Founded in 2000, Four Winds School was originally located in Deerfield, Massachusetts:
by William Sweet of the Sunday Republican (2000)
DEERFIELD – Four Winds School with seven students and one room is about as small as a school can get and not be called home-schooling. It’s not an old-style one-room schoolhouse, but rather a new school for seventh- and eighth-graders, in a single room rented at the old Deerfield Elementary School, now owned by the Pioneer [Pocumtuck] Valley Memorial Association.
Steven Hussey, who opened the school Sept. 6,  admits to the school’s last-stop-before-homeschooling feel and takes pride in what he is trying to do. “It is very, very immediate and focused on what each student needs,” he said. “At most schools, freedom isn’t the point.”
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Fifteen years ago, Hussey traded the freedom of working on a fishing boat out of Nantucket for the more lucrative job of private school teacher. His first decade as teacher was spent at Linden Hill School, a school for dyslexic boys [now closed] in Northfield, and five years at [The] Bement School, a short distance from his new school.
“At Linden Hill, because there was no textbook that would work with all the students, there was a freedom to invent lessons off the cuff,” he said. “This was exciting for both me and the kids.” He wanted to recapture some of that, as well as elements of Bement.
At Four Winds, Hussey is the entire staff: headmaster, disciplinarian and teacher of subjects including Latin, writing, math, and science. This school has no pretensions about private school exclusivity and is not a special school for geniuses, Hussey said. The students come with a variety of backgrounds and abilities.
Students said they like this environment, sometimes for conflicting reasons. Eric Kovalchick, 12, who attended Northfield Elementary School, said he likes the school because it is so small and the teacher can focus more on him. On the other hand, Jack Kusmeskus, 13, who left the Turners Falls school system [Gill/Montague Regional School District] in the third grade for home-schooling as did his siblings, said he prefers this school because he is back interacting with a relatively larger group of students.
Hussey said he wants to keep the tuition down – it costs $7,500 to go to the school [in 2000] – so that public school parents or home-schoolers might have it as an option.
“A lot of people put their kids through elementary school, but are uneasy about middle school,” he said. “In the past, when a person turned 13 or 14, they were included in society,” he said. “Now we’ve decided to have them shut away… we have to get them back out and see what adult society is like.”
Before starting this school, Hussey had considered taking a position at a public school, but the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System changed his mind. “There’s absolutely no way I could have endured dealing with the MCAS test. I would have had a heart attack,” he said. That was one factor in his dropping the idea of starting a charter school. Another was his distaste for the way charter schools are funded in Massachusetts, taking tax money away from the public schools in the students’ home communities.
As a private school, the school had to get approval of and is ultimately answerable to the [public school district where it is located], but not the state. The district could reconsider its approval if there is any complaint of deficient teaching.
The day does not revolve around one teacher, and every school day devotes an afternoon to a field trip. Classes have visited an art museum in Hartford and have made repeated trips to the computer laboratory at Smith College and weekly visits to the University of Massachusetts library. But getting out in the world also means getting students together with real adults.
“My role is to help them find someone in the valley who shares their interest,” whether it be their job or simply a hobby, Hussey said. The kids then learn about their interests not just from books, but from people. Hussey said, “They’re not children anymore. They need contact, and the adults are fulfilled, too.”
After two years, we relocated from Deerfield to the Riverside Municipal Building in Gill, MA
The Riverside Municipal Building is Gill’s historic schoolhouse!
Courtesy of the Gill Historical Commission
“‘New’ Riverside School, built in 1926. The school with three classrooms and a full basement was painted green. As with the previous school building (district No. 6), this one was also used for non-school-related meetings, such as the Riverside Water District and the Riverside Cemetery Association. Today the building is called the Riverside Municipal Building and houses the Gill Historical Collection, the Water District office, and a small, independent school — Four Winds School.”
Courtesy of the Gill Historical Commission and Karen Forslund Falb
“Inside the Riverside School in the late 1950s, Ernie Hastings, future Gill highway superintendent, is raising his hand.”
Pictures and text from page 141 of Riverside: Life along the Connecticut in Gill, Massachusetts (2016) by Lynn Stowe Tomb and Pamela Shoemaker of the Gill Historical Commission, with whom we share the building.
Four Winds grew through the early 2000s:
by Betsy Calvert of the Springfield Republican (2003)
GILL – Four Winds School was expanding and by all accounts a successful by tiny private middle school until two things happened in neighboring Greenfield. A charter middle school of a similar name opened this fall, Four Rivers Charter [Public] School. Also, an elite day and boarding school for girls, Stonleigh-Burnham [School], made a historic decision to add a middle school to their high school. As a charter school, Four Rivers’ charges no tuition. Stonleigh charges $24,000 for a day student, with lots of financial aid. Four Winds charges $8650 a year, with no financial aid [at that time].
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As a result of the change in education scene nearby, enrollment has been shaky for next year, said Four Winds’ director, Steven Hussey. Hussey is chief cook and bottlewasher [sic.], so to speak, at the school, although he invites many specialists to guest teach throughout the school year. To help avoid a name confusion, Hussey said he decided to slightly change his school’s name to Four Winds School in Gill. The school is located in an old school house along the Connecticut River.
Hussey said he is currently getting a lot of calls from Northampton parents, he said, following the city’s rejection of a Proposition 2½ tax override for more money. Hussey will be holding an informational meeting Sunday with interested families at Forbes Library in Northampton from 10 a.m.-noon.
Four Winds in its four years has only had about 10 or 11 students each year. Most stay for both seventh and eighth grades. This is the way that Hussey wanted it. His academic background is in history and his professional background is at private schools, including Bement School in Deerfield and Linden Hill School in Northfield. He had considered hiring a second teacher, when enrollment was growing, Hussey said, and would consider that again.
Hussey said he wanted to start his own independent school that catered more to each student’s needs. As a result, he said, he has developed a program that has managed to help both students who are behind academically and those who are ahead.
Parent Carolyn Shores Ness, also a selectman from Deerfield, said her son Sam was both. He was way ahead in all things verbal, and way behind in all things mathematical. His parents believed the staff at Frontier Regional School were not forcing him to adapt, giving him an A, for example, when he wrote an excellent paper that was not on the assigned topic. So off went Sam, and their daughter Victoria, to Four Winds, where they both flourished, Ness said. She believes every parent who has sent a child to Four Winds has been happy.
“My kids really blossomed with him, because you know what? He really cared,” she said. Of particular value, Ness said, are the bi-weekly meetings Hussey holds with each student at which they evaluate their progress and set new goals. In a long letter of reference for Hussey, Ness and her husband Erich wrote: “We have found these bi-weekly meetings as establishing an important foundation for learning about making choices, meeting commitments, understanding the many steps to reach success and the beginning of work skills so necessary as an adult.”
Meanwhile, over at Four Rivers Charter [Public] School, Director of Management Harlan Smith praised Hussey and his program, and said, “If he wants to continue to point out that he’s a separate entity, that’s great. I’m glad that Steve is still there.”
Four Winds School hopes to expand
Local middle school in 5th successful year
by Karen P. Chynoweth of the Greenfield Recorder (2004)
GILL – Four years ago, teacher Stephen Hussey took an idea and turned it into a school. “I’d been a teacher for 14 yeas and the thing that always frustrated me as a teacher was that even in a small group of 15 kids, there is a huge range of skill level and a huge range of how kids learn. There are always kids left behind and there are always kids that are bored,” Hussey said.
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He started the Four Winds School in Gill, a private middle school that lets students plan how quickly or slowly they want to move through a set of material. Hussey sits down with each student every two weeks and lets [them] decide how far to go in the material. If the student doesn’t get through the work promised, then the student gets less free time during the next two-week period.
“The whole point of the school is each kid starts at a level that they need to start at and works at their own pace. It’s not surprising if you have 10 kids at nine different places in math,” Hussey said. “And the beauty of it is, it works. It’s been four years now and it has shown to be effective and it works well.”
This year, 8 of the 10 students graduated. Now Hussey is trying to attract a new bunch so the school can keep going. So far, he has five students signed up for next year, so he’s halfway to his goal. “It’s tough for small schools. There has to be a critical number in order to operate,” Hussey said. “I really believe if I hold on we’ll get through.”
The hard part for Hussey is getting the word out that his school exists. “If I can just get people to walk in the door, I can sell the school because I believe in it. The problem is just getting people in the door,” Hussey said.
Unfortunately for him, a similarly named charter school in Greenfield opened recently, causing confusion and headaches for Hussey and his students. Since Four Rivers Charter [Public] School opened, he said the number of phone calls from people asking him what kind of school Four Winds is has dropped severely. His students have also complained that when they say what school they go to, everyone thinks they go to the charter school.
His solution – change his school’s name to Four Winds School at Barton Cove. “It’s a minor change, not real big change, but the charter school has been a real problem for me because the name is so close,” he said.
Four Winds will have an open house this week on Thursday from 7 to 9pm and Saturday from 10am to noon to show people what the school is all about and talk about the theme for the year. Each year, Hussey choses a theme and arranges the curriculum around it. “When I’m choosing a theme, I’m first of all looking for something that inspires a broad range of potential topics to focus on,” Hussey said.
This past year, the students studied 20th century America. The course culminated in a mock U.S. Supreme Court hearing with special guest Buz Eisenberg, a local lawyer, playing the part of chief justice. The case was about whether it is unconstitutional to lead students at public schools to say the Pledge of Allegiance as written to include “under God.”
Three students played the judges hearing the case along with Eisenburg and the rest of the class split into the lawyers pleading either side of the case. The mock trial gave the students a chance to practice public speaking, learn to think of quick responses to unexpected questions and to show off for their parents. The “judges” dressed in blue robes and “lawyers” wore suits and opened brief cases that carried the statements they prepared by researching law cases that would serve as presidents.
Cheryl Manning is the mother of Parker Manning, who played one of the lawyers in the trial. She was impressed by the way the students argued their case. “They were very intelligent. They used very good arguments,” she said. She said this is the kid of activity that impresses her about the school. They are taught in small classes and when they do things like this, everyone gets to participate. “I love this school and he likes it, too,” Cheryl Manning said. “He can learn at his own pace and they push him. The more he does, the more they expect of him.”
Kristina Streeter-Gelineau’s son, Lucas, also played one of the lawyers. “It was very good. It was exciting to see the kids get up there and stand their ground in front of a knowledgable man,” Streeter-Gelineau said. She and her husband, Edward Streeter, said their son hated going to school until he transferred to Four Winds. Now, he seems to love it. “For us, this experience has been very good. Two years ago, our son would have never thought of standing up in front of the class. Steve has really taken him from being very timid to being confident and determined,” Edward Streeter said.
Next year, Hussey will focus the course plan on how western civilizations came to be the dominant civilization. The students will talk about engineering innovations, medical innovations and socio-political events. Hussey is basing this theme on a book called Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond. “I think it’s going to be a blast,” Hussey said.
Four Winds School receives $8,000 grant for scholarship – Recorder Staff (2004)
GILL – The Four Winds School at Barton Cove has received its first grant, $8,000 from a private charitable foundation in Wilmington, Del. Stephen Hussey, director of the private middle school on Route 2, said it would use the money for scholarships.
The grant, from North Pond Foundation, is a matching grant. Hussey said the school has started a fund-raiser [sic.] from among the school community. His goal will be to establish a scholarship fund for school tuition, he said. Currently, tuition is $8,650 a student, he said. The school, now in its fifth year, has 11 students.
A special school
by PATRICIA STACEY
Author of “The Boy Who Loved Windows”
Several years ago, my happy, well-adjusted daughter entered middle school and fell off the side of an emotional cliff. Suddenly she was thrust into a world of smokers, ditchers and people who ridiculed her for taking school seriously. I wish I had known then about the existence of a truly excellent option for middle-schoolers – Four Winds School in Gill.
My son has attended for a year and is devoted to Steve Hussey, the founder/teacher of the one-class school of 13 students as well as to Eloise, poet and writing instructor. I have never seen kids so happy to be at school. They actually stall when it’s time to bring them back from Gill (half come from Northampton). We’re happy to carpool the one-half hour because our kids are so happy, challenged and involved.
Each child works at an individualized level – some vastly ahead (one eighth-grader breezed through four years of Latin and was writing and creating books) and some behind in areas like math. In the afternoons, they have mock trials, study constitutional law, meet with guest writers, chess masters, immigrants, play elaborate role-playing history games and travel to museums, factories, farms, water treatment sites, historic bridges and mansions. I hope that some families will be able to take advantage of this powerful school that manages at once to promote strong community values (with no teasing) and independence for learners of all stripes.
We’ve now been helping students learn at their own level and pace for more than two decades!
Photos “Solid Defense” and “Bake bread to Break bread” by Paul Franz of the Greenfield Recorder
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