Funding at heart of startup Ludlow private school

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A new private, independent high school in Ludlow will be pushing hard to raise the funding it needs to open in the coming school year, according to its board chair Sean Williams. The task is made doubly difficult by the effect of a global pandemic on the economy and social distancing.

According to Williams, the Black River Independent School is prepared to educate 14 students from the Ludlow-Mt. Holly area in the fall 2020/spring 2021 school year if it can raise the remaining $120,000 of the school’s $200,000 budget.

Included in that total is a yet-to-be-defined portion that will need to be on hand by June to give the board confidence that the school will be able to make it  through the year.

An earlier concept for the school was a private reanimation of the Black River High School, but with 75 or so students. But last fall, when the Two Rivers Supervisory Union surveyed Ludlow-Mt. Holly students who would be in middle or high school next year, it found that 23 made the new independent school their first choice while it was the second choice for another 14.

Two teachers and a business manager

The volunteer BRIS board, which has been working for a couple of years on the plans for the school, is currently in the final stages of negotiations for a Head of School who will also teach. According to Williams, the candidate for the job has experience in starting a small school and would be joined by a second teacher, who has yet to be hired, along with a business manager.

“A teacher in this setting needs to be flexible and have a diverse background,” said Williams, who taught for 15 years at the National Outdoor Leadership School. BRIS’s website outlines “six pillars” of education and an “expeditionary learning model” that takes a non-traditional approach to education.

With two teachers, Williams sees 14 students as the ideal number for the kind of hands-on teaching and mentoring that is envisioned by the school’s board. “We could handle 15 or 16, but not 25,” said Williams. “Smaller is the best fit.”

Private dollars needed to secure state funding

BRIS intends to use the Black River High School building for its campus

The school has to raise its funding privately because it has not yet qualified to receive funding from Vermont’s education fund as schools like Burr and Burton do when they take students from “school choice” towns.

Ludlow and Mt. Holly became school choice towns when they voted to close Black River High School as part of an Act 46 merger. Students from those towns may attend any school that has qualified with the state and tuition dollars from the education fund follow them.

While a letter to the editor from the board celebrates the “local control” aspect of the plan and notes that public funding comes with significant state oversight, the plan, which is laid out later in the letter is to apply to receive school choice tuition after proving itself in the initial year.

Williams says that he expects that the initial student body will be made up of students in grades 7 to 10. That would give the school a year to figure out how it would offer courses to prepare for advance placement tests.

And initially it will not offer a special needs program, although Williams said the school would be looking at ways to meet such needs after that. The school will use at least a portion of the Black River High School building, according to Williams.

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