WeWork promised an elite New Age education with its schooling spin-off WeGrow, but after the school announced its impending closure parents have found themselves left in the lurch. New York-based private school consultants told the Daily Beast they’ve received dozens of calls from frantic WeGrow parents scrambling to find spots for their children in the city’s byzantine web of exclusive educations.
“Yet another dumb idea for a school is closing,” said Amanda Uhry, founder and CEO of Manhattan Private School Advisors. “And the parents are desperate.”
She said her company has received between 10 and 20 calls from WeGrow parents. The school enrolled roughly 100 students ages 2 to 11 and charged as much as many universities—between $26,000 and $48,000.
“They’re furious,” she added. “They’re kicking themselves for getting involved.”
“WeGrow has stranded a number of parents,” said Max Mets, a partner at New York Private School Consultants. “They’re very concerned, to say the least.”
Mets said his firm has also been receiving calls from WeGrow parents in the past two weeks, and some have worried the school may close sooner than the end of the school year. Neither consultant made their clients available for interviews, citing non-disclosure agreements. Neither WeGrow parents nor the school responded to requests for comment.
“If the parents don’t have a connection or point of entry at another private school, they may need to enroll their students in public school,” Mets said.
WeGrow offered a bevy of seemingly unrelated curricular options—Hebrew, weekly field trips to a Neumann-owned farm, a daily yoga routine dubbed WePractice—in a designer Chelsea facility detailed on the school’s half-finished website.
Run by Rebekah Paltrow Neumann, wife of former WeWork CEO Adam Neumann and cousin of Goop’s Gwyneth Paltrow, WeGrow was designed to be a “conscious entrepreneurial school”—a project she started after turning up her nose at available schooling options for the five Neumann children.
“Making the wife the head of the school? Please! The woman had no experience,” Uhry lamented.
She said parents should have been more cautious in their embrace of WeGrow.
“They’re shocked, but I’m shocked they sent their kids there. You’re making a deal with the devil when you send them to a school like this, a brand new one. You give a school like this five years to see if everything they say is true,” Uhry said.
As WeGrow parents scramble, Adam Neumann, WeWork’s co-founder and former CEO, could walk away from the company with as much as $1.7 billion.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Japanese mega-corporation Softbank—WeWork’s largest investor—will buy nearly $1 billion of Neumann’s shares in the company, furnish him with a $500 million credit line to repay a loan, and pay him a $185 million consulting fee. The deal with the former CEO values the company at $8 billion, an order of magnitude less than the $47 billion valuation the company hovered around in January.
The Softbank takeover comes as WeWork’s low cash reserves hang by a thread; the company was recently forced to delay layoffs because it couldn’t afford severance costs, the Journal reported.
Neumann will also step down from the board. He resigned as CEO in September amid a fiasco of an initial public offering, when Wall Street investors balked at both his management style and the company’s growing losses. His wife resigned from WeWork and WeGrow at the same time.
New schools in New York City, Uhry said, don’t often stay open. The competition is fierce. She compared WeGrow to other high-profile private schools that closed or sold in recent years and left students in similar situations—Mandell, Basis, and AltSchool, to name a few.
The students’ prospects, however magical their WeGrow education, seem grim to the consultants. Private schools in New York City admit most students in kindergarten, sixth grade, and ninth grade, the advisers told The Daily Beast, and few spots are available for first-through-fourth graders changing schools. WeGrow’s close, Mets said, puts students at a “high disadvantage.” Applications are typically due in March, and how much assistance WeGrow will provide with next year’s placements remains unclear.
Sharon Thompson, CEO of the education consultancy Dream Workshop, said WeGrow parents will likely find open slots for their children at schools similar to their old one.
WeGrow’s students were largely children of WeWork employees or on scholarship and Rebekah Neumann told CNN that bringing employees closer to their children was one of the school’s big goals.
“A for-profit school that’s new and not particularly prestigious. Those are the types of places that have space,” she said. “These are parents who went to an experimental school, but what WeGrow offered more than anything else was convenience.”
The parents may be the ones making panicked calls, but it’s students who will suffer the disruption, Uhry said.
“The kids will be the collateral damage when the school closes,” she said. “I’m scared for some of these parents. Who knows where they’ll get in when this is over?”