Sharon Howell (the headmaster) introduced herself and Saint Johnsbury Academy (SJA) to the Senate Education Committee on Friday. Her background started in higher education before she moved into preparatory schools. She has worked for several prestigious schools and said that the faculty ant SJA is the “most professional and thoughtful of all of them” and that “it is a minor miracle that St Johnsbury academy exists, and it exists where it does… and we take all students. The only qualification is that they are not a danger to themselves or others.” SJA has both a boarding school and a day school, which local students attend through the public tuitioning program. Amazingly, 71% of students in the district are on free or reduced lunch (one of the ways policy makers measure poverty in a given school) and they that have access to world class education and attend classes with students from 17 different countries.
However, like many schools, they have seen significant learning loss and the kids that are coming to them are just not as prepared. They have started doing summer orientation to get kids ready to start school and identify any areas that may require remediation so they can be successful at the academy. They hear from faculty about course work and receive their schedules so they can find out where they need to be, how to get there, and who their teachers are.
They are seeing a crisis in literacy and numeracy among their incoming students. In response, they opened a reading and writing lab along with a program accessible to local outside teachers to knowledge share. They have intervention groups that are 3-4 students in size for kids who need help with proficiency in these areas. They also have a life skills program to help kids find their way who have significant developmental issues.
They brought needs assessments in house so that families who suspect their kids have a developmental or learning disability don’t have to pay UVM $2500 to do the assessment there. They now provide this service to kids in their community for free.
They have built a health center that is staffed with five full time counselors. They have also brough in experts to teach students about “what is going on in their bodies and their brains when they are experiencing anxiety.” Additionally, they have launched a self-assessment process with an outside consultant to determine how well they are ensuring equity.
After describing the significant programs that SJA offers their students and the community, Senator Williams asked how they are able to pay for all these programs and services. Howell pointed to public tuition being critical to what they offer kids. Their boarding school students also pay a significant tuition that helps them cover the cost. Their public tuition is around $20,000 per student this year, but the cost for providing this level of education is closer to $25,000 so having this secondary source of revenue bridges the gap. They also have a small endowment that donors have helped to fund over the years that also helped.