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Competitors offer tips to Stanton Heights school startup

| Thursday, May 23, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The competitors of the proposed Three Rivers Village School have some advice for the private Stanton Heights startup: If you clear the bureaucratic hurdles, attract enough students to survive.

“If it's done well and the concept is appealing and the approach is appealing, I'd say it has a good chance for success,” said Gary J. Niels, head of school at Winchester Thurston School, a private school with campuses in Shadyside and Allison Park. “The challenge for any startup is credibility. You have no track record, so what do you sell?”

Three Rivers Village hopes to attract students, in part, by being the first democratically run school in Pittsburgh, meaning students and staff members would vote to make decisions regarding finances, rules and hiring.

“They have to know what their goal is and what kind of children they're trying to attract,” said Sherry Wolfe, administrator of the private Kentucky Avenue School in Shadyside, which opened in 2002.

“There are very few alternative schools in the Pittsburgh area, so that's one thing we're happy to be adding to,” said Evan Mallory, a co-founder of Three Rivers Village, who would likely teach math and computer science and perform bookkeeping duties.

He said the school hopes to attract 20 to 30 students in the first year from ages 5 to 18.

The school is scheduled to open Aug. 29. It is accepting applications for admission and offers financial aid.

Admission is $8,000 a year for the first child, $4,500 for the second and $3,500 for each additional child, according to its website.

At least two independent schools in Pittsburgh have closed in the past decade — McEwan in Shadyside and River Valley in Swissvale. Kentucky Avenue School opened the year that McEwan closed and occupies its former space.

Before it can open, Three Rivers Village must obtain a license from the Pennsylvania Department of Education and pass a state inspection.

New private schools must show state officials that they have certified teachers, plan to offer educational subjects defined by the state and have a financial plan.

A state inspector determines if the school meets standards such as adequate classroom size and bathrooms based on the size of the student population.

Kentucky Avenue failed the first state inspection because it did not meet the requirements for space and air circulation, Wolfe said.

It made the corrections and has been in operation ever since.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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