A new public charter school set to open in Keene this fall plans begin the year with 250 students, nearly twice as many as initially expected, according to its recently hired leader.
Luke Goodwin, who became the lead administrator for Gathering Waters Charter School about two weeks ago, said the N.H. State Board of Education voted earlier this month to allow the school to add a kindergarten class and increase its enrollment from 15 to 25 students per grade in 1st through 9th grades.
“I think what it tells you from the interest is that parents and students are looking for something new and different,” Goodwin, 45, said of the Waldorf-inspired school, which the State Board of Education initially approved in December. “I think that they see our mission and are excited about a holistic education.”
The school’s curriculum will draw on Waldorf education, which emphasizes elements such as child development, community involvement and fostering a lifelong love of learning, said Goodwin, who has roots in the area and was part of the founding 1st-grade class at the Tomte-Gubben Waldorf School, which later became the Monadnock Waldorf School.
“We’re offering students an education that enables them to discover their own interests and their own capabilities,” he said. “They’ll get to explore the surrounding world. There’ll be a big component of outdoor education, environmental education and sustainability. They’ll be able to develop a sense of community responsibility. The idea of service to the community will be very, very important.”
Gathering Waters has not yet finalized where in Keene the school will be located, but Goodwin said that announcement should come in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, even with the expanded enrollment, Goodwin said Gathering Waters still has waitlists for most grades. There are open spots in 3rd, 6th, 8th and 9th grades. The school also plans to add 10th through 12th grades over the next three years, for an eventual total enrollment of around 325.
Goodwin, who has a master’s degree in Waldorf education from Antioch University of New England in Keene and spent the last 13 years as the administrative director at the Chicago Waldorf School in Illinois, added that he believes the new school’s focus on social interaction is especially attractive to families as they begin to look beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re an education rooted in relationships,” he said. “And so that social component will be so important after all of the social isolation that our children have had.”
The school will start with 26 staff members, whom Goodwin said are coming from all over the country. That includes several teachers from the Monadnock Waldorf School, which announced in December that it will close at the end of the academic year. The private school cited shifting demographics in the region, including fewer school-age children and economic issues that make tuition a struggle for some young families, as the main factors in the decision to close.
And though several staff members and families will be making the transition from Monadnock Waldorf School to Gathering Waters, Goodwin said the two remain separate entities.
“There has been such a conscious effort to really have a closing of one school, a school that has been in the area for I think almost 40 years, and to have that closing and saying goodbye to Monadnock Waldorf School be very separate from the opening of the Gathering Waters Charter public school,” he said. “And that’s been really nice to see, and it’s not just one school becoming another.”
Goodwin, who lived in Antrim as a child before moving to suburban Philadelphia, added that he considers his new role at Gathering Waters a homecoming.
“This really feels like moving home with my family,” he said, adding that his wife, Kate, will be working at the High Mowing School, a private Waldorf School in Wilton. “Those formative early childhood and elementary years were in the area, and then I returned in my early 20s for graduate school, and now I’m returning in my 40s for Gathering Waters.”
Gathering Waters is set become the fourth charter school in the region, according to the state Department of Education. Surry Village Charter School, which serves students in kindergarten through grade 8, opened in September 2006. MC2, a charter high school, opened a Keene campus in August 2015. And LEAF Charter School in Alstead, serving students in grades 9 through 12, opened in August 2017.
Another local group is seeking approval from the State Board of Education to add yet another charter school in the Monadnock Region beginning in the fall of 2022. Monadnock Classical Academy has submitted a charter to the state to open a school with a curriculum based on “classical education,” including an emphasis on liberal arts and sciences.