The Five Acre School in Sequim just celebrated their 25th anniversary, and now they’re getting ready to go through another major moment: transitioning from private ownership to ownership by a nonprofit board.
Starting July 1, the school run as a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, something that board members Kristin Smith and Susan Craig are hoping will help ensure not only the future stability of the school, but also help the school provide more for students and families in the long run.
“Brian and Autumn Walsh have been great owners of the Five Acre School,” Smith said, “but they realized that the limitations of the private ownership model just didn’t make sense for the school any more.
“Making it a nonprofit just fits what they wanted to do better.”
Smith and Craig both spoke about how the school operating as a nonprofit organization will open up new funding streams, including opportunities to apply for grants.
Craig, Smith and Five Acre School director Lauren Denton said that, for staff and students, little to nothing will change on a day-to-day basis.
“We’re not going to nitpick at the day-to-day operations of the school,” Craig said. “Lauren is incredibly talented and knows how to run the school and we trust her.”
Added Smith, “Nothing here is broken. There’s nothing to fix, so there’s no need to change things for the sake of change.”
The board and Denton have already laid out who is responsible for what in terms of school operations, with Denton running most of the school operations and educational programs. The board will take on more big picture responsibilities such as strategy, funding and providing Denton support as needed.
The process of assembling the board, which also consists of Heidi VanDenberg, Allison Mahaney and Jason Cline, started about two years ago, when the 501(c)3 organization was first formed.
The board will likely expand in the future, but board members said they would prefer to add members out of need and to accomplish specific goals rather than add just to have a larger board.
All five current board members are former staff at the school, have children at the school or have children who are alumni.
The board has two major short-term goals they want to accomplish now that they’re taking over operations of the school members said: First, they want to expand the school’s tuition assistance program; right now funding is available but is somewhat limited and can only be given out at the start of a school year. Denton, Craig and Smith said they have seen several families come in during the middle of a school year and struggle to cover tuition costs. For a community-focused school, they said, Five Acre should have more more resources to help families.
Second, the board is seeking to purchase the property the school is on and now leases. The land is still owned by Juanita Ramsey-Jevne, who with Bill Jevne founded the school in the mid-1990s and sold it to the Walsh family in 2012.
Owning the land outright would help grant the school a little more stability, and more freedom to make any structural or logistical changes that need to be made in the future, Craig and Smith said.
The board also wants to expand their preschool program, with Smith, Craig and Denton saying that they can see a clear need in the larger Sequim community for more quality preschool availability.
Expansions to either the grade offerings — Five Acre School hosts classes for preschool through sixth grade — or expansions to the facility itself, would require extensive planning and would have to make sense within the school’s values and mission, Craig and Smith said.
More than anything, board members seek to reaffirm and strengthen the school’s focus on family and community, they said last week. Those tenets are part of what built Five Acre School to where it is today, and even helped lead to one former student, Irie Brown, now serving as a teacher at the school.
Denton said she hopes to help strengthen that core identity at Five Acre School, and believes the board is in a good position to do exactly that.
“The bottom line at this school is community need,” Craig said.
“If we find a way to better serve our community and weave ourselves more into the community at large, we’ll do it.”