Scene Last Night: Liam Neeson, Peter Rockefeller, Oysters

Museum of the City of New York
Liam Neeson at the Museum of the City of New York Winter Ball. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Last night Liam Neeson attended the Museum of the City of New York’s Winter Ball at the Plaza, with guests including Peter Rockefeller, managing director at Berkshire Capital Corp. and the grandson of Nelson Rockefeller, former New York governor and U.S. vice president.

The event drew 500 guests and raised $250,000.

A saltier crowd had gathered at the New York Yacht Club for a fundraiser for the Urban Assembly New York Harbor School, including Brian McAllister, president of McAllister Towing & Transportation Co., a tugboat company his family founded in 1864.

McAllister has hired several graduates of the school and has high hopes for them.

“Someday they’ll own yachts like these,” he said, pointing to the models on display at the New York Yacht Club.

The public high school on Governors Island puts students on the water as part of a curriculum heavy on marine science. They even grow oysters.

“There’s no way to get around it, it’s expensive,” said Murray Fisher, co-founder of the school and president of the New York Harbor Foundation, which supports the school by raising $1 million annually.

Harlem Prep

Earlier in the week, Harlem Prep Charter School set out to raise its first $1 million, hosting a reception in the party space of Rouge Tomate.

The school opened six months ago with 270 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, but it’s not exactly new.

A year ago, the school was called Harlem Day Charter School, and it was failing. Then new management came in, Democracy Prep Public Schools, and a turnaround was born. The students and location -- in the public housing development Taino Towers -- stayed the same. Pretty much everything else changed.

Douglas Snyder, the chairman of the board of Harlem Prep, and the chief operating officer of Longbow Capital Partners LP, outlined some of these changes to a crowd from firms such as Apollo Global Management LLC, Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Two Sigma Investments LLC, and Chilton Investment Co.

Twenty new teachers are at the helm, leading longer class days with concentrated instruction in reading and math, no recess. Every teacher has a BlackBerry and a laptop to easily communicate with parents. Classrooms are named after colleges the teachers attended (Cornell, Brown, Harvard, Northwestern, for example) to emphasize the school’s motto: “Work hard. Go to college. Change the world!”

And perhaps most impressive is the focus on learning. The time it takes to hand out a paper in class has been reduced to 22 seconds from 4 to 5 minutes.

“If you multiply those 4 to 5 minutes that were being wasted, 10 times a day, that’s almost an hour a day that was wasted on handing out papers instead of learning,” Snyder said.

Proof Point

He’d like Harlem Prep to become one of the highest-performing schools in the city.

“It’s important we do so, because it’s a national proof point that high-performing charter networks can take care of lower-performing charter networks,” he said. “In the maturation of any industry, it makes sense that those who do things well, the winners in whatever line of business you’re in, will take over the others and make them better.”

He’d like a hedge-fund or private-equity firm to adopt the school.

“It would make sense for a company that does turnaround efforts,” Snyder said. “It’s a natural pairing.”

(Amanda Gordon is a writer and photographer for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are her own.)

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