Mark Suster, a venture capitalist who lives in Southern California, is helping his child apply to local middle schools. One of his top choices is a private school called Crossroads, which costs tens of thousands per academic year. His child will have to compete for one of 50 – 100 slots; most openings are given to children of the school's 3,000+ alumni.
Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences is a private, K-12 program that was founded in 1971. With just 1,159 students, it has become one of Santa Monica's most prestigious high schools — so prestigious that it has been profiled in Vanity Fair. It's an artsier alternative to Harvard-Westlake, a local high school that is so academically challenging, it's said to make any college feel easy. Harvard-Westlake alumni include actors Jason Segel, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Tori Spelling.
Crossroads, however, values music, drama, visual arts, film, writing and dance as much as it values typical learnings like math and history. MTV stars Spencer Pratt and Whitney Port have walked through Crossroads' corridors. Better-known Hollywood alumni include Kate Hudson, Jonah Hill, Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow and Zooey Deschanel.
While Crossroads is well-known in the celebrity circuit, it's also starting to gain recognition in the startup world too. The school has produced some of today's top entrepreneurs.
Snapchat CEO and co-founder Evan Spiegel, 23, was a student there just a few years ago. So was Michael Heyward, 26, who founded popular secrecy app, Whisper. Viddy co-founder Chris Ovitz went there too. Whistle, a startup that has raised $6 million to track pet activity and health, was also founded by a Crossroads graduate.
At Crossroads, Spiegel honed the design skills that have helped him build Snapchat into a business worth billions of dollars.
A fellow classmate tells CNET that Spiegel was always "adamant" about his ideas; Crossroads prides itself on helping students gain self-confidence.
One of Spiegels' high school teachers recalls him being critical of the way math was taught at Crossroads. To prove his point, he wrote a paper on the topic and interviewed students about the curriculum. During his reporting, Spiegel softened to the school's teaching philosophy.
"He looked into whether kids were successful learning math that way," the professor told CNET. "It just became this unbelievably good article...It was one of the best articles we had that year, by far."
Spiegel also wrote for the school's paper, Crossfire, and helped it sell ads. His two sisters attended the high school as well.
Spiegel's memories of the school weren't all fond, however. In grade school, Spiegel was the subject of bullying by his Crossroads peers. His father, a well-known lawyer in Los Angeles, formed a group called Dads Council to help diminish bullying at the school.
Crossroads consists of 124 full-time faculty members. It includes typical high school facilities such as a library and a pool, but it is also privileged — the school is currently implementing a $20 million renovation for a new science facility that will be finished in 2015.
Attending Crossroads is expensive. An application costs $150 to submit. Tuition for grades K-5 costs $27,500 per year. Middle school and high school tuition costs $33,500. There's also an additional $2,000 deposit plus a $2,500 new student fee.
Part of the reason Crossroads alumni are successful is the powerful status many of the families have when their children head into the program. Another reason is because of the school's curriculum, which fosters confidence in its students and challenges them to be creative through its "human development program."
“[Crossroads] definitely encoura ged individuality—almost to the point of people being competitive about being so individual,” actress Zooey Deschanel says of the school.
Individuality, and appreciating it, is something Whisper's Michael Heyward learned there too.
"I'm definitely a big fan of Crossroads," Heyward says of his high school. "At the risk of sounding overly cheesy, I think the most important thing I learned from my time there is the importance of being compassionate, patient and tolerant to other people regardless of how different or weird they may seem."
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