Granting independence

Lowell Whiteman receives $50,000 grant from Edward F. Ford Foundation

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— The Lowell Whiteman School has received a $50,000 grant to help boost teacher salaries. It's hard for Walt Daub, Whiteman's head of school, to imagine better news.

"I was as excited as I will be when the Red Sox win the World Series," Daub said of learning the school received the grant.

The Boston Red Sox have not won a World Series since 1918. Whiteman has not waited quite as long for the Edward E. Ford Foundation grant -- it just seems that way to Daub.

The 100-student private school has applied for the grant every three years since 1982. The foundation has a three-year cycle for repeat applicants. As it turned out for Whiteman, the eighth time was the charm.

"It's such a vote of confidence in the school and the work we're doing with kids," Daub said. "It's really encouraging to have an objective, outside, national organization confirm what you already believe in your school."

The Edward E. Ford Foundation annually provides grants to independent schools across the nation. The foundation's executive director told Daub that Whiteman received the grant because of its improved financial situation and strong academic program, Daub said.

In addition to student tuition, the school historically has relied on the generosity of alumni and parent donations to remain fiscally solvent, Daub said.

The grant will be used to increase the school's faculty salaries, which are surprisingly low for a private school with annual tuitions of $14,500 for day students and $27,300 for students who board at the school. Tuition accounts for 90 percent of the school's annual operating budget. More than one-third of the school's students receive some form of financial aid, Daub said.

The starting salary for an out-of-college Whiteman teacher is $16,000, though teachers do receive free housing, among other benefits, Daub said.

The school's median salary is $24,060, about $10,000 less than the median salary for National Association of Independent School teachers, according to Ralph Phillips, Whiteman's development director.

But judging by the school's stable faculty base, most teachers are able to look past low salaries to other benefits that come with teaching at the school, Daub said. The school's eight teachers with the longest tenure average 15 years' experience at the school.

"We're very fortunate (to have dedicated teachers)," Daub said. "They're really the secret to the educational experience we offer kids. They know how to get the best out of students."

The $50,000 grant, which requires matching funds, will be split in half and used over the next two years to increase faculty salaries, Daub said.

The school has 20 faculty members equivalent to 14 full-time staffers.

"They believe in what the school's doing, and that's a reward you can't put a dollar figure on," Daub said. "At the same time, they need and they deserve to be compensated in a manner more consistent with the wonderful work they do with kids."

"Our teachers fully dedicate themselves to the students here, and they deserve to make a market wage," Phillips said.

Faculty excitement over news of the grant equaled that felt by Daub, but the bottom line on their paychecks won't start growing until the funds are matched.

To help increase its likelihood of receiving the national grant, The Lowell Whiteman School proposed matching double the grant amount, or $100,000.

Once raised, the $100,000 will go to the school's $1 million endowment campaign, which is well on its way to completion.

An endowment will provide the school with annual earned interest to do things like maintain higher salaries and increase financial aid dollars, Daub said.

"It's a gift that keeps on giving," he said. "It's an investment that will give in perpetuity."

When it comes to teaching traditional high school core subject areas, The Lowell Whiteman School doesn't differ greatly from traditional schools, Daub said.

Whiteman separates itself from public schools through its extensive outdoor programs, which teach children independence, critical thinking, leadership and relationship skills, Daub said. Many students spend more than a month each year exploring different countries, immersing in new cultures and languages and providing service duties in the places they visit.

The school's small class sizes allow faculty and students to develop personal connections, key to allowing teachers to push students and, eventually, students to push themselves, Daub said.

"It's the whole package," Daub said. "There's a lot of talk these days about educating the whole child. I don't know if I can think of a school that does that as well as we do."

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