Schenectady’s Brown School to expand to high school grades

PHOTOGRAPHER: PETER R. BARBER
Brown School in Schenectady, seen here on Tuesday, will expand into high school grades beginning in the upcoming school year.PHOTOGRAPHER: PETER R. BARBER Brown School in Schenectady, seen here on Tuesday, will expand into high school grades beginning in the upcoming school year.

— A private Schenectady school that serves students from nursery school to eighth grade plans to expand to high school grades beginning next school year.

Brown School, a nonsectarian private school founded in 1893, will start with ninth grade next year and add an older grade each year until this year’s eighth graders graduate. The school’s Board of Trustees approved the expansion in the summer and recently hired David Hooks as the new head of high school.

“It’s been on the board agenda for years; every few years the board would look at it but we felt we weren’t ready,” said Suzanne Smith, a board trustee. “This time it was parents that initiated it … and it wasn’t just eighth graders who wanted it; it was parents from different ages, and they said, ‘We want ninth grade.’”

Patti Vitale, Brown’s head of school, said what makes the school special is its ability to provide an individualized education to all of its students. “We are pushing these kids that have talents to go further,” she said. She will stay on as the head of school for the lower grades while Hooks takes charge of the high school.

“My job is to pull that forward and broaden it,” said Hooks, who moved for the job from Pennsylvania and has nearly 40 years of education experience. “Obviously, the academic rigor has to step up – the academic offerings have to step up.”

The school leaders have interviewed middle school teachers to identify who will be able to teach ninth grade classes, and the trustees have budgeted for a new high school math and science teacher. Over the summer, the school plans to renovate its library into a K-12 space and will update science labs to better meet the needs of a high school curriculum.

As the high schoolers move into higher grade levels in the coming years, the school will have to hire more specialized teachers and expand programs and courses, likely partnering with local colleges and universities to offer college credit, said Hooks.

While the high school tuition rate has not yet been set, Hooks said he expected the high school rate to be slightly more than eighth grade, which this year costs $14,247 and covers tuition, lunch, activity fees, textbooks and overnight field trips.

Hooks and Vitale said the school’s 150 Corlaer Avenue digs have enough space to accommodate the high school expansion for at least the next few years but that enrollment level and facility needs will be analyzed again after two years.

For now, Hooks is busy at work planning curriculum, identifying teachers for the high school classes and beginning to recruit and enroll students in Brown’s first high school class. He said three eighth graders have already committed to joining the high school.

Hooks plans to meet with families over the coming weeks to describe the outlines of the high school curriculum and what the school will offer. The school is hosting a public informational meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 26.

Brown officials are looking to recruit students straight to the high school for the start of next year. But they also hope that establishing the high school program will attract families into younger grades as well – families that may have been turned off by the prospect of transitioning somewhere new for high school.

“We are asked all the time what will my kids do for high school,” Smith said. “We know there are parents that visit our school and they choose another school that goes through twelfth grade.”

Smith’s son will be one of the high school’s pioneer students next year, she said.

“They are getting a lot of input in making their education; it empowers them to make this new thing,” she said. “My son is thinking a lot about tradition; he will be a part of being able to plan that and start the new traditions.”

Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, zmatson@dailygazette.net or@zacharydmatson on Twitter.

Learn more about Brown School’s high school plans:
Where: 150 Corlaer Avenue, Schenectady
When: Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m.