Princeton’s new boarding school, the Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science (PRISMS), is getting ready for the start of its first semester at the site once occupied by the American Boychoir School on Lambert Drive, off Rosedale Road.
The school has appointed Dr. Glenn W. McGee as Head of School. Mr. McGee retired from as President of the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA), which he had led since 2007.
A veteran educator, with 40 years of service from teaching to school superintendent and Superintendent of Education for the state of Illinois, Mr. McGee is a 1972 graduate of Dartmouth College, where he earned a BA in political science. He gaineed his doctorate in educational administration from the University of Chicago in 1985.
The opportunity to start a new venture from the ground up proved irresistible to Mr. McGee, who is known as “Max” to friends and former students. Eight of his IMSA graduates currently attend Princeton University, including Shawon Jackson, president of Princeton’s undergraduate student government. “When Shawon heard about my coming here, he said he’d be a frequent visitor to the new school.”
IMSA alumnae applauding Mr. McGee’s new appointment include IMSA alumnus Steve Chen, co-founder and chief technology officer of YouTube. “This school is a start up and you’re always talking about entrepreneurship and innovation, so here is your chance to practice what you preach,” Mr. Chen told his IMSA mentor.
IMSA has a record of producing high achievers with a global perspective. Alumnae like Russel Simmons, co-founder and chief technology officer of Yelp Inc. and one of the founding members of PayPal, and Sam Yagan founder of SparkNotes and now CEO of match.com, are supportive of Mr. McGee’s vision.
“The Princeton International School of Mathematics and Science is a opportunity to build a world class school that will be an exemplary model,” says Mr. McGee. “That’s not an opportunity that comes along every day and I have a chance to bring all that I’ve learned about public education to bear on the sort of education that is necessary for the future of our country and indeed for the world as a whole.”
When Mr. McGee talks about the new school, he lights up with enthusiasm. He has big goals for its student body. “Working in partnership with some of the top schools in the world, our sister schools in St. Petersburg, Paris, and Seoul, we can bring the best of American and Chinese education together. That’s something that hasn’t been done before. Uniting the intellectual rigor and academic discipline of China and the innovation, exploration, and groundbreaking research of America will provide incredible opportunities for our students.”
International collaboration is a philosophy that Mr. McGee brings with him from IMSA and is a perfect fit for PRISMS which hopes to collaborate with scientists at neighboring institutions of higher learning such as Princeton University. “We want to give our students an opportunity for authentic applied research. This isn’t going to be an AP factory, we will emphasize research and global studies,” says the new school head.
“Global problems require global collaboration. We won’t be able to do this alone. The best minds from all over the globe will be needed and this school is where I hope they will start.”
At 62, the athletic educator competes regularly in triathlons “It impresses the grandchilden when I come home with a medal but the truth is that in my age group it’s not so unusual,” he laughs.
Mr. McGee’s wife, Jan, is also a prominent leader in secondary education. The couple loves to water and snow ski and are avid dancers. They have been married for 25 years and have three adopted children Joey, Jess and Mike, and four grandchildren.
Jan is currently Executive Director, Urban Education Laboratory at Naperville, Illinois and will join her husband as soon as she wraps up her work there. She has worked for 26 years with school children in high poverty areas, preparing the next generation of teachers and leaders. “Jan is my conscience, my consultant, and my chief policy adviser,” says Mr. McGee.
There’s a lot to sort out before the first month of any school year. Even more so with a brand new school. PRISM has been hiring teachers for the start of term in September when it opens with a pilot program serving 30 students. The faculty is a mix of international and home-grown talent, at least one IMSA alumnus with a PhD in mathematics and the former coach of the Chinese Olympic mathematics team. Besides math and science, there will be faculty in biology and engineering.
The school site was purchased in January by the Bairong Education Foundation (BEF) and will serve 9th through 12th grades and may extend at some future date to include 7th grade.
According to Mr. McGee, the private international coeducational boarding school will have 80 percent residential and 20 percent day students with an even split between international and American students. It will open in the fall of 2014.
The Princeton architectural firm of J. Robert Hillier (a Town Topics shareholder) is working on a master plan, renovating two existing buildings, and designing a new classroom and laboratory building that will contain a multi-use community space.
The renovations and additions on the approximately 17.5 acre tract that was once the private estate of pharmaceutical businessman Gerard Lambert, are necessary to support a greater number of students than attended the American Boychoir School, which had a maximum of around 80 boarders.
As far as future numbers are concerned, Mr. McGee says that the ultimate goal will more likely be for 240 to 250 students rather than the 300 originally reported in the media.
Listening to the Neighbors
Neighbors have questioned the increased numbers of students at the school, some three times as many as attended the American Boychoir School, and some 40 faculty members. Some staff and the majority of students would live on campus. But so far, Mr. McGee is confident that the concerns will be addressed. As soon as he arrived, he sent a note to the neighbors including a photograph of his family, invitating them for coffee. Conversations have led, in some cases, to screens of trees being installed between the adjoining properties. “The neighbors have given us lots of ideas and filled us in on the history of the Lambert Estate,” said Mr. McGee. “Sally Sword, in particular, has been most informative. I’ve learned a lot. My sense is that they appreciate our plan to restore the beauty and create a garden campus.”
To this end Juliana Ka of The Bairong Foundation, which is supporting the school, has been leading the restoration effort. She has already installed a beautiful pond, complete with bridge and colorful koi and begun work on the once-neglected Olmsted Garden and its fountain. So far, says Ms. Ka, the restoration has cost some $2 million. The property originally cost just under $6 million and the Foundation plans on spending a total of $30 million in all.
A grand opening of the school is planned to take place on September 18.