By SUZANNA LOURIE
BRASILITO, Guanacaste – Although the students will soon vacate the halls and trade their textbooks for surfboards, the activity at Country Day School Guanacaste is just getting started for summer.
With the help of parents and community members, Country Day School’s Guanacaste campus stands poised to transition from a privately owned, for-profit business to a community-owned, nonprofit school.
“Country Day School Guanacaste (CDSG) was founded as a satellite school to a much larger campus in San José,” explained Bruce McKillican, Country Day parent and member of the school’s transition board.
“After years of falling short on making the Guanacaste school a business success, Country Day’s Escazú headquarters decided to consolidate their resources in Escazú,” McKillican said.
Early this year, several parents were approached by the school’s owners and were given the opportunity to take over the campus in the northwestern province of Guanacaste and recreate the school’s image as a community-based nonprofit.
Faced with the frightening prospect of their beloved school closing and leaving their children’s educational future in limbo, a group of parents came together to form the CDSG Transition Board, charged with adapting the new ownership structure.
“The families that have children in the school realized that a change in leadership could be an incredible opportunity – a chance to focus on the local issues and make decisions for the school based on the needs and desires of this community, while still maintaining the strong K-12 academic standards that Country Day has become famous for,” McKillican said.
But seizing the opportunity was no easy task. It took community outreach, in addition to support and dedication from the parents and the newly formed Transition Board to begin the process of remodeling Country Day’s ownership structure from private to not-for-profit.
In addition to raising money and solving teacher contracts, McKillican and the transition board had to vigilantly research other nonprofit school board models and consult with academic professionals to learn what was necessary to succeed under such a model.
“We couldn’t let the school close. As a parent, this school represents an educational pathway for children to any university on earth,” McKillican said.
“Without this pathway, so many families would be denied the ability to live here, including my own.”
Luckily, under the new ownership, the parents and students won’t have to forego what makes Country Day – both in Escazú and Guanacaste – a unique academic institution. Specifically, the school will retain its U.S. accreditation as well as Costa Rican Education Ministry status and continue to fill the role of one of the region’s few international, U.S. college preparatory schools.
Not only will the school maintain its defining characteristics, but it will also take on several new elements in the 2013-2014 school year, including reduced tuition rates that will allow more students the opportunity to study at CDSG.
“There’s nothing wrong with the educational program at Country Day and we want to maintain it. We’re happy with the school, but under a community-based ownership structure, we will be able to see it better reflect our values and interests,” McKillican said.
The new school board leadership will allow current boards and future members to create an environment that reflects the dynamic and changing interests of the community.
According to McKillican, these interests will be expressed in the coming year through an increased emphasis on extracurricular sports and heightened focus on the school’s Spanish program.
“We recently started a surf team, which is becoming more popular by the day and we’re developing additional golf, tennis and equestrian programs to add to our existing extracurricular options,” he added.
Next school year, English will remain the school’s official language, but more courses will be taught in Spanish in order to emphasize the local connection and focus on Costa Rican cultural immersion.
“We hope the renewed focus on the Spanish program will be one of many key elements in attracting foreign students to the school’s boarding and homestay programs,” McKillican said.
Country Day School Guanacaste features a boarding program where international students can study abroad in Costa Rica for a semester or a full year and live either in on-campus housing or in a homestay with a local family.
Re-energized and ready to seize new academic and extracurricular opportunities, the CDSG Transition Team recently announced its plan to the community. The news was met with an outpouring of local endorsement and support.
“We’ve achieved record high enrollments for the 2013-2014 school year,” McKillican said. “We’re looking at this transformation as an opportunity – we’re in a fortunate position where we can take all that was good with the school and better align it with the local community to make it thrive.”
Country Day School Guanacaste is still accepting applications for the fall in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, as well as their newly developed play care program for younger children. For general information and to learn more about the new, reduced tuition rates, visit www.cdsgte.com.