Mountain School enters 16th year

WINHALL - Going into its 16th academic year, Headmaster of the Mountain School at Winhall Daren Houck said a lot has been accomplished since the school's inception, but that there is more to come.

Over the past six years enrollment has increased 150 percent. Enrollment was in the low 50s prior to last year when the school began the year with 84 students. When school opens this year, Houck said they expect that number to be about the same.

The increased enrollment is one of the factors that has led the school to look at potentially expanding in their current location.

This past April a special town meeting was held asking voters whether the Mountain School should be allowed to purchase the building for $700,000. That vote was turned down and the Mountain School has since signed a one year lease with a three year option to stay in that location.

As things currently stand, the Winhall School Board owns the building The Mountain School is in and the Town of Winhall owns the land on which it sits. However, the school wants to buy it to be able to "control their own destiny."

The potential purchase of their current building is just one of the many things that Houck said are part of the school's vision. The school - now going into it's 10th year under Houck's guidance - recently developed and implemented their first strategic plan and they are in the process of creating the Mountain School 2020 Committee.

"It's taking this issue (the potential ownership and expansion of their current facility) in the immediate [future,] but looking at our strategic plan and other future plans and that committee is just evaluating where will we be in the year 2020," said Houck. "[The committee will] evaluate that and determine whether we come back to the town or do we look at another option. The committee hasn't even been fully formed or met yet, but that's their charge." If the school is able to purchase their building, Houck said they are planning to have a section dedicated to science.

In addition, he said there will also be a focus placed on sustainablility.

"We want to look at building facilities that harnesses geothermal, solar, [and] wind," he said. "We want to expand organic gardens, access locally grown foods for the students, have them be a part of that, tie that into our health and nutrition programs, [and] continue to provide opportunities for the greater community to be involved in a part of the school campus."

Over the past couple of years The Mountain School at Winhall has also created a partnership with schools in Sichuan Province in China. The Mountain School recently finished playing host to 14 students and four teachers who were over for a period of about two and half weeks to attend a summer camp, Houck said.

The partnership with the Chinese schools is something that Houck said seems to be beneficial for the Mountain School's students.

"If you ask the students and the parents who have been involved in the homestay [it's been] extremely beneficial," said Houck. "It's extremely important for us to not just become culturally sensitive and aware and recognize that Vermont is the whitest state If we're going to be global citizens we need to know that there are people not like us out there and how to be sensitive to those people and relate to those people."

Houck continued to say that for those students who went to China it lifted many of the stereotypes and perceptions that they had and that those students still communicate on a weekly, if not daily, basis with the students they met in China.

The recent partnership with schools in China may be something that is serving the school and its students well, but Houck said that perhaps the school's greatest achievement took place last February when they received their accreditation from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

While there are some other things that Houck said are part of the school's vision for the future, he said that everything is interwoven and the potential ownership of the building may play a huge role.

"It really does center around the facility, the community, just increasing and expanding it to the best of our abilities to provide a great community school for Winhall, Stratton and beyond; a great experience for all of our children," said Houck. "It really does just center around the 2020 committee and their charge coming up."


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