In 1962 a young couple from the Putney School, Mac and Doris Conard, bought a hill farm in Vershire, Vermont, and made it a school. The Conards wanted to carry on the active, land-centered learning of Putney in a smaller setting and with a focus on environmental sustainability. They hired a faculty, built dormitories and classroom buildings, and wrote curriculum. The school thrived for twenty years as a four-year boarding school. When the Conards retired, they called up Nancy and David Grant, a young couple from Milton Academy, to consider the school’s future. Educational trends were more conservative in the ’80’s than in the ’60’s, and it was hard to imagine drawing engaged students to such a remote and unorthodox setting. When the Grants saw the school, they knew they had to keep it going, and that night at the Conard’s kitchen table in Vershire the four of them conceived of the semester program.
Here is an excerpt from Nancy and David’s 1983 proposal to the Trustees of Milton Academy to buy the Mountain School.
We stood on the hill in the center of the 300-acre campus and saw the evidence of a remarkable educational opportunity. The huge school garden stretched before us and sloped down to the field where a few sheep and cows grazed beside the barn. At the end of the field, we could look down on the buildings of the school…. Beyond the campus stretched Vermont and New Hampshire, the peaks of the White Mountains visible in the east. We were struck both by the fact that the Mountain School students lived and worked close to the natural world and by our own sense that to appreciate this work and one’s part in it is educational in some fundamental way.
The story of Nancy and David, young teachers, coming across an abandoned school and how they rallied support for their idea—from Headmaster Jerry Pieh, from the Milton students, from the trustees, and then from the other schools—still informs the evolving vision and innovation carried forward by the Mountain School’s subsequent leaders.
In 1994 Anne Stephens came from Seattle’s Lakeside School to serve as the Mountain School’s director. After Anne’s retirement in July 2002 and a national search, Alden Smith became the new director. For the previous three years Alden had been serving as the Mountain School’s academic dean and English teacher.
Owned by Milton Academy, the Mountain School generates its own revenue and operates with relative autonomy in day-to-day operations.