Wednesday, March 31, 1999


School appeals to liberal arts pupils


     By Damon Hodge

     View staff writer

      A private school modeled after a high-achieving Colorado program is on its way to Las Vegas.

      The $22 million Alexander Dawson School at Las Vegas will offer a rigorous, traditional liberal arts curriculum, according to trustees with the Alexander Dawson Foundation, a 32-year-old philanthropic organization that runs the Alexander Dawson School at Stapps Lake near Boulder, Colo.

      Alumni from the Colorado school include Ivy League graduates, a Presidential Scholar and a Boettchler Scholar.

      The Las Vegas-based foundation recently paid Howard Hughes Properties $2.1 million for 33 acres of land at Desert Inn Road and the under-construction Las Vegas Beltway. The school is set to open in September 2000.

      "Our aim is to create one of the premier private schools in the West," board trustee chairman Mario Borini said from his New York office.

      He met Alexander Dawson Henderson in New York 35 years ago and remembered the former Las Vegas resident, who the foundation is named after, as a kind-hearted child advocate and philanthropist. Henderson died in 1983.

      "He was genuinely concerned with young people and dedicated a considerable amount of his time and fortune to provide opportunities for children," Borini said. "The school will be a fitting tribute to his legacy."

      The Las Vegas campus will have 117,300 square-feet of buildings, including a 6,100-square-foot library, an 18,775-square-foot gymnasium, a 352-seat performance area, along with music rooms, arts studios, computer labs and a photo lab.

      Class size will be limited to 15 students from kindergarten through fourth-grade and 20 students in the fifth- through eighth-grades. Fifth- through eighth-grades classrooms will be wired to accommodate 20 computers and double-mirrored periscopes built into the roof will offer views of the neighboring mountains.

      Proximity to the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation area will lend itself to building a strong environmental curriculum, according to the trustees.

      Henderson's son Jerry came to Las Vegas in the late 1950s and built the Dawson Buildings, an office complex on Flamingo Road and Spencer Street in the 1970s.

      In 1957, he started the Alexander Dawson Foundation, naming it after his father. He dropped "Henderson" from the foundation's name to deflect attention from himself.

      In 1967, the former Avon director and entrepreneur who pioneered cable in California opened the Alexander Dawson School, a summer school for underprivileged children near Boulder, Colo. He later expanded it into a year-round school on a 680-acre ranch in Boulder County, then converted it to a college preparatory program.

      Since the elder Henderson's death, Alexander Dawson School has added grades, increased enrollment, expanded the middle school and received a new athletic complex, performing arts center and lower school.

      Pupils routinely earn top scores in the Scholastic Achievement Test, boasting a 604 average on the verbal portion of the SAT and averaging 621 on the math component.

      "We hope to set the same standard of excellence for the Alexander Dawson School at Las Vegas," Borini said.