BASIS Independent Manhattan opened its doors in 2017 and four years later our growth continues with the expansion to an Upper School campus for our grade 6-12 students. For the first half of this year, Mr. Brandon McNeice (Head of School, Upper) has been busy giving tours, hiring teachers, developing programming, and even selecting desks and chairs. Opening a new campus comes with challenges, but ones that Mr. McNeice is approaching with gratitude and gumption. We dove in from there and asked Mr. McNeice more about his goals, work, and what he envisions for the future.
You are in a unique position of shaping BASIS Independent Manhattan’s Upper School. Not only are you overseeing the construction of a new campus building, but also you’re determining the nonphysical aspects that go along with it like culture and community. What is your approach and how do you plan to accomplish those goals?
This opportunity is beyond exciting and there are a multitude of moving parts, so my guiding force is always the student experience. It is important to prioritize this core vision when making decisions and that is what we’ve been doing, especially in the following areas.
The choices we’ve made in the building's design have all been toward the goal of encouraging and fostering student engagement and empowerment.
- At the core of the building is our glass staircase, around which we’ve placed open student lounge spaces on each floor to foster organic interactions.
- Our new classrooms feature beautiful wood floors, high ceilings, and sound-proofed walls of windows bringing in natural light, to create an environment conducive to both mental health and focused engagement.
At the same time, I’m working closely every day with our Student Affairs and Academic Programs teams, to make sure we have plans in place to most effectively utilize our new space and offer revamped support programs and community bonding activities.
The only way to succeed on all of these fronts is to rely on the expertise, passion, and dedication, of our faculty and staff, which is why I’ve spent the summer personally getting to know each individual member of our team. Not only do we have a talented group of people working incredibly hard, but we have fun together, which translates into an energetic and joyful learning environment for our students.
Why is it important for you to work with middle and high school students?
Overall, I’m fascinated by life’s transitions. In our modern, American experience, the beginning of middle school coincides with all the awkwardness of adolescence during a period of immense potential for growth. I love working with middle school students, supporting them in their development that follows a steep yet rewarding trajectory of academic and social-emotional growth.
From there, high school students are on the precipice of adulthood and our primary purpose is to help prepare them for that transition. In my early career, I worked in college residences as a mentor to freshmen and became very familiar with typical problems that prevent high school students from smoothly transitioning to living on their own. It was actually shortly after that, while working in the college’s admissions department that I first came into contact with BASIS Curriculum Schools when I was blown away by the transcript of a BASIS applicant.
Now in your third year with the BASIS Independent Schools network, how are you bringing your experience to Manhattan’s new Upper School campus?
I had the unique experience at our sister school in Fremont, California, of expanding the Upper and Lower Schools into two campuses with the same grade level splits we have in Manhattan. It was wonderful to see what a dedicated space for older students can do for a school’s culture and I plan to implement similar programming that truly focuses on supporting students at this developmental age and stage.
For example, like many teens moving to distance learning during the pandemic, we saw our students struggling with the sudden strain on their mental health and executive functioning capacity. As the Associate Head of School, I coordinated with Student Affairs and launched a program where I met weekly with each element (or class) to give resources and practical tips on coping strategies, study skills, inclusion, and a wide variety of other topics, many of which were driven by student request. We covered everything from cognitive-behavioral techniques to how to develop a morning routine to start your day for success.
To build on the success of that initiative, the BASIS Independent Manhattan Student Affairs team has been working diligently to expand our social and emotional learning support. Our Upper School students will benefit from having weekly programs that will ensure their growth is not merely academic but also helping them develop into well-balanced young adults.
Our Director of Student Affairs, Ms. Dickens, has coined something of a slogan for our new campus culture, Be Aware. Be Kind. Be Better. We’re already applying those guiding principles internally, and know that with them our students and their families will have a successful and fulfilling academic journey.
If you are interested in learning more about the growing campus and culture at our Upper School, Mr. McNeice will be hosting an information session alongside the Head of School at our Lower Campus (PreK-5), Mr. Han Lee. Learn more »