By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY â€” The Gailer School will celebrate a special homecoming this year â€” in a literal sense. After an eight-year hiatus in Shelburne, the small private school this fall will return to an as-yet-undetermined location in Middlebury, where Gailer got its start some 17 years ago.
â€œWe anticipate something (initially) of a temporary nature in the town we want to make our permanent home,â€? said Christine Plunkett, director of finance and operations for the Gailer School.
Plunkett declined to discuss the temporary sites the school is currently evaluating in Middlebury.
Gailer officials hope to have pinned down the temporary home in Middlebury sometime next month, after which they will cast about for permanent digs.
â€œOur ultimate goal, within a small number of years, is to have a small campus of our own,â€? Plunkett said.
Educators Harry Chaucer and Andrea Torello co-founded the Gailer School in 1989. It was designed as an independent, college preparatory school for grades 7-12, with the goal of inspiring students â€œto love learning and to become insightful world citizens.â€?
Gailer School students participate in a community service program that delivers more than 1,500 hours of student service annually to local organizations.
The schoolâ€™s first real home was in rented space at the St. Maryâ€™s Church campus off Shannon Street. Student numbers at the Gailer School grew from an initial handful to more than 80 during the mid-1990s, prompting leaders to seek larger quarters. The search took on added urgency when the Vermont Catholic Diocese decided to reopen the St. Maryâ€™s School at the Shannon Street campus.
In 1998, the Gailer School found its new home, in 6,000 square feet of rented space in building at the Shelburne Commons â€” formerly known as the Jelly Mill Common â€” at 4066 Shelburne Road. The new site, school officials reasoned, would allow Gailer to more easily draw students from Vermontâ€™s most populous county while placing it close to educational resources within the Shelburne Museum.
While things have gone well in Shelburne, Gailer leaders in recent years have toyed with the idea of returning to Addison County. Almost 40 percent of the schoolâ€™s 52 students and around half of its 11 faculty and staff currently reside in Addison County, according to Plunkett.
â€œWe have found, over the years, that our base in Addison County has remained our most solid base,â€? Plunkett said.
At the same time, the Chittenden County enrollment base has showed some signs of erosion, according to Plunkett. For example, when Gailer moved to Shelburne, employment at IBM, which has a big plant in Essex, was burgeoning. The computer giant has since pared back its worker numbers, resulting in the loss of several Gailer students in recent years.
In Addison County, Gailer officials see the prospect of a more consistent student pool from which to draw.
â€œAddison County is one of the counties with a projected growth rate in school-age population,â€? Plunkett said.
Along with solid demographics, Gailer officials reasoned, Addison County also offers a world-class liberal arts institution â€” Middlebury College. The school hopes to benefit from the many educational, cultural and artistic resources Middlebury College makes available to the community.
Chaucer, now chairman of the education department at Castleton State College, also noted the advantages of having the school return to the hometown of Middlebury College.
â€œCollege towns like New Haven, Conn., and Middlebury are rich in the arts and provide exceptional intellectual stimulation,â€? Chaucer said, in a press release. â€œMiddlebury is able to gather an unusually diverse and talented student body and faculty â€” a real benefit to a small independent school like Gailer.â€?
He is pleased to see the school return to its roots.
â€œAfter so many years, it is exciting to see Gailer return home to Middlebury,â€? Chaucer said.
The Gailer School will hold an informational meeting for prospective students and their parents at the Middlebury Community House on May 2 at 7 p.m.