Chase and Annie Koch building new K-12 private school at Wichita State

Chase and Annie Koch, the son and daughter-in-law of Koch Industries chief Charles Koch, are getting into the private school business in Wichita, financing a new pre-K-to-12 school on the campus of Wichita State University.
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Chase and Annie Koch, the son and daughter-in-law of Koch Industries chief Charles Koch, are getting into the private school business in Wichita, financing a new pre-K-to-12 school on the campus of Wichita State University.
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Education

Founders of Koch-backed private school ‘blown away’ by interest

By Suzanne Perez Tobias

stobias@wichitaeagle.com

March 01, 2018 08:20 AM

Founders of a Koch-financed private school going up at Wichita State University say interest in the school has been so overwhelming, they’re already talking about building a larger site at WSU.

Zach Lahn, co-founder of Wonder, said families of about 400 potential students have inquired about the new school, which is scheduled to open for preschool and elementary-age children in September.

The school had planned to open with about two dozen students but likely will double that for the first year, Lahn said. By the fall of 2019 the school expects to enroll around 72 students, he said.

“We’re blown away by the amount of interest – and humbled, honestly,” he said.

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“There are just so many parents interested in these ideas. They really want this for their children.”

Chase and Annie Koch, the son and daughter-in-law of Koch Industries chief Charles Koch, are financing the new pre-K-through-12th-grade school, which is being built in a former print shop on the WSU campus.

In a news release this week updating developments on the Innovation Campus, Wichita State officials said Wonder is “set to open in its temporary location” this fall.

“The school’s permanent location is tentatively planned for a site on Innovation Boulevard, east of the proposed new home of the College of Business,” the news release said.

When Wonder moves to its new location, the renovated print shop building “will be converted into an Innovation Center for faculty, staff and students,” according to the news release. It is unclear what an innovation center would include.

It’s also unclear when Wonder would move to a bigger facility or exactly where it would be, Lahn said Wednesday.

“We haven’t gotten that far,” he said. “We assume it will be a couple years.”

WSU spokesman Joe Kleinsasser said he couldn’t offer any details about the timeline or plans for the school.

“We understand that there’s an overwhelming response to the Wonder School,” he said. “You’ll want to speak with them about their plans for any future development.”

Founders said the school’s tuition would be $10,000 a year for elementary students and about $6,500 a year for preschool students. Plans call for middle- and high-school programs to be phased in over time.

Total launch costs for the school are estimated at about $1.5 million, including about $1.1 million in renovations to the former print shop building. According to a lease agreement between Wonder and the Wichita State Innovation Alliance, signed in December, the school will pay $90,000 a year for the space.

Lahn said parents inquiring about the school have said they’re “looking for a personalized path for their children.” Many are intrigued by the school’s non-traditional approach, he said, which is being modeled after schools such as NuVu, on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Ad Astra, a secretive private school created by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.

“These parents understand that each child is different – they learn differently, they have different skills and abilities,” Lahn said. “We’re working to do our best to accommodate for that and build an environment that celebrates that.”

Whenever Wonder moves to a new site, the university will benefit from the work being done inside and outside the former print shop building, he said.

“This building is going to be an amazing whatever for the campus,” he said.

“We always knew we’d want to be looking at something bigger down that line, that we’d need to grow and expand,” Lahn said. “We just didn’t expect it to be this quick.”

Suzanne Perez Tobias: 316-268-6567, @suzannetobias