Little Red School House

Coordinates: 40°43′37″N 74°00′17″W / 40.72694°N 74.00472°W / 40.72694; -74.00472
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40°43′37″N 74°00′17″W / 40.72694°N 74.00472°W / 40.72694; -74.00472

Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School
Lower & Middle School:
272 Sixth Avenue
High School:
40 Charlton Street

TypeIndependent, Coeducational, and College Preparatory School
FounderElisabeth Irwin
Campus typeUrban
Color(s)Red & White
MascotThe Knight
AccreditationNAIS, NYSAIS
YearbookLREI Expressions
AffiliationNAIS, NYSAIS, Interschool

The Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School, also referred to as LREI, is a school in Manhattan, New York City. It was founded by Elisabeth Irwin in 1921 as the Little Red School House and is one of the city's first progressive schools. Created as a joint public-private educational experiment, the school tested principles of progressive education that had been advocated since the turn of the 20th century by John Dewey. The founders postulated that the lessons of progressive education could be applied successfully in the crowded, ethnically diverse public schools of the nation's largest city.


The school was founded in 1921 as a joint private-public educational experiment by reformer Elisabeth Irwin, and was well known as a testing ground for new concepts in education.

In 1932, after the onset of the Great Depression caused the Public Education Association to withdraw the funding that had allowed the school to exist within the New York City public school system, William O'Shea, the superintendent of schools – who had previously tried to close down the program because of its progressive ideas – announced that the school would be eliminated because of a budgetary crisis. Parents raised sufficient funds to pay for salaries, but O'Shea refused to accept the money, and the school was forced to turn to private funding. It moved to a building on Bleecker Street provided at no cost by the First Presbyterian Church and began a new life as an independent school.[1]

The Little Red School House consists of a lower school, a middle school, and a high school. In the 1940s the Little Red School House's high-school students decided they wanted their school to be named after its founder, Elisabeth Irwin, making the full title of the institution The Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School.

Elisabeth Irwin High School at 40 Charlton Street


The Little Red School House and Elisabeth Irwin High School occupy two separate buildings, with a third space housing athletic facilities.

The middle-and-lower-school building is located at 272 Avenue of the Americas (Sixth Avenue) at Bleecker Street, while Elisabeth Irwin High School is at 40 Charlton Street between Sixth Avenue and Varick Street. In June 2008, LREI announced the acquisition of additional space with the purchase of 42 Charlton Street, directly next door. The new townhouse was to be renovated and connected to the existing building. A separate building, the Thompson Street Gym, houses facilities for physical education and athletics. In November 2018, the school announced that it had purchased 15 Van Dam Street, directly behind the Charlton Street campus. The building contains the Soho Playhouse, and formerly housed the Huron Club, a social club frequented by members of the Democratic Party.[2]

College placement[edit]

In 2017, graduates attended New York University, Boston University, California Institute of the Arts, Duke University, Princeton University, and many more.[3] In 2015, graduates from Elisabeth Irwin High School attended Bennington College, Bard College, Skidmore College, Ithaca College, Northwestern University, Pitzer College, Sarah Lawrence College the University of Delaware and Vassar College, along with 38 other colleges and universities.[4] In 2013, graduates attended Bard College, Kenyon College, Bennington College, Brown University, Cornell University, Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Colorado at Boulder, along with 22 other institutions,[5] and in 2012, Bennington College, Hampshire College, Kenyon College, Skidmore College, and Wesleyan University, as well as 28 other schools.[6]

Extracurricular activities[edit]


LREI's sports teams include soccer (boys, girls and MS co-ed), volleyball (HS girls, MS co-ed), cross-country track (co-ed), basketball (Varsity, boys and girls and JV boys), spring track (co-ed), tennis (co-ed), softball (girls), baseball (boys), golf (co-ed), swimming (co-ed). The school and team colors are red and white.

The institution's original home as a private school, at 196 Bleecker Street, is still part of the Bleecker Street/Sixth Avenue complex.

Directors and leaders[edit]


  • Elisabeth Irwin (1921–1942)
  • Randolph B. Smith (1943–1966)
  • F. Coit Johnson II (1966-1975)
  • Andrew McLaren (1988–2004)
  • Philip Kassen (2004–present)

Current staff

  • Director: Philip Kassen
  • Director of Learning & Innovation: Mark Silberberg
  • High School Principal: Allison Isabell and Margaret Paul
  • Middle School Principal: Nathan Sokol-Margolis
  • Lower School Principal: Faith Hunter[7]

Notable alumni[edit]


The Little Red School House's companion school from 1944 to 1971 was the Downtown Community School (DCS) on the Lower East Side, whose alumni include the writers Peter Manso, Ann Lauterbach, Peter Knobler and Richard Kostelanetz. Its director from 1951 to 1970 was educator and folklorist Norman Studer.

Affiliated organizations

See also[edit]


  1. ^ O'Han, Nicholas. "The Little School That Could" National Association of Independent Schools website (Summer, 2009)
  2. ^ "LREI Completes Purchase of 15 Vandam Street". Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School. 2018-11-26. Retrieved 2020-03-20.
  3. ^ "LREI | 2017 College Lists". Retrieved 2018-04-04.
  4. ^ "College List 2015" Archived 2016-02-28 at the Wayback Machine LREI website
  5. ^ ["College Placement for the Class of 2013 at Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School". Archived from the original on 2016-03-04. Retrieved 2015-12-31. "College Placement for the Class of 2013 at Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School" (May 25, 2013)
  6. ^ "College Placement for the Class of 2012 at Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School" Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine (June 9, 2012)
  7. ^ "PreK-12 Progressive Independent Preschool High School in New York City".
  8. ^ "Peter Knobler" on
  9. ^ Radosh, Ronald. Commies; A Journey through the Old Left, the New Left, and the Leftover Left, Encounter Books, 2001. Chapter 2, "The Little Red Schoolhouse," pages 25-48.
  10. ^ Martin, Douglas (2013-07-11). "Toshi Seeger, Wife of Folk-Singing Legend, Dies at 91". New York Times. Retrieved 2013-08-07.

External links[edit]