Citing a lack of financial viability going forward, the Chewonki Foundation has announced plans to close its elementary and middle school programs at the conclusion of the current school year.
The last day of classes on the Wiscasset campus will be June 7, 2023.
According to Cullen McGough, Chewonki Foundation vice-president of enrollment, marketing, and communications, the decision to close was a hard one to reach, but the right one to make given the financial circumstances.
Launched in 2015 as a pilot program, Chewonki schools reached maximum enrollment this year at 44 students, McGough said. However, in terms of scale, it has become clear there is no path for the school to attain long term financial viability.
“We are glad we did it, proud we did it, but looking long term it’s just not financially viable,” McGough said.
McGough said the school’s trustees made the decision to close following a long hard look at the finances by the Chewonki Foundation’s finance team, beginning in August. The financial impact of the COVID-19 pandemic played a significant role in the decision.
Although the school program is not viable, Chewonki Foundation as a whole is on firm ground and will continue to offer the educational and nature-based programming the foundation is known for, McGough said. The closure of the school is a painful decision necessary to support the work of the foundation as a whole, McGough said.
The closure eliminates eight full-time staff positions and three part-time positions dedicated to the school, McGough said. Some of those staff members may find other roles at Chewonki, McGough said.
Support staff services such as bookkeeping, transportation, and custodial support were provided in-house to the school by the foundation. Those positions will largely remain unaffected, McGough said.
McGough said the Chewonki’s admissions team is reaching out to area schools in order to prepare assisting Chewonki students finding placement elsewhere, However, McGough said Chewonki’s place-based education is a specific education model. Parents seeking that kind of education for their children have few options locally.
The chair of Chewonki Schools’ Board of Trustees Roseanne Saalfield, noted that several other programs offered by the foundation were flourishing, despite the sad news about the elementary and middle school.
“We have experienced very strong interest in our summer camp and environmental education programs the past two years,” Saalfield said. “Coming out of the pandemic, we have seen a resurgence in families and school partners that want their children outside, experiencing hands-on, nature-based education and we will continue to provide for that vital need.”
“We will dearly miss each and every one of these young students, and we will be working with their parents to help find good placements at other area schools for the fall of next year,” Saalfield said.