On September 5, 2017, BASIS Independent Manhattan opened its doors to 150 students for the first day of its inaugural year. For what seemed like an ordinary day to some was years in the making for us. At the helm of the journey has been Jesse Rizzo, Head of School. She, along with her carefully selected faculty and staff, dedicated countless hours to preparing for BASIS Independent Manhattan's opening on the Upper West Side. They've sown the seed of a world quality education unlike anything for years to come!
After the whirlwind of the first day of school, we sat down with Ms. Rizzo to ask her a few questions.
The word that comes to mind is, "complete."
You are planning this day for a year-and-a-half—it’s almost like a wedding. There are so many components, logistics, people, emotions and every detail to consider leading up to it. We’ve been circling September 5 on the calendar for so long, but when the day finally came, it just felt so complete.
Do you have a story from the first day that stands out for you?
Teachers were still going over routines, procedures, and expectations, and the kids were doing a great job of taking it all in. Then at recess, one student approached me and asked, “When are we going to start learning?” I said, “What do you think you are doing right now?” But then he said, “No, I mean, really learning.” These kids are ready and thirsty for knowledge and that’s how it feels when you walk into a classroom here.
The first day of school was more than just that, you were opening a brand new campus. What was your approach in making sure that you, your staff, and students were ready to open the doors and begin your inaugural year on September 5?
My first order of business in opening this school was hiring the right people who were mission-aligned with my vision, that of BASIS Curriculum Schools and what we seek to carry out. Once you have that, much else falls into place. So we aren’t just focusing on preparation for the kids, but on making sure teachers felt supported and cared for, building a really strong community of compassion, kindness, and care for one another. For example, our Kindergarten faculty had the most amount of work to do getting their classrooms completely set up for the start of school. Noticing the needs of the Kindergarten teachers, half of our staff stopped what they were doing, rolled up their sleeves and helped. That’s the team I want and the type of community we want to build here, where we have trust and really strong relationships among the staff members.
I have to highlight the teachers and the work they have done. I always call them unicorns because there is no one like them doing what they do. They were here for two weeks before school for professional development, they were in Arizona for training before that, and in between, I hosted a week-long boot-camp. On top of all of that, teachers were going above and beyond at all times to set up their classrooms, prepare syllabi, make lesson plans and help one another out when they needed support. They are the foundation of the community that we are building here.
You come to this position with expertise and preparation, but what, if anything, surprised you the most along the way?
The kids. They have just blown me away. These kids came in and really showed they have such high expectations of their teachers and their learning. I have been fortunate through this experience to meet all of the incoming families up to a year in advance and got to know every student’s name before he or she came into the building. I know these kids and their families and why they chose BASIS Independent Manhattan. These families and the students themselves have self-advocated in some way to show that they want to come to this school.
Having gone through the entire process of opening BASIS Independent Manhattan, what advice would you go back and give yourself at the beginning of the journey?
Remember why we’re doing this.
Remember your purpose.
Hire myself a cleaning service.
Learn more about BASIS Independent Manhattan by attending one of our upcoming tours or information sessions.