The Village School first began as an idea over coffee in the late fall of 1997 between Sally Noedel (Bigongiari), Mary Kate Edmonston and Matthew Bigongiari. Matthew was an experienced Waldorf teacher having worked 8 years in the Waldorf movement. Both he and Sally (who had been a Waldorf Pre-school/Kindergarten teacher) loved the methodology but had also experienced what they felt was a euro-centric and a sometimes dogmatic nature of Waldorf schools. They first approached the Eugene 4J school district with the hopes of starting an alternative public school with Steiner methodology, but were dissuaded. A small group of interested parents and teachers began meeting and planning in early 1998. By this time, it looked promising that Oregon would pass some kind of charter school legislation (which it did in May of 1999). In February of 1998, Sally’s ‘Chalk Talk’ article in The Register-Guard resulted in nearly a hundred families expressing interest in the project.
Over the next year, a core group of 7 people (the founding board) worked on developing the project by incorporating, and by writing the charter proposal and federal start-up grant proposals. These included: Alison Cantril, Andy Peara, Mary-Kate Edmonston, Kay Cosby, Wendy Strgar, and Sally and Matthew, with help from Chanin Santiago, Ron Constable and Lou Favreau. In early July of 1999, a front page of The Register-Guard featured an article, “Couple Plan New Course for Students” and increased exposure, legitimacy and interest in the budding school plan.
The original charter proposal was rejected, but, after persistence, public support and an appeal to the Oregon Dept. of Education, The Village School was accepted by the 4J district board in July of 2000. The Village School officially opened its doors in August of 2000 to thirty-seven K, 1 and 2 grade students in the Easter Seals building (later Tamarack Center) in south Eugene. In August of 2002 it moved to the Willard building with over 100 students and continued to reside there and grow into a full K-8 school and more than doubling in size over the next 13 years. In this time, the school has developed several different programs.
Music program: shed the familiar strings programming in favor of guitar, marimba and choir
Transformed its middle school with electives, mentorships, morning circle, and modern arts forms
Launched a food service preparing food on site with mostly locally sourced, organic ingredients
Developed a Title I program providing small group support in reading and math for grades 1 -5
Adopted the Our Whole Lives sexuality awareness program for grades 2, 4, 6 and 8
Initiated an annual walk-a-thon benefiting local environmental education organizations
Helped in the establishment of three other Oregon Waldorf inspired Charter Schools
Our Founding Faculty and Staff:
Staff that helped establish the school with a tenure of nine or more years before 2018-19 include (starting in 2000-01): Alyson Byas, Matthew Bigongiari, Donna Crispin, Kay Cosby, and Andy Peara (starting in 2001-02): Anil Oommen, Sally Grimsrud and Andy Traisman, (starting afterwards) Jon Bilenki, Justin Boe, Alison Cantril, Shannon Powell, Sue Romatz, Matthew Rutman, Emily Swenson, and Susanne Woelbing. Many other people put in substantial contributions of time and effort. Several original founding staff or staff who worked in the earlier years, including Kay Cosby, Stephanie Niedermeyer, Anil Oommen, Chanin Santiago and Jo Wolf also served on our board extending their overall tenure beyond ten years.
We own our school:
In the Fall of 2015, The Village School Foundation purchased the former Dunn School at 3411 Willamette St. (ironically, the first home of the Eugene Waldorf School) from the Eugene 4J School District and began a large scale renovation under the leadership of board president and parent, Mike Magee. The Village School moved in on June 29th, 2016, remarkably, only 2 blocks from its original site at the Tamarack Center. The current school enrollment is roughly 225 with healthy waiting lists for most grades.
Past to present:
The Village School was among Lane County’s first charter school and among the first charters to open in the state of Oregon. It was the first Waldorf-inspired charter school in Oregon. It has hosted the Waldorf-inspired Charter Schools of Oregon Conference and continues to support other Steiner methodology public schools in the state. ORS 338, the Oregon charter school statute states, that charter schools are intended to,
“…be created as a legitimate avenue for parents, educators and community members to take responsible risks to create new, innovative and more flexible ways of educating children within the public school system. …and to create an atmosphere in Oregon’s public school system where research and development of new learning opportunities are actively pursued.” [In addition], “It is the intent that public charter schools may serve as models and catalysts for the improvement of other public schools and the public school system.”
The Village School’s foundation is based on philosophies of Steiner/Waldorf education, blended with other contemporary educational and social practices. Since 2000, it has grown from a staff of around 6 people to more than 40. With its strong and committed teaching and administrative staff, its remarkable core curriculum, Steiner methodology, class overnight trips in grades 4-8, class plays, annual events with other schools including Greek and Medieval games, and track meet unique and diverse amazing music, Spanish, handwork and specialty programs, electives in grades 6-8, a wellness program for staff, a commitment to local and mostly organic scratch kitchen food program, organic garden and its annual Walkathon (which supports many environmental organizations in the community) The Village School holds an essential place as a thriving, developing and model learning community in the state of Oregon. As such, it exemplifies what a charter school could and should be.
The Revolutionary Village Kitchen
The Village Kitchen was launched in response to school community interests in improving school food. Founding staff and parents worked towards this goal for many years before the opportunity to build its own nutrition services program opened up in the fall of 2011 when the school district stopped providing meals to local charter schools.
Toña Aguilar and Stacey Black created the program with the help of many parent volunteers and local donors. Most students and staff eat the nutritious and delicious vegetarian meals every school day. The kitchen proudly cooks all meals from scratch using mostly organic and many local ingredients. The school was recognized with the National Golden Carrot Award from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine in 2015. It continues to serve as a model for other programs nationwide that are improving school nutrition successfully.
Parents and staff created a robust garden with fruits, vegetables, chickens and bees in 2011. Seasonal produce from the school garden is harvested by students and incorporated into the lunch program. The garden coordinator works with students throughout the week to care for and learn from the garden.
Title I Program
Our Title I program began with conversations with our sponsoring district in search of support for students needing extra help in reading and math. Federal funding began in the 2002-03 school year to support the initial programming for grades 1-5. Beginning in 2005, Shirley Murata was hired to help the school develop a school wide approach to extend services to grades 6-8, which ultimately led to the hiring of a middle grades math tutor, which has remained in place ever since. Between 2006 and 2007, the first Author's Night event was launched, giving students an opportunity to present their written work to a broader audience. In this same time frame, Math Night began. The acquisition of a classroom dedicated to Title services in 2013 has allowed for an excellent learning environment for students. In more recent years, the program has worked diligently to maintain a consistent level of services in spite of significantly reduced federal funding.
Our Whole Lives
In 2008, main lesson teachers, Anil Oommen and Shannon Powell implemented the Our Whole Lives curriculum in their respective grades, Grade One and Grade Four. Our Whole Lives is a holistic, comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) curriculum that integrates well with The Village School’s art-integrated, holistic approach to education. Eventually, almost all Village School teachers became certified Our Whole Lives facilitators and the program became an integral part of the curriculum in grades 1, 2, 4, 6, and 8.
In 2011, Anil became an Our Whole Lives trainer and was instrumental in training other teachers at The Village School. Shannon and Anil presented about Our Whole Lives at the ORATE (Oregon Association of Teacher Educators) conference held at Western Oregon University (WOU) in 2014. Eugene 4J school district, adopted Our Whole Lives as a supplementary health curriculum for their middle and high school levels in 2016.
In 2016, the first group of students to have taken Our Whole Lives from first grade to eighth grade graduated from The Village School. The Village School currently offers Our Whole Lives in grades 2, 4, 6, and 8 and is the first public school in the nation to have implemented Our Whole Lives from first grade to eighth grade. Anil Oommen, Shannon Powell, Matthew Bigongiari, Matthew Rutman, Susanna Romatz, Andy Traisman, and Jenny Sherlock were all instrumental in embedding Our Whole Lives seamlessly throughout the grades at The Village School. Jenny Sherlock provided support primarily in eighth grade, but also throughout the school as needed.
Community Service Walk-a-Thon
Our first walk-a-thon happened in 2008 when 3rd-4th grade teacher, Sally Grimsrud, and a friend proposed to raise money to purchase water filters for hundreds of villages in rural Kenya. Students raised roughly $9,000, and Sally had the filters made and oversaw their delivery in the summer of 2009.
In February of 2011, board member and former handwork teacher Stephanie Niedermeyer suggested that we consider the efforts of the Santa Cruz Waldorf School, which held a fund raiser to support local charitable organizations. Later in the fall, we launched our first Community Service Walk-a-Thon, which paired each class, grades 1-8, with a local environmental education nonprofit organization. The event has happened every fall since then, and students have a great time doing laps at South Eugene High School's track. The students raise funds for the organization and do a service project for them. The class that raises the most money gets to make a goofy article of clothing, like a hat, a sportcoat, or a shirt for the principal, and the 2nd place fundraiser makes something similar for the executive director. Funds raised each year have ranged from $10,000 to $12,000.
Support in the Development of other Public Waldorf Inspired Schools
During the first year of our operations, 2000-01, families from the North Bend / Coos Bay area sought support from The Village School in helping them launch a similar, Waldorf-inspired charter school. With help from Matthew Bigongiari, Sally Noedel (Bigongiari) and Andy Peara, the Lighthouse School developed a federal grant and charter school proposal, which eventually came to fruition in North Bend in the Fall of 2002. The Lighthouse School has moved to Coos Bay and serves over 220 students.
In 2005, Matthew Bigongiari and Sandy Ludeman provided support to the parent group forming the Portland Village School, which eventually opened in 2007 and now serves over 400 students grades K-8.
Matthew Bigongiari was also called to help support the development of the Madrone Trail Public Charter School in Medford, Oregon. Madrone Trail opened its doors in the Fall of 2008, and serves roughly 220 students, K-8.
The Village Middle School (Grades 7 & 8)
In 2009 the Village Middle School as it looks today was born. Previous to 2009, our upper grades in form and function were virtually indistinguishable from the lower grades. Our students although developmentally different, were experiencing the same program with one Main Lesson teacher teaching all the major subjects. Classes in grades 6-8 historically were small, attrition was a regular challenge as our middle grades were trying to find their best architecture and methodology. Prior to 2009, there was a perception that the Village School was an excellent and safe K-5 choice with some questions about how a K-8 Village School education would hold up through high school and beyond. At that time there just wasn’t enough data to present to families. This was an understandable unknown. Many families took the leap on faith, some did not.
When Justin Boe was hired in 2008 he came with a perfect matching skill set to Andy Traisman. “Mr. T” had a Humanities/Language Arts background, Justin brought a background in Math, Science, Art and outdoor education. Together in 2009 they proposed a differentiated program where they would share the 7th and 8th grade, each teaching to their strengths as specialists. Andy became the Humanities, Language Arts and drama teacher for both grades and led the 7th grade drama trip to Ashland, Justin became the Math, Science and Art teacher for both grades, Andy led Health and Human Sexuality education which evolved in OWL (Our Whole Lives), Justin led the 8th grade trip. In a very short time the middle school grades filled, attrition was significantly reduced, our graduates (and their parents) came back with successful high school and college experiences to share and our middle school evolved into a program that met the unique developmental needs of our 7th and 8th graders. Enrollment has been close to full with nearly 84 students in grades 6-8, with the 6th grade participating in Friday enrichments (elective) in mixed classes with the 7th and 8th grade. This was virtually unimaginable back in 2001 when the school began. By all measurements, the Village Middle School has been a success and for over a decade our program has attracted students from throughout Lane County.
Our music program began with a traditional Waldorf focus on recorder and strings. The recorder portion was taught by the main lesson teachers. Beginning in 2005-06, the strings component was transformed. For grades 3-5, students attended choir, and for grades 6-8, the instruction shifted to guitar and marimba. The choir program was taught by several teachers, but the longest serving teacher, Jennifer Sellers, began in 2010 and has served ever since. Jon Bilenki, through a twelve year stint teaching guitar to middle school, gave shape and direction to the program. Founder, Matthew Bigongiari, and Erin Ely, a parent and member of the Kutsinhira Cultural Arts Center, helped secure funds to purchase our marimbas. Various teachers associated with Kutsinhira have taught marimba at various times. Currently, Chris Halaska is partnering with Jennifer Sellers in this capacity.