Four Winds School in Gill to close

Math tutor Alethea Tschetterwood works with Lily Thorp, 11, at Four Winds School in Gill on Thursday. School Director Hattie Adastra is seated to the right.

Math tutor Alethea Tschetterwood works with Lily Thorp, 11, at Four Winds School in Gill on Thursday. School Director Hattie Adastra is seated to the right. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Owen Brown and Ainer Lautzenheiser study at Four Winds School in Gill on Thursday.

Owen Brown and Ainer Lautzenheiser study at Four Winds School in Gill on Thursday. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Four Winds School at 54 French King Highway in Gill.

Four Winds School at 54 French King Highway in Gill. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

By MAX BOWEN

Athol Daily News Editor

Published: 03-28-2024 3:27 PM

GILL — Having struggled with an ongoing drop in enrollment since 2020, Four Winds School plans to close at the end of the academic year.

Four Winds Director Hattie Adastra said the enrollment troubles began during the COVID-19 pandemic. Normally, the one-room school at 54 French King Highway has 14 students. As time passed, this dropped to 12, 11, and then seven students this year. At the beginning of the academic year, Adastra said there were no new enrollments.

A letter was sent to parents on March 11 announcing the decision to close.

“Families are less likely to seek alternative schools and are sticking to their home district,” said Adastra, who serves as the school’s only teacher. “We used to get people from all over and in recent years got kids from Turners Falls and Gill.”

Adastra said the choice to close was not made hastily, and the school’s board of directors opted to hold off in case last-second enrollments happened. Some layoffs were even done as a means of delaying the closure.

“There had been some warning signs for a while. We hoped we could bounce back,” she said. “We often get a lot of last-minute sign-ups. But when the school year began, it was clear.”

The school, which opened in 2000, serves students in sixth to eighth grade. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, Four Winds School has served students from Franklin, Hampshire and Hampden counties, as well as southern Vermont. Once a student graduates, they are able to enroll at many of the area’s public and private schools.

Every two weeks, the students come up with a learning plan across all subjects and do that schoolwork at their own pace, according to Adastra, adding that the school’s founder, Steve Hussey, came up with the idea. Adastra said this teaches the students accountability for themselves, since they decide how and when to complete their assignments. Much of the day is spent on independent learning, after which the students come together for group work.

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“For some kids, nothing teaches that lesson better,” she said. “They start with a clean slate every two weeks.”

Adastra said one student will graduate and complete a capstone project at the end of the school year, and the others will be issued certificates of completion. She’s provided parents with information on area schools that they may enroll their children in.

“It’s heartbreaking. I feel for these kids, feel they had a place that they trusted and loved,” Adastra said. “While our recruitment is low, the kids love it here. We feel that mainstream school is not for everybody and I worry where they will go from here. Fitting the student’s individual needs is really valuable.”

Since the news was made public, Adastra said the students have been very sad, often staying after class to spend more time at Four Winds. She joined the school in 2015 as a Latin teacher and said that, despite the difficulties, she has enjoyed taking on the other subjects. She hopes to arrange a celebration at the end of the school year for the students and alumni.

“I think most of them (the students) found a place where they felt comfortable,” Adastra said, “and it’s taken away before they anticipated and it’s hard.”

Max Bowen can be reached at 413-930-4074 or mbowen@recorder.com.