Waldorf School Closes

Saturday, August 24, 2013
Tunbridge — The financially struggling Wellspring Waldorf School has informed parents it will not reopen for the coming school year.

The school’s Board of Trustees made the decision Friday evening following an “emotional” closed door meeting. Classes had been scheduled to start on Sept. 3.

“The outpouring of support and love for the school over the past two weeks as we worked through this crisis was truly amazing,” the trustees wrote in an email that went out to students’ families last night. “Thank you to everyone who put in many hours, sweat and tears to try to come up with a solution.”

Parents received an email last week alerting them that the board was “waiting to hear from the bank on some information and that would help decide what direction we were going to go in,” Chairman Rob Rinaldi Jr. said Friday.

A series of meetings among the board, faculty and parents followed on Monday, he said. On Friday, trustees determined there was not a viable way forward this year.

“It was an emotional meeting,” Rinaldi wrote in an email to the Valley News Friday night.

At the end of last school year, Wellspring had an enrollment of about 60 students, down significantly from prior years, Rinaldi said in an interview before Friday’s board meeting. The school, which relocated from Chelsea four years ago, teaches preschool through eighth grade and draws students from several surrounding towns.

Rinaldi said the school was “underfunded” and that revenue from tuition “barely meets expenses.” The school operates on a model in which families who can’t afford full tuition can negotiate a lower rate in exchange for helping with school operations, such as groundskeeping or volunteering to teach classes.

Before Friday’s meeting, Rinaldi said that in addition to the school’s finances, the board would weigh the needs of what he described as Wellspring’s “three circles,” the board, the faculty and the families whose children attend.

“(When) Wellspring moved from the Chelsea Green down to this new school, it was not just a geographic move, even though it was only four miles difference, but I think it changed the identity of the school, which is understandable,” Rinaldi said. “We were crammed into two relatively small buildings and it was very funky and very seat of the pants, and we moved into this beautiful, very school-like space. ... Maybe that changed the way those three circles think about each other. It’s so hard to think about when you’re standing inside one of them.”

Patrick Gillespie, of South Strafford, has three daughters who attended the school. Even before the announcement that Wellspring would not reopen, he and his wife had decided to enroll their children at South Strafford’s Newton School, which start classes next week.

“I think the hardest part of the whole thing was how late in the summer the full extent of the crisis was understood, and that made it very difficult for a lot of us to wait, to see how the whole thing was going to sugar off, given that public schools begin Wednesday,” he said. “Really a lot of us with older kids had to think about making the commitment ... or to commit more time to Wellspring knowing it might possibly fail in December, or it might fail after this year, and then there’s only going to be one year left for the kids at public school.”

And while those were the logistical challenges, he said there was a significant emotional component, as well. The Wellspring community is tight-knit, he said, because parents who wanted to send their children there “shared a certain sense of place in society, and you have a certain idea of education and what is valuable to children at a given age.”

Gillespie said he suspected that the downturn on the economy strained its progressive tuition rate system.

While there are other Waldorf schools in the region, Wellspring’s unusual tuition model positioned it as a more affordable alternative.

There’s “just a tremendous sadness,” he said, “that this opportunity for kids and for parents that was available to anyone for a very small sum (could be lost). ... That’s what’s being lost, is an affordable alternative for middle- to lower-income families.”

The school was founded in 1988 by two homeschooling mothers who were interested in Waldorf education. The mission of a Waldorf education, according to Wellspring’s website, is to foster “individual development and freedom, which cultivates social responsibility and respect for others.”

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.


This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. Patrick Gillepsie, whose daughters attended the Wellspring Waldorf School in Tunbridge, lives in South Strafford. An earlier version of this story misidentified his town of residence.