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High school shutting down at Aurora Waldorf

The fledgling Aurora Waldorf High School is closing its doors.

With just eight students between its ninth and 10th grades, the school's board of trustees last month decided to end the high school experiment until the initiative can be studied more and money raised to make the project work.

"We expect it to be back at some point," board President Chris Andrews said Friday. "Nobody is happy about this."

The private school housed in the former West Falls Elementary School had been in the works for at least the last nine years. When it began in the 2010-11 school year, the high school had seven freshmen. School leaders envisioned developing it into a full-blown institution as students advanced each academic year.

But it didn't grow quickly enough to make it feasible.

"We saw we needed to retrench and restart when there is a bigger commitment in the form of parents whose kids are in the lower school, so they would be enrolling them at the higher level at a greater rate," Andrews said. "We knew when we got it going it was a tough economic time and thought we'd weather the storm."

Word about the high school's demise traveled quickly in the community and came up during the East Aurora School Board's Feb. 9 meeting about proposed budget cuts to German instruction in the public school system. German is a focal point in the Waldorf curriculum.

"Really, there is disappointment," said Andrews, whose wife has helped teach the high schoolers and remains a part-time school employee. "But one thing we're not disappointed in is that the two years were very good for the students involved. The mistake would have been to not try. We do know a lot more, so we'll know better the next time for whenever we try to relaunch."

In addition to low enrollment, the school also suffered from financial problems. School tuition hovered around $7,000 to $8,000 at a discounted rate in each of the last two years. Startup funds to build a Waldorf high school program have been estimated at between $250,000 and $500,000.

"The financial position of the high school was not sustainable," Andrews said. "We had two fairly good years, but there was a lot of volunteer effort. The teachers were doing far more than they should be expected to do. The teachers, some of them Waldorf parents, had started the program.

"We really needed it to merge better with the lower school. There was plenty of enthusiasm at the lower grade level, but there wasn't the interaction between the two entities that there needed to be."

Aurora Waldorf's core academic program for nursery school through eighth grade, which has been in place since 1991, remains open and is marking its 20th anniversary this year. The current enrollment through eighth grade is at 176 students, which has remained stable over the last several years.

Current Waldorf high schoolers have been shadowing other students at public and private high schools to determine what they will do in the fall. Some also may continue their Waldorf education via home schooling with their Waldorf teachers outside of school, Andrews said.