Palm Beach billionaire Jeff Greene believes there’s a need for a new style of primary school in central Palm Beach County that will teach children the skills necessary to succeed in a global economy.
So he will open his own, The Greene School, in West Palm Beach this fall.
“We want this to be one of the best schools in the world,” Greene said. “We want to offer something different, a more personalized education for high-potential, high-achieving students. I want to create the most amazing academic environment for young kids. We need to prepare them for things that haven’t even been invented yet.”
The Greene School will emphasize STEAM, or science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics. The school also will place a heavy emphasis on dual languages, which Greene said will be taught at a young age to give children an edge in the global economy.
The school will start in the fall with pre-K, kindergarten, first and second grades. Classes will be small, with no more then about 17 children per class.
The Greene School will be housed at a 1.8-acre site Greene owns at 2001 S. Dixie Highway, formerly the CityPlace Mazda dealership. This stretch of highway south of the downtown, between Okeechobee Boulevard to the north and Belvedere Road to the south, is undergoing a renaissance of investment, including the redo of the Carefree Theatre across the street.
Greene’s plans to gut a 20,000-square-foot building that was the site’s car showroom and turn it into classrooms.
Greene is the second Palm Beach billionaire to create his own school. Palm Beach’s Bill Koch did so in 2010 when he created Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches, a private high school at 3151 N. Military Trail in West Palm Beach. The school now is heavily sought after by top students throughout the county.
Greene is a major landowner in West Palm Beach and owns some of the choicest parcels downtown.
But buying and developing property isn’t Greene’s only calling. He’s also dad to three young children, ages 6, 4 and 2.
In creating a new school, Greene acknowledged he’s thinking of his kids: “There’s nothing more important to me than this,” he said.
Therefore, money is no object. “I’m prepared to spend millions,” Greene said.
Greene’s two oldest children now attend Palm Beach Day Academy, which serves children ages 2 through ninth grade. Palm Beach Day has facilities on Flagler Drive in West Palm Beach for young children and on Palm Beach for older students.
Although Greene said Palm Beach Day is a fine school, Greene wants to create a school that will fit the needs of the changing education landscape.
He also believes that the school will be an amenity that will prompt business leaders and their families to want to bring their businesses to West Palm Beach and enroll their children in his school. Doing so will boost the fortunes of the city, which is trying to lure more companies to expand or move downtown.
Experts in everything from science to education are advising Greene on his school. And Greene has an impressive roster of professionals with whom he can consult. In December, Greene hosted Closing the Gap, a forum in Palm Beach that hashed out challenges and ideas for coping with a changing global economy. Speakers included some of the world’s leaders on economics, technology and workforce issues.
Already, Greene has hired a head of school, Nan Wodarz. She previously served as head of school at The Sage School, a school for gifted students in Foxboro, Mass.
Greene said he is now in the process of hiring the finest teachers, or what he called the “Navy SEALs” of the teaching profession.
In addition to classrooms, The Greene School also will feature a soccer field, tennis courts, playground, basketball court and organic garden.
Greene said he thinks he can accommodate up to about the fifth grade at the Dixie Highway site. But, beyond that, he’ll need to move the school to a custom-built property that will house all children up to the eighth grade.
If he needs to build another, bigger school, Greene said he would likely do so downtown, at 815 Fern St., the site of the American Red Cross building he owns.
Although Greene has his eye on meeting the needs of relocating business owners, he said the school will not only be for the wealthy who can afford private tuition, estimated to range from between $28,000 to $32,000 per year. He plans to offer financial aid and scholarships to high-quality students who will create a “challenging dynamic” in the classroom.
Students probably will need educational testing done by kindergarten to establish their ability to meet the fast-paced and creative curriculum. Although testing as gifted on IQ scores isn’t mandatory, children will do best at The Greene School who have the intellectual capacity to absorb and embrace the higher-level teaching that will be offered, Greene said.
Having a great elementary school in West Palm Beach not only will help corporate relocation efforts generally. It also will help fill up an office complex that Greene plans to build at 550 Quadrille Blvd. The twin-tower, 30-story complex will feature offices, hotel and apartments. He is moving quickly to try to get the project going, now that it recently received final city approval.
Like billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, Greene has signed on to The Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy.
But Greene said building a school is part of his philanthropic mission, too: “What could be more of a benefit for our children and our community?”