Arts-focused private high school proposed for downtown Lebanon

By NORA DOYLE-BURR

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-10-2022 9:52 PM

LEBANON — A group of artists, educators and parents is proposing a new private high school, the New England School of the Arts, for a location on the downtown pedestrian mall.

The Lebanon Planning Board is slated to hear an application from the group and the property’s Hanover-based owner, HSD Inc., on Monday. They are seeking a conditional use permit to use 5,000-square-feet of space at 9 Hanover St., above the Women’s Health Resource Center, for the private high school, “the first fine arts-based school within a 60-mile radius of Dartmouth College,” according to a filing with the Planning Department.

The planned school of about 100 students from across New England is proposed to open in September 2023 and operate from 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m., the filing said.

Etna couple Jennifer and Carl Chambers are leading the effort to create the school.

Jennifer Chambers is Hanover High School’s choral director and music coordinator, while Carl Chambers is principal at Mount Prospect Academy in Pike, N.H.

Jennifer Chambers declined an interview with the Valley News in an email last week.

According to the filing, the Chambers’ “dream is to provide a school where students are provided access to a robust fine arts and core academic curriculum. We hope to collaborate with the already established arts organizations and give back to the Lebanon community in community service, internships and possibly work shares.”

The couple have three children: 14-year-old Elizabeth; 13-year-old Charlie and 6-year-old James, according to the filing. Elizabeth has danced with the Lebanon Ballet School since she was 3 and also has taken classes at The Dance Collective in West Lebanon. She’s also a member of the Trumbull Hall Troupe, a theater group, and has sung in the Opera North children’s chorus. Charlie has studied cello at the Upper Valley Music Center in Lebanon since he was 7, and he also sings.

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Jennifer Chambers, who grew up in West Newbury, Vt., has long been a vocal performer and holds a master’s degree in the subject, as well as a bachelor’s in music education. Carl Chambers holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and a Master of Education in English education. He is a licensed teacher, principal, curriculum director and superintendent of schools.

Carl is to be the new school’s head of school, while Jennifer is to be the new school’s associate head and music director. The school’s board of trustees is led by Miles Slater, a Mount Kisco, N.Y., sculptor and former investment banker. The board’s vice chairwoman is Amy Good, who works in personalized learning at Hanover High. Also on the board is Susan Keck, an American Airlines pilot from Hartland; Lara Saffo, chief compliance officer for Mount Prospect Academy who used to be Grafton County attorney; Denise Frawley, a local choreographer; and Filippo Ciabatti, music director of the Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra.

With the new school, they seek to expand the current arts offerings available to young people beyond after-school lessons and arts programs. The school aims to allow students to “delve more deeply” into art forms such as choreography, painting and stage management, while also providing a “robust education” in core academic subjects. The school’s goals also include fostering an “inclusive environment” for all types of learners and it aims “to create globally minded citizens.”

The school’s leaders are reaching out to arts organizations within walking distance of 9 Hanover St. to discuss possibilities for collaboration, as well as sharing spaces and staffing. They expect that the students will use the location as a home base, but all 100 students would rarely occupy it all at once.

The filing with the Planning Department does not address the cost of tuition, nor does it discuss where the students might come from at a time when many schools in northern New England are seeing declining enrollment.

According to the New Hampshire Secretary of State’s Office, the New England School of the Arts was created in October of last year. It is not yet listed on the New Hampshire Department of Education’s list of non-public schools. It’s also not yet on the IRS’ list of tax-exempt organizations, but the site says the IRS is still processing paperwork filed by new nonprofits after April 2020.

A secondary education facility is not an allowed use within the Lebanon downtown district, but the Planning Board can approve uses outside those that are allowed as long as they contribute to the vibrancy of the downtown, encourage the presence of the public and aren’t in conflict with abutting uses, according to the staff memorandum included in the Planning Board’s packet for its Monday meeting. Planning staff recommend that the board require the school to install a bike rack either on the mall or near the pedestrian tunnel to encourage students to commute by bicycle.

Monday’s meeting is scheduled to take place at 6:30 p.m. in Council Chambers at City Hall, 51 N. Park St. Instructions on how to attend online and by phone are available at LebanonNH.gov/Live.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.

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