Private Port Townsend school to shutter at end of school year

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson Community School will close at the end of the current school year, its board of directors has decided.

According to a letter sent to families and friends of the school by board Chairman Richard Berg, the board initially had decided to table its decision until a June 3 meeting.

But after an hour of executive session Wednesday, it decided to put the matter to a vote and unanimously approved closure.

The possibility of closure has been discussed over the entire school year and came to a head last month when it was determined that projected enrollment would not sustain the school.

A public appeal for new students failed to generate any enrollees, Berg said Thursday.

In past years, the school has been able to take registration up to the beginning of the school year, but that option wasn’t available this year, according to statements given earlier this month by Head of School Lisa Iverson.

“The school has always gotten people to sign up at the last minute, but we can’t afford to wait for that,” Iverson said.

“We need commitments so we can sign teacher contracts and support the building.”

The school currently has 19 students, with 22 committed for the 2013-2014 school year — 10 short of the 32 needed to go forward.

Iverson declined to comment further on the action Thursday and did not allow media access to the students, saying they had not yet been informed of the decision to close.

Students will be able to attend Port Townsend public schools or be home-schooled, Iverson has said.

Port Townsend Schools Superintendent David Engle said former Jefferson students would be welcome to enroll in the district, but it would be a different educational experience to which they are accustomed.

“We will find a spot for them,” Engle said.

“Although we will not be able to provide the experience they are used to, we can’t provide them with a small classroom size, but there are some good options.”

Jefferson’s tuition was $10,300 per year, with assistance available.

The school opened in 2005 serving grades 6-12 and is located at 280 Quincy St. in a historical building known as Good Templars Hall.

In her letter to parents and students, Iverson said the school closed because of “a mismatch of the demographics with the chosen model,” despite “Herculean efforts” over a period of eight years to keep the school open.

“It is my hope that the doors closing at [Jefferson Community School] might allow for an emergence of some other effort that is smaller, lower key, and in need of far less infrastructure than the model I inherited,” said Iverson, who served for a little more than a year as head of school.

“Sometimes it requires one door to close before another can open.

“I believe this is one of those times.”

Mimi Smith, a Port Angeles resident who drove her daughter to and from the school for four years, said Jefferson’s inconsistent management got in the way of the educational process.

“The school was always in flux,” Smith said.

“It was disappointing that the vision we were sold on was uprooted and changed with each school year.”

Smith said tuition increases priced many students out of the opportunity to attend, moving “from something doable to something outrageously expensive,” with the increases coinciding with her own decreasing income.

“The school began with modest roots and with a focus. It lost both with each new year and morphed into something that was less desirable, more rigid and much too expensive,” Smith said.

“With these irrational and illogical moves, the Peninsula has lost a viable educational path and what could have been a wonderful institution.”

Berg said he is proud of what the school has accomplished.

“There is no doubt that we have positively influenced many students by providing an excellent secondary educational option for students and families in our community for eight years, and I am deeply proud of the legacy we all created together,” he wrote.

Berg said a “bittersweet celebration” of the many successes of Jefferson Community School will take place after the end of the school year.



Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: May 16. 2013 6:02PM
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