Hamptons High: Private School is Taken Over

Michael Recanati and Ira Statfeld have a problem: The gay power couple that has given tens of thousands of dollars

Michael Recanati and Ira Statfeld have a problem: The gay power couple that has given tens of thousands of dollars to local and national Democratic causes would like to raise their 10-year-old son, Rafe, in the bucolic Hamptons.

But the boy, who was formerly enrolled at the Dalton School on the Upper East Side and is now being home-schooled, will have few options out east past the eighth grade. The Ross School, funded by wealthy philanthropist Courtney Ross Holst, the widow of the late Time-Warner capo Steve Ross, is currently the only game in town when it comes to private high schools. And with its emphasis on the “multiple intelligences” program of child development, it didn’t suit the couple’s more Daltonish tastes.

They aren’t alone. More and more, city families are contemplating becoming year-rounders on the East End. There are certainly restaurants galore, and plenty of nice property and wealthy, fun people. But where to send the kids to school?

As luck would have it, at about the same time that Messrs. Recanati and Statfeld were bemoaning their parental plight, the director of Dalton’s elementary program, Janet Stork, was making relocation plans of her own. She was a top candidate to become the principal of a well-regarded private grade school, the Hampton Day School, but she lost out in the final round to a local with more business experience. It appears that Messrs. Recanati and Statfeld then came up with an idea: Why not just bring Dalton to the Hamptons?

So the couple recruited Ms. Stork and former Dalton teacher Mariah Bruehl and founded a nonprofit organization called the Village Project. They named Ms. Stork its executive director, asked her to find a site for a high school and promised $5 million in “anchor money.”

Ms. Stork knew where to go: 20 acres of land owned by an already-existing elementary school in the Hamptons, the Hampton Day School. While local papers have said that Ms. Stork’s project will be an extension of the Hampton Day School, a private school that goes up to eighth grade, the truth is a little more drastic.

“They’re not really adding on to the Hampton Day School,” said Jaws star Roy Scheider, who is on the board of the Hayground School, Hampton Day School’s main competitor. (The board of Hayground broke off from the Hampton Day board in a dispute over curriculum, and the competition still runs high.) “They’re taking over the Hampton Day School.”

Even as Ms. Stork was eyeing the roughly 20 acres of vacant land located adjacent to the Hampton Day school, the school, it appears, was eyeing the $5 million she now had in the bank.

“Hampton Day School is built on five acres,” said Ms. Stork, who left Dalton in July. “We had the option of being our own independent high school on the adjacent land, but Hampton Day quickly realized that if we were successful, there would be a need for more than a high school, and that there could be some competition in a way that wouldn’t serve the community in the best way.”

Ms. Stork said it wasn’t a matter of avenging her second-place finish-and it doesn’t seem there are any hard feelings from the guy who ultimately got the job, James Ferrer.

“She wasn’t any less qualified,” said Jack Lasersohn, a co-chair of the school board at Hampton Day School. “She was actually one of the top choices.”

So, when Ms. Stork returned one year later with a proposal to integrate the Hampton Day School into a larger educational complex under the control of the Village Project, which she would direct, the Hampton Day School agreed.

After all, in the past the school had had to resort to tactics ranging from unseemly to over-the-top to raise money. There was the Hampton Day School Resale Shop in Bridgehampton; a benefit concert by Jimmy Buffett; a benefit celebration of the “Great Long Island Potato”; an art auction featuring works by Willem de Kooning and Chuck Close.

Money is always a concern, both at Hampton Day School and Hayground. Both schools attempted to open high schools in the past, and both were forced to close them soon afterward for financial reasons.

“This would not have happened if we weren’t compatible,” Ms. Stork said of her group’s relationship with Hampton Day. “They are very progressive. We couldn’t have joined with a school that was radically different.”

Mr. Ferrer, the current director of the Hampton Day School-who will, in essence, become a principal under Superintendent Stork-called the project “a great idea.” And Mr. Lasersohn, who will henceforth be sharing his director’s chair on the school’s board with the deep-pocketed Mr. Recanati, also had a positive outlook.

“I’m sure you don’t get a 100 percent buy-in on anything,” he said. “But I’d say there’s 95 percent extraordinary enthusiasm.”

Much of that enthusiasm doubtless has to do with the relative dearth of options in the Hamptons for parents who want to send their children to private schools.

As more and more urbanites stream onto the East End, college mania follows in their Jitney wake. The same people who bought multimillion-dollar summer houses, and joined beach clubs for $5,000 a season, are now deciding to become permanent Hamptons fixtures. And they need high schools on a par with city institutions to prepare their children for the Ivy League.

“This is becoming much more of a year-round community,” Mr. Lasersohn said. “Finding an academically right school is important. People who live out here want to make sure they maintain the philosophy of the area-things out here that are special.”

Ms. Stork called this rising need for quality private schools “an interesting situation.”

“A lot of the problem for these newer families is that they have not felt that they could establish long-term roots here for their kids,” she said. “They are looking for a small school, smaller classes, not high-stakes testing and a lockstep curriculum. They want more of a renaissance education.”

And they want it close to their favorite tables at Nick & Toni’s or Bobby Van’s.

“The city has become dangerous,” said Mr. Scheider, the onetime shark killer. “I moved out of the city seven years ago, because I had a second family. I’ve already raised a daughter in [New York City], and she turned out O.K., but you need 12 guards on her in the subway.”

Mr. Scheider said that the rise in telecommuting and the construction of more and more houses in the area are combining to make the Hamptons a compelling year-round home. “These sleepy blue-collar towns-Sagaponack, Bridgehampton and Southampton-are suddenly attractive places to live,” he said.

And teach, apparently.

Ms. Stork stressed that “there will be emphasis on learning about the local place. We will be taking advantage of the local landscape, in the service of understanding better the local environment-the farmland, the marine life. We will explore the concept of a more sustainable life. Environmental sciences will be foregrounded, but not at the exclusion of other programs.”

Mr. Lasersohn said the future high school will likely have “earth sciences as the centerpiece of the curriculum.”

And, as if to drive home the image of the Jeffersonian gentleman farmer, he said the Harvard-bound Hamptonites would also be getting their hands dirty on this former farmland site.

“We’d like to have an organic farm as a way to really understand the sciences,” Mr. Lasersohn said.

-Alex Watson and Alexandra Wolfe

Marcus Welby, V.D.

The truth can finally be told about a gay intrigue among New York’s showbiz elite that only Joan Rivers, Tommy Tune and a few friends know.

“Spike, who was Joan’s first dog, and Ophie, my dog, were both gay,” Tommy Tune revealed to The Transom. “They had a torrid affair.”

It’s that kind of intrigue and celebrity incest, though, that drives a large part of Dr. Amy Attas’ business.

For the past 10 years, Dr. Attas has run CityPets, the city’s largest house-call veterinary practice. All her 2,500 clients receive the same direct-to-home treatment. And a goodly portion of them are celebrities.

“Joan shared Amy with me,” Mr. Tune said, recounting Ophie’s referral to Dr. Attas. “There’s a whole substructure of people in New York who have Amy Attas as their vet, and the dogs cross-pollinate. We’re all so-people and their animals … you know how that is.”

Joan Rivers’ Yorkshire terrier and constant on-air companion, Spike, was cared for by Dr. Attas for 15 years.

“Amy is an amazing veterinarian, a loving person who seems to talk to the animals,” she told The Transom. “And the next time someone calls me a dog, I’ll be happy, because then she can treat me, too.”

Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Wendy Wasserstein credits Dr. Attas with saving the life of her Maine Coon cats.

“She’s like Marcus Welby, M.D., except she’s a vet,” Ms. Wasserstein told The Transom. “Dr. Attas should have her own sitcom.”

Thanks to a golden word-of-snout reputation among New York’s celebrity pets, Dr. Attas’ Rolodex includes Henry Kissinger and Naomi Campbell; Uma Thurman and The Washington Post ‘s Graham family; Kate Hudson and Erica Jong; and Blaine Trump and Eileen Fulton.

Even Dr. Attas admits to being baffled at the scope of her social grapevine.

“People will say to me, ‘I was at a party last night, and we were talking about our pets, and two people said you were their vet, and they really like you.’ … I often wonder: Don’t these interesting, wonderful, fascinating New Yorkers have anything else to talk about besides their pets? But I guess they don’t, and thank God for that.”

Sometimes even this seasoned celebrity servicewoman gets pretty starstruck. A few hockey seasons ago, Wayne Gretzky’s wife, Janet, made a call to Dr. Attas. Apparently the Gretzkys’ new puppy was sick, and rather than exiling it to the doghouse, they were allowing the dog to sleep with them in bed each night. The problem was, the puppy’s James Brown–style wailing was keeping the New York Rangers’ go-to guy from getting much-needed shut-eye.

“When he’s up all night, he does not play very good hockey,” Dr. Attas said. “And that was absolutely demonstrated by the scores that season-they didn’t make the playoffs.”

An avid hockey fan, Dr. Attas made her way to the Gretzky residence, introduced herself to the clan and quickly diagnosed their puppy with an easily treatable respiratory infection. Twenty-four hours later, the coughing had stopped.

“I watched the hockey game that night, and Gretzky scored a goal,” said Dr. Attas. “I felt 100 percent responsible.”

Maintaining celebrities’ admiration doesn’t always come easily. Dr. Attas recalled a static-filled phone call from a passenger aboard an inbound transatlantic flight.

“It was Cher,” Dr. Attas recalled. “She had just finished shooting Tea with Mussolini , and she was coming back from Italy. On the last day of filming she had found a mutt, and she fell in love with it and decided to bring it back to the States.”

Apparently Cher, too, had heard about Dr. Attas through Joan Rivers-who said that the good doctor sometimes worked late hours.

“She was landing at 11:00 p.m., and asked if I would meet her and take care of her dog,” Dr. Attas said. “My first response is: ‘You know, I have a life too, and I don’t want to go to the animal hospital at midnight …. ‘ But then I thought: ‘Wait a minute, this is Cher. This is someone I grew up with watching the Sonny and Cher show. This is actually fun for me, so of course I want to go at midnight …. ‘ The dog had a skin problem that needed to be treated, and it was a total success story. It’s her dog now.”

But aside from the special treatment Dr. Attas gives Manhattan’s best-in-show, clients cite her dedication to the pets. Best-selling author Erica Jong said Dr. Attas held her hand when they decided to euthanize Ms. Jong’s 17-year-old Bichon Frise, Poochini.

“She was extremely wonderful and supportive; she really helped me through that period,” the Fear of Flying author said. “When you go through that with a vet, you really learn their true colors.”

Dr. Attas now takes care of Ms. Jong’s two alley cats, Latte and Espresso, and her gigantic black standard poodle, Belinda Barkowitz. (It was supposed to be “Burrowitz,” after the ancestral name of Ms. Jong’s husband, but the dog turned out to be a barker-thus the modification.)

Not every celebrity in Manhattan is looking for a personal connection to his or her veterinarian.

“I meet every client on the first visit, but after that, we never need to see them again,” Dr. Attas said. “If their doorman or cleaning lady has a key, we go in, we take care of the problem, and we’ve just performed the ultimate in ease of service.”

In rare cases, Dr. Attas’ clients are so busy that she never meets them at all-just their pets.

“In one case, we weren’t sure who the client was, but we knew the dog’s name was Honey Comb, and we thought: ‘How cute is that? That would be such an appropriate name for Sean Combs’ dog.'”

Sure enough, it was: The Sharpei belonged to P. Diddy himself.

“I didn’t have the opportunity to meet [Mr. Combs], but I did meet the dog, which was just as much fun for me.”

The Queens-bred veterinarian said her love of animals-and instinct for licking their wounds-began early. Once, she remembered, her silversmith father and bookkeeper mother punished her for putting an Ace bandage on the family dog.

“That was unacceptable behavior,” Dr. Attas said. But it was an instinct that stayed with her past her graduation from Barnard at 20, when she went on to veterinary school at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduating in 1987, she did her internship at the Animal Medical Center on 62nd Street and York Avenue-a sort of E.R. of the animal world. She ended up marrying a guy who came in with a sick dog. After four years of private practice at a traditional Park Avenue animal hospital, she quit; life as an employee didn’t suit her. But the next day, a panicked (and devoted) client called her up and requested some immediate assistance. Not knowing what else to do, she hopped in a cab and made her first house call. And so it went for the next 10 years.

“I didn’t have a brilliant business plan,” she said, “but in retrospect, it works quite nicely. It’s one more thing a New Yorker can get delivered.”

She now employs three full-time technicians, a driver and another veterinarian.

Dr. Attas herself has a thing for blind pugs. She found her first one abandoned and tied to a tree when she was at the University of Pennsylvania. She took it home, intending to keep it only one night, but they stayed together for the next 14 years. When he died, she adopted another blind pug that was slated for euthanasia. She named him Leonardo-“after da Vinci.” She picked up Naomi Campbell as a client because Ms. Campbell has a thing for pugs, too.

Competitors in the veterinary house-calling business have sprouted up in Dr. Attas’ wake, but as the original Vet Queen, she still has the biggest share of the market. Dr. Attas feels there’s enough business to go around.

“My favorite part of the day is when I’ve just finished sticking needles in a dog and doing all these things that have to be absolutely miserable for them,” she said, “and I get a big wet kiss across my face.”

-Blair Golson

Remembering Lucy Grealy (1963-2002)

The keen and lively talents of the writer Lucy Grealy, who died in New York on Dec. 18, were admired by readers not only in our city, but around the world. Her 1994 memoir, Autobiography of a Face -an intensely powerful chronicle of her struggle to come to terms with facial disfigurement caused by cancer in childhood-became an international best-seller, while altering forever the landscape of women’s narratives of self in our culture. Lucy’s book showed us what happens when utter candor is allied with high intelligence, self-pity is banned, and a fine prose style (beautifully inflected by a poet’s ear-she began her career writing poetry) is the vehicle for a riveting, moving tale.

Her collection of essays, As Seen on TV: Provocations , published two years ago, offers a feast of trenchant, often humorous insights into such topics as beauty, desire and suffering; the workings of political rhetoric; confrontations with family history (its lies and lacunae, its deep deposits of loss); and the communicative gifts of dogs and horses, both of which, along with cats, Lucy loved. This was a writer who knew language, “the intimacy of its powers and its beautiful, instructive failures,” as she put it. Her prose explores the delicate, tricky operations of self-regard and self-affirmation, and it does so without succumbing to glibness or generalities. It delivers, too, the primal joys of human connection of all kinds.

Those of us fortunate to have had Lucy as our friend are reeling from the loss of her extraordinary presence. She spurned the urge to sanitize or sentimentalize difficulty, and helped us do the same. She was always compassionate. She never minded a mess. She’d laugh over it, wail in sorrow or frustration at it, fight it, but she never tried to pretend it didn’t exist. “The secret luminous truth of how wretchedness and joy are inseparable,” as she wrote in her essay “A Brief Sketch of Myself at Fourteen,” was inscribed on her heart.

Lucy was also a goofball and a tease, one of the most seductively playful people around. She was unconcealed and unconcealing, opinionated yet endlessly curious about people and relationships, ever alert to the ridiculous and the poignant, the silly and the sublime. She made contradiction memorable, entertaining and challenging. In her presence, you knew you’d be usefully jazzed or rattled-or soothed, if that’s what you needed: Her instinct for kindness was unerring. Being with her, around her, you felt her capacity for pleasure, her pain, and her resistance to any attempt at disentangling them.

At her memorial service on Dec. 22, Lucy’s friends, fellow writers and colleagues, including students and faculty from the New School, where she taught in the graduate writing program, and Bennington College, where she was a core faculty member of the writing seminars-as well as several of the medical professionals who’d treated her over the years, and thus knew intimately what her numerous surgeries had put her through-all testified to her bravery and perseverance, her compassion, her humor and her talent. Writing this now, full of grief, I’m laboring like everyone else to convince myself she’s really gone, and to imagine my days without her.

-Martha Cooley Hamptons High: Private School is Taken Over