Salem arts-centric charter school changing its name

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SALEM, NH – The Granite State Arts Academy, an 8-year-old charter school in Salem with a focus in the arts, announced Friday that it is rebranding the school to The Arts Academy of New Hampshire. 

The new name was unveiled at the school’s annual fundraiser gala May 6 at Zorvino Vineyards, during which certain art pieces donated by students were auctioned off.

School founder and Board Chair Don Erdbrink said they had been contemplating a rebrand for a while but the COVID pandemic accelerated the process, since the past couple of years saw a temporary reduction in enrollment.

At issue is student turnover and confusion over the school’s arts-centric mission. 

“We’d have these kids applying and say ‘Oh we didn’t know you were an art school,’” Erdbrink said.

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Paintings by Talia Smithe – the self-portrait on the right was sold at last year’s auction.

Often, the school would be referred to by the abbreviated appellations “Granite State” or “GSAA,” and Erdbrink said the arts part of the name would go unnoticed. Students would enroll and then have a change of heart in the middle of the semester and change schools because they weren’t interested in the arts.

Erdbrink said they wanted to make sure the school catered to the right student body and stabilized enrollment numbers. With state adequacy grants pegged at $7,188 per pupil, he said even the difference of 10 students can have a significant impact on the school’s finances.

He also said they want the students who attend to have good experiences, and for the school’s reputation as an arts school to be positive.

“We’d like to be a premier place in New Hampshire for the kids to go for the arts,” Erdbrink said. “We want the kids to come for the right reason and be happy at the school.”

Visual arts teacher and co-director Frank Sharlow came up with the “The Arts Academy of New Hampshire,” according to Erdbrink. 

In recent years, students at the formerly dubbed Granite State Arts Academy have been published as creative writers, accepted into prestigious colleges and twice reached second place in New Hampshire Educational Theatre Guild State Drama Festivals.

In addition to the various visual art, theater and music classes that characterize the school, Erdbrink said the school meets all the educational requirements of any New Hampshire high school and even offers some STEM programs like a robotics team.

“A creative mind isn’t just about art and music,” Erdbrink said.

While the school’s small size made student headcount fluctuations a high-stakes situation, it might also prove beneficial in the pandemic era moving forward.

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Painting by Flora Grimont-Ferrin.

“Parents want a smaller environment in many cases, and they look at us as safer for COVID a little bit, and they look at us as safer because their kid has an IEP (individualized education program),” Erdbrink said. 

Demand seems to be higher than ever, he said, as evidenced by the increased frequency in school tours. The school is hosting tours as often as once or twice a week now.

“That’s a lot. It’s a new thing,” Erdbrink said.

Still, the early months of COVID resulted in an exodus of students as uncertainty and fear of infection motivated parents to try homeschooling, Erdbrink said. But he said Director Chrissy Caron guided the high school through the tumult of the last few years.

In the school year 2019-2020, enrollment dropped from 128 to a low point of 108. In 2020-2021, numbers crept back up to 113, then down slightly to 111 by the current year which started last fall, according to Erdbrink. But things are already looking up.

So far, they have 126 students confirmed with 13 more in the pipeline for next year.

Erdbrink said the hope is to have a new sign installed on the building by the fall when they reopen for the next school year, and mark the name change with a ribbon-cutting ceremony.


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Ryan Lessard

Ryan Lessard is a freelance reporter.