January 8, 2011- Billionaire energy magnate Bill Koch isn't satisfied with the quality of high schools in Palm Beach County.
"Some are good, but they're not excellent," said Koch, founder of Oxbow Carbon, a private energy company in West Palm Beach. "And they all have deficiencies."
So, Koch, who has six children, did what most parents and teachers can only dream of — he started his own school.
The Oxbridge Academy of the Palm Beaches is scheduled to open in the fall on the former site of the Jewish Community Center in West Palm Beach. Koch said he's putting in about $50 million of his own money for the college preparatory private school whose mission will be to teach kids how to think critically and prepare them for the global workforce.
"I didn't want to send my kids away to a college preparatory school," said Koch, who is No. 316 on the 2010 Forbes list of billionaires with a net worth of $3.4 billion. "I'm not only doing some good for my own kids, but hopefully for the community as well."
Koch said the JCC site was perfect because it is a pre-existing facility that includes two cafeterias, a large gym, an Olympic-sized swimming pool and two sets of classrooms.
"This was a no-brainer for us," Koch said. "It saves us a lot of time and money."
There have been about 60 inquiries into the school so far, said Neen Hunt, Oxbridge's academic head of school. Hunt said she hopes to open the school with a founding class of about 75 freshman and sophomores.
At the moment, the school is interviewing administrators and teachers. Hunt wants to hire about 15 teachers and four administrators. A full staff should be in place by June 1, Hunt said.
"This will be a lean administration," Hunt said.
The curriculum will focus on building life skills that could help kids become more successful adults, Hunt said. For instance, students will be required to take a life skills course for four years that will teach them how to make ethical decisions, focus on financial literacy and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
"Those skills tend to be just as important as the (book) knowledge you accumulate," Hunt said.
Hunt, who was the head of a pre-kindergarten-12th grade preparatory school for 12 years on Manhattan's Upper West Side, said she relishes building a school from the ground up.
"This is a lot easier than trying to work with something you have to tear down and retrofit," Hunt said