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GUEST COMMENTARY: North Country School clarifies enrollment issues

September 29, 2016
By DAVID HOCHSCHARTNER , North Country School and Camp Treetops

It was with great interest that I read the recent articles about current enrollment numbers at our local public and private schools.

While we in education tend to focus on the challenges and opportunities at our own schools, we share a common purpose: to deliver an exceptional education to the students in our care. For North Country School, that has meant purchasing a neighboring property to preserve our lake last year, preparing to build a performing arts center and undertaking other strategic enhancements that are true to our mission and that appeal to day and boarding families in a competitive marketplace.

I have been particularly inspired to read about community educational initiatives that align with ours. It is a pleasure to learn of local efforts to both teach children about the origins of their food, and to serve them wholesome food grown using environmentally responsible practices. At NCS, students have been growing vegetables, gathering eggs, tending pigs, sheep and other livestock since 1938, and composting food scraps since the 1940s. Similarly, it is exciting to see our local schools become more multicultural. North Country School and Camp Treetops were among the first integrated residential programs in New York state, and today we maintain an extraordinary level of financial aid to ensure a community of children from a variety of cultures and all economic backgrounds.

Yet some of the ideas expressed in the Lake Placid News' Sept. 23 article and Adirondack Daily Enterprise's Sept. 17 editorial may have raised undue concern. To clarify, North Country School neither needs to "get out of a hole" nor agrees that "it should pain local people to hear of (our) difficulties." Yes, our enrollment is susceptible to national boarding school trends and international financial markets. Yes, there have been years when we have opened with more students. There have also been years we've opened with fewer. As a school with rolling admission, we will see a fair number of students join us between September and January. It is simply too soon to determine the extent to which our school is being affected by the slow national demographic decline in the student-age population and the extent to which our lower-than-usual enrollment stems from graduating two large senior classes in a row.

While we are deeply appreciative of the community's interest in - and support of - our school as expressed in the Enterprise's thoughtful Sept. 17 editorial, we are undeserving of its anxiety. North Country School and Camp Treetops are committed to environmental AND financial sustainability, and we have managed our resources well. In the ebb and flow of boarding school admissions, we have had surplus budgets for 14 years. We have carefully invested an endowment of $11 million and will soon complete a campaign of $25 million. Generous alumni and friends support an annual fund of $1.3 million. Add to this tuition revenue, and we are fortunate, in a year with fewer students, to operate with a balanced budget.

At the start of this school year, let's put the focus where it belongs: on the students at our various schools and on developing programs that best meet their needs. Let's get them excited about learning, both in and out of the classroom, and equip them with knowledge that prepares them for the journey ahead.

It is important to us to be thought of as good neighbors. Over the last few years we have made a concerted effort to broaden our community outreach. In the next month, for example, North Country School teachers will be offering two events at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts: a showing of the prize-winning documentary "William and the Windmill," with a post-film discussion of how NCS students were inspired by the story of an African village boy's ingenuity to build their own functioning windmill; and a theater arts career day to introduce area high school and middle school students to career options in the theater.

Meanwhile, we hope to see many of our local friends at our annual public breakfast in May, when the entire community is invited to dig into homemade pancakes, sausage and maple syrup. Please visit us then, and experience firsthand the vibrant community and rich program that this small school has been offering middle school children - from the Adirondacks and around the globe - since 1938.


David Hochschartner is head of North Country School and Camp Treetops in Lake Placid.



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