Jefferson Community School to reopen with expanded mission

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — After announcing its closure in May, Jefferson Community School officials now expect to reopen under a new plan in which the school will seek students from around the world.

“We are going to expand our community,” said Rita Hemsley, who was hired June 17 to be the new head of the school.

“The school is in a state of revival and deserves a second chance.”

The decision to close the school was made in May when student projections didn't meet the goals needed to run at a profit.

“After the school closed, a group of parents got together and tried to find a way that we could stay open,” said Anne Kearson, a parent who took over as treasurer of the school's board of directors earlier this month.

“We worked on a plan to keep the doors open. We took it to the board, and they agreed.”

The proposed program retains elements of the experiential, hands-on learning; student integration into the community through service; and placed-based instruction with small class size — and adds the enrollment of foreign students, according to a statement.

Lisa Iverson, head of school for one year, is no longer involved with the school.

Hemsley, who has worked with area private schools, was part of the parents' group and has been named as the new head of school.

She said students would be recruited nationally and internationally.

Depending on visa rules, the students could be housed in private homes or put up in area bed-and-breakfast establishments, Hemsley said.

In her presentation to the board earlier this year, Iverson said 32 students — most paying $10,300 yearly tuition, though some scholarships are awarded — would be needed to keep the school afloat.

In her alternate plan, Hemsley said the school can be sustained with the 20 students who are currently committed to the 2013-2014 school year and that students often sign up closer to the school year.

Tuition will remain the same.

Hemsley, 48, has lived in Port Townsend for 11 years, previously working as a senior researcher at the University of California, Riverside, where she became familiar with charter schools and various accreditation models.

“Being in a small alternative private school that is accredited is something that I'm very comfortable with,” she said.

Hemsley said the new school model is “a perfect solution to making the school sustainable.

“Including the global community into the classroom is a natural extension of the school's mission and the founding vision of the school,” she said.

The school, located at 280 Quincy St. in a historical building known as Good Templars Hall, opened in 2005 as an alternative educational option for grades 6-12 and sponsored annual student expeditions to such places as Vietnam, Mexico, Costa Rica and Thailand.

Domestic learning expeditions have been more service-oriented, such as cleanup after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf of Mexico coast in 2005.

“It's an exciting place to be, launching a new international program from the solid foundation of a fully accredited school that already exists,” Hemsley said.

“There are mountains of work to be done, but the future looks bright,” she added.

“The rich educational experience our students will get from the global community in their own classroom is invaluable, truly making this a school for the 21st century.”

Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at

Last modified: July 10. 2013 6:16PM
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