Friday October 5, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Brian Morgan thinks the time is now for home schooling.

Morgan, who has been involved in education for more than 40 years and is the former director of The Putney School, was recently named director of the high school program at Oak Meadow.

Oak Meadow is an independent K-12 school based in Brattleboro that develops curriculum and enrolls students in its distance learning classes.

The school currently works with about 700 families and students across the United States and in 76 countries.

Morgan spent 12 years at The Putney School between 1995 and 2007 and he had plans to retire after leaving his last job as director of The White Mountain School in Bethlehem, N.H., another independent boarding school.

But after getting back to his home in Putney, which he said he had hardly lived in during his 17 years of working at the boarding schools, he learned about the opening at Oak Meadow.

In some ways Oak Meadow is the antithesis of boarding school education: Morgan is now working with students around the world, many of whom he will never meet, after living in close quarters with his boarding school students and growing to know many of them intimately.

In many ways, though, he said there are similarities in how he has to help each staff member reach his or her potential while guiding every student through the sometimes turbulent and challenging high school years.

And after learning more about what Oak Meadow was doing, Morgan says he was inspired to leave retirement behind for now.

"Before I came here I had a vague idea about what distance learning was about," he said this week, during an interview in his office at Oak Meadow in the Cotton Mill Hill Building. "The more I learned, I realized that this was the future of schooling and I am excited to be part of that."

Oak Meadow is holding an open house this Saturday, Oct. 6, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., which will include a special question and answer session for people interested in the school’s program.

The event this weekend also will bring in students from around the region, and the world, who are enrolled in Oak Meadow.

Morgan is looking forward to meeting the students and parents Saturday, and while he said it is a big change from when he was living on campus and interacting with the student body all the time, he also sees similarities between Oak Meadow and the boarding schools where he spent most of his career.

Oak Meadow and the independent schools share a commitment to progressive ideas, he said, and the teachers commit themselves to finding new ways of reaching their students.

Morgan was brought on to lead Oak Meadow high school and help make connections with other brick-and-mortar independent schools.

He has served on the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Independent Schools, and Oak Meadow is looking for accreditation from the organization.

Oak Meadow has been accredited by the state of Vermont and by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and Morgan said the school is hoping to get regional accreditation from NEASC.

NEASC is expected to vote in November on Oak Meadow’s application.

Morgan says there will always be a core group of students for which Oak Meadow will be the best option.

Athletes who are training for the Olympics, and for other high level teams, usually find distance learning to be a good option, and as small, independent boarding schools become more expensive, parents and students looking for progressive options are increasingly choosing home schooling, he said.

But Morgan also said that families are becoming frustrated with what he said was a broken public education system, and distance learning should become a bigger part of the education system across the country.

"It doesn’t make sense to run an education system based on a 19th century agrarian society," he said. "This is never going to be right for everyone but we know there are students out there who can benefit from distance learning. We don’t want to be the biggest school. We want to offer an alternative for those who want to explore their potential."

For more information on Saturday’s open house, or on Oak Meadow, go to www.oakmeadow.com.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.