The Mountain School at Winhall: How a Small New England Community Saved its School by Closing it.

Read the full report | Tucked into the hills of southern Vermont lies the small village of Winhall. Strung along Route 30 at the entrance to the Stratton Mountain ski area, this community of 700 is outwardly little different than the countless small towns that dot the landscape of rural New England. Yet a decade ago, the town of Winhall thrust itself into prominence by undertaking a novel act of educational reform. In response to a failing school and a new state law that threatened to drive property taxes to historic heights, the town voted to close its public K-8 school and reopen it as a private school.

Today, ten years later, the school at Winhall has twice the enrollment that it had before becoming private. In hallways that wind between multi-age classrooms, the school’s 65 students make their way from an innovative integrated arts program featuring local artists to the school’s unique Pre-K to 8th grade Spanish language program, something almost unheard of in a school of this size. Every Wednesday, the entire school, students and staff alike, gather in one room to do character education and team building activities. The students study conflict resolution and have donated hundreds of hours of community service and raised thousands of dollars for charity as part of an ongoing civic engagement program.

The school’s academic performance has seen dramatic gains as well. Eighty-nine percent of the school’s students scored at or above grade level on the most recent New England Common Assessment Program, 22 percent higher than the average for the state Vermont, which routinely ranks among the highest performing states in nationally standardized tests. This achievement comes despite the fact that over half of the school’s students are Title 1 eligible and one in five qualifies for special education services.

The cost for this level of achievement? Incredibly, the Winhall community spends less per-pupil today than it did before going private a decade ago. Having more control of curriculum and programming has allowed the school to maximize its educational dollar to the extent that even today yearly spending grows at a rate well below the state average.

As towns in Maine struggle to comply with a school district consolidation mandate that threatens the state’s smallest districts, school and community leaders are looking for alternatives. Could privatizing a public school be a solution?

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