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No secret: Canterbury is a success

Published Oct. 6, 2005

The Canterbury School has good reason to celebrate this 25th anniversary year.

Just ask Jack Kenyon.

At the drop of a headmaster's hat, Kenyon will proudly tell you about the 13,000-square-foot field house that is nearly finished, a four-classroom addition that is under construction and near-capacity enrollment at Canterbury's two campuses.

Kenyon also will let you know the school has experienced a strong financial turnaround. Dedicated people and a step-by-step plan made it possible.

Before you even ask, Kenyon will explain that Canterbury is committed to giving students as many opportunities as possible while they are there, so that they will have the best choices available when they leave.

"Ours is a liberal arts approach," Kenyon says. "If you want to specialize, then the public schools are equipped to do this. We don't specialize in anything."

At Canterbury, daily learning means hands-on _ a matter of doing and trying.

Everyone is involved. There are no spectators. And everybody sings.


"You bet," Kenyon says. "Everybody sings at our school. You have to sing.

"For instance, I'm interviewing a new student. They say,"Mr. Kenyon, we don't do math in our family.' I say "Well, in spite of your genetic inadequacy, you'll do math here and who knows, you might turn out to be pretty good at it. But you're going to try it. That's all I'm asking.' The same thing holds true of singing. Not everybody can sing well, but everybody can sing."

On a recent morning, there is a special reason to sing and celebrate during the weekly chapel service at the lower-school campus at 1200 Snell Isle Blvd. Eight-year-old Ashley Todd had been in the hospital but today is her first day back at school. Surrounded by second-grade classmates, Ashley is the center of attention. There are smiles all around when she goes to the front of the chapel to read a poster-size letter addressed to her friends at Canterbury.

"Thanks for all your prayers. .


. I read the beautiful cards over and over again. Each one was very, very special. I missed you guys," Ashley tells 200 schoolmates.

Ashley later says she is happy to be back at school. "I like art, music and just having friends around," Ashley says. "And recess. You can't have recess at the hospital."

Canterbury is an independent Episcopal school but it is not church-supported or tax-supported. More than 80 percent of pupils at the Snell Isle campus and the middle-upper school campus at Knowlton come from other religious backgrounds.

"The values which the school tries to teach are common to all faiths, and most of them center around how we treat one another," Kenyon says. "So call it the comfortable pew in that regard."

There is also a diversity of incomes represented at Canterbury, Kenyon says. Approximately one in seven families receives financial support from the school for tuition, which ranges from $3,800 annually for prekindergarten to $5,400 for students in ninth through 12th grades.

Kenyon is eager to show the main building at Knowlton. He stops by classrooms and the new field house, which will be a combination gym and cafeteria. The building will cost about $500,000, a debt Kenyon intends to retire within two years. The building should be completed this month.

"When I began (six years ago), I had trouble finding an institution that would lend us 10 cents," the 58-year-old headmaster says. "When we were prepared to embark on these construction projects, we actually had banks competing for our business because they were that impressed with our financial statements."

Smaller classes (typically 10 to 15 students) and a family atmosphere keep Canterbury's faculty coming back year after year, despite the fact that starting salaries at Canterbury are lower than in the public schools. Jan Murray, director of the lower school, started as a language arts teacher in 1978. "We cannot accomplish our goals with large class sizes," Murray says. "We know our students and families personally. That's the charm of this school."

If teaching at Canterbury is about helping students, administrators see themselves in a similar role with teachers. Russ Ball, director of the Knowlton campus at 901 58th Ave. NE, rises each morning so he can be at his desk by 6 a.m. "The time I'm here alone is planning time; when kids and teachers arrive my job is crisis management," he says. "It's my job to get the problems out of their way so they (teachers) can do what they were hired for, which is teaching kids."

Virtually all Canterbury graduates go on to college, a statistic Kenyon credits to the students, the student-teacher ratio (8-1 at Knowlton) and the faculty.

"It's not as if we're clever people, that we know something that somebody else doesn't know about education," Kenyon says. "It's just the way we go about it. These people really want to spend much of their lives with your people."