Like many successful Greenwich businesses, Greenwich Education Group was founded by a hardworking pioneer in her industry. Vicky Newman started Greenwich Education Group in 2005 after teaching in public schools for ten years and being a cross-cultural consultant while she lived in Singapore with her husband.
A former Parkway School teacher who also taught in the Stamford Public Schools, Newman was determined to branch out on her own, and the process was initially daunting. Beginning with renting space in what she described as a “one-room school house” on Livingston Place in Byram, a stone’s throw from car dealership row, the endeavor was a leap of faith.
“We rented a quarter of the second floor,” Newman recalled of the small office space that came with a $700-a-month rent bill.
At first Newman offered tutoring services in both elementary and middle school subjects. Her first students are now in college. “The first tutor I hired was a North Mianus School teacher working on weekends and afternoons,” Newman recalled. The business quickly outgrew the space and its limited parking. Greenwich Education Group next moved into a space over the St. Lawrence Club in Cos Cob.
As the tutoring business continued to expand and the space over the St. Lawrence Club seemed to shrink, Newman got an urgent call from a family in crisis. Their child was not succeeding in school and they needed help. “This was during Christmas break in 2006,” Newman recalled. “I met with them on New Year’s Day and they became our first home-schooling client.” The home-schooling program, a logical extension of Newman’s after-school programs, brought day students into GEG’s learning center to take 1:1 classes with inspiring teachers for a completely individualized learning experience.
Bursting at the seams, Greenwich Education Group next moved to rented space at the Greenwich Water Club, where both after-school and home-school enrollment continued to grow under Newman’s guidance. “We worked with a top tennis player, a lot of crew kids, and the male lead in the musical Cirque Du Soleil. These were students who were talented and passionate and needed flexible schedules,” Newman said, adding that this was around the time she hired Meredith Hafer, who would become the Head of Beacon School.
As Newman expanded the educational services offered, a theme began to take shape. GEG provided flexibility, caring, individualized attention to a variety of students with learning differences. To better meet the needs of the families she served, Newman brought leading experts in learning differences on to her team, planting the seeds that would eventually grow into GEG’s Collaborative Center for Learning and Development. She also began to take on a more active role as an educational consultant for day and boarding school placement and founded a college consulting division with top professionals. The ranks of the home-schooling program continued to swell, and in 2009, the Beacon School was founded with ten students. Outgrowing its space at the Water Club, GEG rented additional space over the row of stores at 399 East Putnam Ave in Cos Cob, and ultimately, after one last move, landed in its current locations: on Riverside Ave. behind St. Catherine’s Church; Commerce Road in Stamford; and Harvard Avenue in Stamford.
Along the way, Beacon School, which obtained NEASC accreditation, grew from 10 to 38 students in grades 3-12, including students who are truly gifted. Beacon allows intellectually curious students to be a driving force in their educational discussions, allowing them to play an active role in designing their own curriculum enabling them to take courses about which they are truly passionate.
“Kids with a wide variety of needs were applying to Beacon, including those on the Asperger’s spectrum and others with anxiety and depression,” Newman recalled. “Eventually we realized Beacon couldn’t be right for all of these kids. In particular, it wasn’t the best fit for kids on the Autism spectrum, kids with school avoidance, or kids suffering from depression. We were having to turn down kids.”
The Spire School was formed to accommodate adolescents struggling with anxiety, depression, and emotional challenges. “We teach them to know themselves and embrace life’s challenges,” Newman said. The Spire School, NEASC accredited, supports students in grades 6-12 with an emphasis on health and wellness. They develop effective coping skills at Spire, supported through exercise, nutrition and academic empowerment.
And still, not all students’ needs could be met. Pinnacle School was the next logical venture for GEG. “Pinnacle is for kids on the spectrum with average to above average IQs who need the ‘the social piece’,” Newman said, adding that students at Pinnacle have the opportunity to explore their interests in an enriched academic setting guided by the tenets of gifted education while still receiving the supportive services they need to thrive. At Pinnacle, children in grades 3 – 12 diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Asperger’s Syndrome, Non-Verbal Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder can reach their full potential.
Like the Spire School, Pinnacle is approved by the State of Connecticut as a private special education program, which means that both schools accept appropriate public school district placements.
As for the original 1:1 home-school program that Newman founded, it too has expanded since 2006, taking on the name of Links Academy. For students who seek a short-term or long-term NEASC-accredited academic program, Links offers an alternative or complement to traditional schools, designing completely individualized schedules with 1:1 instruction. “What we have going for us is we can take kids from boarding schools, private day schools, and public schools who have not been able to finish out the year,” Newman said of Links. There are a variety of scenarios for which Links is the answer. “A student might have Lyme disease or a concussion, for example, or a kid might need more personalized attention in a particular subject that their current school could not offer. Sometimes a student will use the summer to take a challenging course and get it out of the way.” Newman offered. Students at Links can also take advantage of an extensive array of supportive services through the Collaborative Center for Learning and Development (TCC).
Newman, who is charged with energy, attributes her success not to herself but to her “rock star heads of school, directors, and staff members” including Meredith Hafer at Beacon, Dr. Alisa Dror at Pinnacle, Dr. Tammy Moscrip at Spire, and Nancy Grejtak and Diane Ferber, Co-Heads of the Collaborative Center. “Their bios are incredible. I am so lucky to be surrounded and supported by the best and the brightest staff in the field of education today. Their passion and dedication to the students and families we serve is unique. To wake up every day knowing that I do what I love and love what I do is awesome!”
This week, Newman is busy planning for the ribbon cutting at Beacon’s new campus, located in the historic Hubbard Mansion at 111 West North Street in Stamford.
Links Academy offers home instruction as well as classes taught at 44 Commerce Road in Stamford and 6 Riverside Avenue in Greenwich.
Email news tips to Greenwich Free Press editor Leslie.Yager@GreenwichFreePress.com
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