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St. Johnsbury Academy
By David W. Kirkpatrick (December 24, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

 
         Two recent commentaries presented overviews of longstanding successful school voucher programs in Maine and Vermont.  This issue takes another look at probably the most outstanding individual example of the results of such a program, the St. Johnsbury Academy (SJA) in the Vermont town of the same name.  This was first done on November 6, 2006.  At that time Bruce E. Buxton, headmaster of the Falmouth Academy in Massachusetts was cited as saying SJA is both "a cutting edge voucher school," and "arguably the most complex high school in Americas and certainly the most original and dynamic."  It might be noted that Buxton not only heads his own school but is listed on the board of SJA so he has first-hand knowledge for his observation.
 
         More than ninety of Vermont's nearly 250 towns have no full K-12 system of their own.  Instead, they are "tuitioning' towns who, under longstanding state law pay tuition (vouchers) to send some or all of their students to public or private schools, even beyond Vermont's borders.
 
         Vermont law permits local towns to pay tuition up to the state average, and they may go beyond this if their citizens vote approval at a town meeting.   The town of St. Johnsbury has its own K-8 public school system but long ago decided not to have a public high school.  Instead, it pays the tuition for its high school students to go to school elsewhere, mostly to the local Academy.
 
          Saint Johnsbury Academy was founded as a day school in 1842 and added residential capabilities in 1900.  Today it serves as both an area high school and a boarding school whose 1000  students come from some 50 communities in Vermont and New Hampshire, 20 other states and twenty other nations.  Publicly funded vouchers support hundreds of students while others receive private financial aid.   The school's current tuition of about $13,000 is roughly comparable to that for public high schools in Vermont.  More than 40% of the school's budget comes from voucher students from Vermont, about four percent from tuition from students from New Hampshire and the rest from other students and supplemental sources such as an Annual Giving effort and the school's endowment.
 
         The school is also a regional vocational center and, since 1986, has served New England as an Advanced Placement training center for teachers. Four such sessions are scheduled for July 2009.
 
         Lest one thinks this is a school for the elite, the Academy  has students and programs in the areas of Learning Impairment; Specific Learning Disability; Learning, Visual, Hearing, Speech or Health Impairments; Emotional-Behavioral "Disability; Autism; and Traumatic Brain Injury.  It has been reported that some special education students have been accepted even when they were not expected to learn to read.   This rebuts those who say vouchers will draw off the "cream" of public school students.   About 80% of the academy's seniors go on to higher education, a rate that places it at or near the top among Vermont's schools.
 
         Equally remarkable, and perhaps unique, is the Academy's range of programs.  There are as many as 225 courses, including 22 Advanced Placement, 40 in the fine and performing arts, 20 in technology, pre-engineering and computer science, and five languages.  Extracurricular opportunities include 40 teams and 60 organized activities.
 
         Sports include the usual, such as baseball, basketball, football and soccer, and the less common alpine and nordic skiing, cross country, gymnastics, and even ultimate frisbee.   The 60 organized activities range from a badminton club, bowling club, and Chinese, German and Japan clubs, to a Highland bagpipe club, and even a "Geek Alliance."
 
         More than 20 years ago the school sent a team to Asia to attract students.  ‘The result was a million additional tuition dollars.  Which of the nation's public schools, which loudly claim they accept all students, can say the same?
 
         Most public educators have never heard of the Academy, although a Google search for "St. Johnsbury Academy" gives thousands of hits. (The Academy's own website is www.STJAcademy.com) But perhaps none are so lacking in curiosity or so sure of their own knowledge as educators.
 
         St. Johnsbury Academy is "Exhibit A" of the creative energy released by vouchers and school choice.

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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

E-mail (tchrwrtr@aol.com)

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