Staff Editorial: Five Years Out From Packer NYT Article – Where Are We Now?
Five years ago, Packer’s most prominent piece of press to date was published. A New York Times profile of our school, titled “As a Private School in Brooklyn Raises Its Profile, Questions of Identity Arise,” gave an overview of Packer as an institution but centered on the ongoing conflict of identity between a friendly, relaxed, Brooklyn-y school and an intense, academically rigorous, Manhattan-y school.
Over the past decade, Packer has undeniably transformed itself. Multiple large scale renovations, the addition of a new building to be implemented in 2018, and the largest class sizes ever have coincided with a steep incline in tuition and a precipitous decline in admit rate — vaulting Packer’s citywide reputation into the rarified air of a handful of elite Manhattan private schools.
The fundamental question posed by the Times article was if our culture was shifting as our name did, and now, the question is even more pertinent as we have yet again raised our profile. Packer is no longer a safety school for the city’s supposedly brightest 13-year-olds, as reflected by the 13% rate of admission. However, while Packer has always prided itself on excellent academics and notable prestige, those have never been its defining factor. Instead, it is that indescribable, Brooklyn quality — the Times called it being “nice,” “intimate, cozy, and warm,” a “personal feel.”
To put it plainly, this issue of identity seems to center around being an elite academic institution while maintaining a caring and unentitled community. And while as of now, we appear to have maintained that community while raising our profile even further, Upper Schoolers may be becoming incrementally more competitive socially and scholastically, and this is a trend that we cannot ignore. One thing that may have tempered this tide may be a reduction in homework due to the new schedule, in which fewer classes per day and more open-ended time in the day allows for increased productivity and less stress. Another aspect that influences our identity, for better or for worse, is the insulation of our community, as a surprising number of incoming freshmen have a preexisting familial connection to Packer.
Furthermore, our school culture is not solely based on how Packer functions — it is also a product of larger societal shifts. One traditional barometer of intensity is how a school handles the college process and where students matriculate. While Packer students have gotten increasingly obsessed with this erudite rat race, we believe this is due to the increasing pressure nationwide as a result of plummeting admit rates across the board and the constantly heightening number of factors students must present when applying to college. According to students, Packer, while well aware of how selective the colleges it send its students our, continues to project the more humane message that “fit” is the priority.
Another exterior aspect that has changed Packer is the simultaneous metamorphosis of our home borough. As Packer has become more Manhattan-y, so has Brooklyn. The Heights and Park Slope are far past affordable, and the citywide tidal wave of development has washed over everything, with gentrification stretching beyond Williamsburg and Dumbo into neighborhoods like Bedstuy and Gowanus. So maybe a perceived shift in Packer’s culture has more to do with a shifting municipal and national landscape than new messages from the administration.
We think that even as Packer continues to raise its profile, we have kept that cherished intangible that makes Packer Packer. Unlike our academic equivalents such as Dalton and Trinity, students here do not roll up to school in Rolls Royces, and have not made nose jobs a female rite of passage. We don’t undercut each other’s successes in school, we don’t judge our merit based on whether Harvard fancies us, and our social status is not identical to our socioeconomic status. We are aware that these are broad generalizations, and our intention in saying this is not to undercut other institutions — we appreciate our community of New York City independent schools, and we value our fellow students everywhere. Packer has students that may have the capacity to be more pretentious had they attended a school with a different culture, but luckily our community has strong core moral values.
What we intend to express with these comparisons is that while we have kept our identity thus far, we may be approaching a crossroads as we teeter on a balance of identity. Right now, we believe that Packer inhabits a very unique place in the realm of education. A place where individuality is valued, where diversity is entrenched in us, where kindness outweighs competitiveness, all in cooperation with a curriculum that constantly challenges us to be our best selves and an academic environment that encourages excellence. Packer is very special — and we hope it stays that way.