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Summit School Board president’s son to attend private school

Reid Williams

SUMMIT COUNTY – The Summit School Board president announced Wednesday her son won’t be enrolled in Summit Schools this fall.

Jennifer Brauns announced to fellow board members and district administrators at the board’s meeting this week that her son, Jake, will begin fifth grade at Vail Mountain School (VMS) next month.

“This was not an easy decision,” she said. “But it’s an opportunity we just can’t pass up.”

VMS is a selective, private school in Eagle County. Kindergarten through 12th-grade comprises about 260 students. Tuition ranges from $9,500 to $11,500 per year, depending on the grade. Parents often wait years before their child’s application is accepted. Parents seek enrollment in the school because of the small classes and for the school’s success in building character and solid academic skills. Students are required to be accepted by a college as a condition for high school graduation, and the school boasts an impressive record of students finishing college, as well.

Stephen Brauns, Jennifer’s husband, said the decision was prompted by a unique opportunity. They applied to VMS on behalf of their son before Jennifer ran for the school board, he said. The school had an opening for Jake this year, and Stephen Brauns’ father willed an investment fund to the family to use for Jake’s education. If the money isn’t used, he said, it’s to be donated to the grandfather’s alma mater in New York.

“This doesn’t reflect on Summit at all,” Stephen Brauns said. “There are as good a people and teachers at Frisco Elementary and the other schools as there are anywhere on the planet. There was never a moment we felt the teachers weren’t doing the best they could for Jake. But he already wants to go to MIT.

“I’m just trying to be a good dad,” he said. “This is my doing, so blame me.”

One fellow school board member and a former board member don’t blame the Brauns at all. Board member Dr. Garrett Sullivan’s two children attend VMS. Former board member Roger Beery’s daughter will begin sixth-grade at VMS this fall.

Sullivan said he knows what a difficult decision it was for Jennifer Brauns. Sullivan’s children both completed elementary school in Frisco. He was a school board member six years ago when his oldest child made the transition. Sullivan decided not to run for re-election when his term expired because of the transfer. But when a board seat became open, the school board appointed Sullivan to fill it nevertheless.

Board members with children in the schools have better connections and can more easily stay informed about school, Sullivan said, but this doesn’t mean he or other parents of VMS students aren’t concerned about Summit Schools.

“I don’t have the regular contact a parent would have,” Sullivan said. “There’s also a lack of connection with other parents, and the connections with your childrens’ friends. On the other hand, I think what you’re seeing with Beery, myself and the Brauns is there are a number of community members who elect to serve on the board because they care about education in Summit County.

“There isn’t a choice here,” Sullivan said. “We’re not in a city with magnet schools, alternative schools or other options. It’s either Summit, or leave the area.”

Sullivan said he’s only had one phone call from a parent complaining about the educational decision for his children. Stephen Brauns said he expected criticism, but he believes it’s unwarranted.

“If Jennifer wasn’t doing a good job, then complain – but not about this,” Stephen Brauns said. “And anybody who’d complain should be prepared to get involved and run for the school board.”

Superintendent Wes Smith said he respects the Brauns’ decision as a family matter and had only the highest praise for Jennifer Brauns.

“I’ve never met a board member who works harder or gives more,” Smith said. “She works at least 20 hours a week, and that’s uncompensated. She thinks of the students and taxpayers first.”

More than 20 students from Summit County attend VMS. Three school board members – vice president Bill Pelham, Jim Lenzotti and Kristy Price – do not have children in Summit Schools either because they do not have school-age children or because they do not have children at all.

Reid Williams can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 237 or rwilliams@summitdaily.com.


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