Private School in Brooklyn Raises Its Profile, Questions of Identity Arise
Despite Packer’s stated desire to keep itself more brownstone than classic six, however, it possesses many of the attributes of a high-striving New York City private school.
For the past four years, over 50 percent of the incoming freshman class has come from Manhattan; this fall the figure will reach 70 percent. Packer’s high school “yield” — the percentage of accepted students who matriculate — is about the same as the Trinity School’s (50 percent, though more apply to Trinity, in Manhattan). Applications to the kindergarten have increased by 53 percent since 2006-7, and by 13 percent in the most recent year alone.
If sparkling new science studios add to Packer’s profile, Brooklyn’s gentrification has also played a role, as has Packer’s proximity to Lower Manhattan, where private schools are scarce and demand is great.
When Mr. Dennis arrived at Packer eight years ago, the school raised about $880,000 a year. This year it is on track to raise $2.1 million, a record.
“Bruce has brought a lot of money into the school,” said Joanne Berg Alter, whose two children attended Packer for all 13 years. “I understand that people might not like that some of that money comes from Manhattan. But a school needs money to function.”
Packer was founded in 1845 as the Brooklyn Female Academy. It became the Packer Collegiate Institute after the school burned down in 1853 and a grant from Harriet Putnam Packer was used to rebuild it. In 1972 the school allowed boys to join the ranks.
J. Geoffrey Pierson, who was the head of school immediately before Mr. Dennis, worked to improve its academic profile and entice more students to stay through high school, rather than leave for better-known schools after the eighth grade. When the board selected Mr. Dennis to succeed him, the choice was considered controversial: his background consisted of 35 years in public schools, including a stint as superintendent of schools in Bedford, N.Y.