Local Expert: Daniel Koffler and New Frontiers

Hidden in the residential buildings of Tribeca are hundreds of folks running businesses that, without storefronts, are hidden from view. Some are brand new, some have been around for a while, and all are contributing to the hive of expertise we have buzzing down here. And now, in our pandemic world, some of them found ways to make their businesses even more relevant, or to pivot to serve a new need.

Daniel Koffler grew up with education as the family business. His mother was a speech pathologist and his father a salesman when the pair decided, in 1986, to start a preschool to better serve the kids she was teaching. Before long, they had 600 students receiving intensive 6-1-1 or 12-1-1 instruction in Queens.

The couple continued to create private schools around the city, including Claremont Preparatory School in Fidi in 2005, which they sold to Leman in 2011. Before that it was Claremont Children’s School in 2000; Williamsburg Northside in 2001; the Aaron School in 2003; the Rebecca School in 2006. It was working at Claremont, where Koffler, having been drafted into the family biz, realized parents were increasingly panicked: what happens to my kid when he no longer has the supports the schools offer? He also saw that some rare schools provided supports for children with ADHD and other issues, but many did not, leaving the families — and the kids — to compensate.

So Koffler started New Frontiers in 2012, an education company that offers one-on-one executive function coaching for kids (and adults!) working on everything from planning assignments to budgeting time to making lists and setting priorities — even for kids whose schools provide help.

“School resources and centers are great, but if a kid is too embarrassed to go there, or their time management skills don’t allow it, then you are at the same spot,” Koffler said. “Down the road, the gap becomes too wide to bridge.”

A lot of the kids he meets have parents doing too much for them already, and that contributes to the problem. His coaches typically work with a student two to three times a week, reviewing syllabi, structuring their free time, checking on progress. Then they reduce the supports over time. “We scaffold them up, but then you have to scaffold them down.”

The business seems especially suited to the times, when parents have been forced to become part-time teachers. In a way the New Frontiers team was ready for it.

“We have staff that is decentralized as it is, and we had technology that let us work this way already,” Koffler said. “But the complete loss of human interaction has been challenging for everyone.”

Coaches reached out to each client when the virus hit, to make sure they wanted to continue. Not one student dropped, but business stayed stagnant through the spring. But in June they saw a significant uptick, and business has started to climb. Koffler’s guess is that while many families were able to get through the last semester, doing it all again this fall seems daunting.

“We don’t replace teachers, but we can replace the parent role in the education piece,” Koffler said. “People who have children didn’t necessarily expect to be teachers as well. So we are just trying to create options.”

They work with kids starting as young as middle school and through college – and across all sorts of spectrums. Some kids have IEPs and 504 plans; some want to go from good to great. Sometimes it’s a six-month engagement; sometimes six years. Many of these skills, he says, or the lack of them are agnostic to age, background or education level.

“The work is about establishing a firm foundation,” he said. “so it doesn’t go from your parents to us to nothing.”