Friday, May 2, 2014

Charter school gearing up for fall opening

Syringa school leases ground for gardening and playgrounds

Express Staff Writer

Work is continuing on this two-story building in south Hailey to have it ready for use by Syringa Mountain School, Blaine County’s only state-funded charter school, by the start of the coming school year. Photo by Roland Lane

    As the fall opening approaches for Syringa Mountain School, Blaine County’s only state-funded charter school, the school board is in the process of hiring a permanent director, the school is approaching its enrollment goal and the school has leased ground from the city of Hailey to establish a garden and playgrounds.
    Also, renovation continues on the two-story building the school has leased in southeast Hailey so that it will be ready for occupation come the start of the 2014-2015 school year.
    The school board began interviews Thursday evening to hire a director, a position equivalent to principal that has been held on an interim basis by Mary Gervase, a longtime educator and one of the founders of the charter school.

I think people have been confused. Some people think that we are going to charge tuition, but that’s not true. We are a free public school.”
Mary Gervase
Syringa Mountain School

    Gervase said Wednesday that the board is required legally to go through an official hiring process.
    “The board has to make that decision,” Gervase said. “The fact that I participated with establishing the charter doesn’t mean I automatically get the job.
    “I have put in for it. Wish me luck. I’m pretty sure that’s what I want to do. I’ve been living and breathing it for two years.”
    Organizing the school started in 2012 and Syringa was granted its charter to operate in August 2013 by the Idaho State Charter School Commission.
    Syringa Mountain School offers Blaine County students the Waldorf teaching methodology, which the school describes in its literature as an “academically rigorous liberal arts curriculum presented in a developmentally and arts-integrated context. The method emphasizes educating the whole child—head, heart and hands—through sustainable living, gardening, farming, experiential learning and minimal use of technology in the early grades.”
    The new charter school builds on what has been taught in Blaine County at The Mountain School near Bellevue, which also used the Waldorf methodology but is permanently closing at the end of this school year.
    While The Mountain School as a private school charged tuition, Syringa Mountain School as a state-funded charter school will not.
    “I think people have been confused,” Gervase said. “Some people think that we are going to charge tuition, but that’s not true. We are a free public school.”

    The Mountain School, for grades K-3, typically had about 35 students. Syringa Mountain School, for grades K-5, intends on having about five times that many and current enrollment shows that many Blaine County parents are interested in having their children educated by the Waldorf method.
    Syringa Mountain School planned on an initial enrollment of 165 students, comprised of two classes of kindergarteners at 20 students each and one class each of grades 1-5 with 25 students each.
    As of Wednesday, enrollment stood at 153 students with 22 additional students on a waiting list. Gervase explained that the waiting list is needed because of the grade mix of enrolled students and those wanting to enroll. She said grades 1-3 are now filled to capacity but that there are still vacancies in grades K, 4 and 5.

Garden space
    The space for gardening, a cornerstone of Waldorf teaching, was made possible by a four-year lease agreement between Syringa Mountain School and the city of Hailey. The school announced in a news release that the lease also allows room to establish playgrounds.
    The agreement, approved on April 21 by the Hailey City Council, provides the school with Hailey-owned narrow parcels of property on the south and east of the school site.
    The school intends that part of the city property be used for planting fruit trees and is seeking donations of $125 per tree. According to the news release, the goal is 20 trees and Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle has offered to donate tree 21 if the 20-tree goal is met.
    Gervase said the lease should benefit both the school and the city.
    “We were really thrilled that the mayor and city of Hailey saw the added value with it,” Gervase said. “Right now it’s just a field of knapweed.”

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