Wakefield Country Day School announces it will close, unless it can raise more money — soon

Wakefield Country Day School, the largest private academic institution in the county, told members of its community that the school near Flint Hill will close due to declining enrollment, unless $1.5 to $2 million can be obtained by early May, according to a statement obtained by the Rappahannock News this evening.

The full statement:

Dear Wakefield Country Day School Community:

As members of the Board of Directors, it is our responsibility to ensure the financial stability of the school and to make decisions in that regard. Yet as we look to the future, we have concerns, and in the spirit of transparency, we are writing to you today to delineate those concerns and our decisions regarding the future of the school.

In order for Wakefield Country Day School to operate without having to raise additional funds through development activities to cover operations, the school needs to enroll at least 200 students. The last time enrollment numbers were at that level was in 2014. Each year since, however, the school has raised sufficient funds through multiple avenues (many organized and executed by parent volunteers) to offset tuition loss due to low enrollment. In addition, Mrs. Lindstrom has been able to keep spending in check by trimming budget line items, including payroll, when necessary.

We knew that 2018 was going to be a challenging year with 25 seniors graduating, but what we did not expect, and had not planned on, was the significant decline in our international student population beginning in 2017. This international pool of students, usually numbering 22-24, not only added cultural diversity over the years to our school but also helped to sustain us financially. We never had to recruit these students, for we had agencies and a school in Japan that sent applications our way regularly. It was not even unusual for us to turn some students away. In March and April of 2017 these agencies and school began informing us that their students would no longer be studying in the US; they would be studying in Canada and Australia instead. Furthermore, in 2017 China aggressively began implementation of a policy designed to replace foreign study for its youth by providing new schools at home. Thus, we had to begin actively recruiting international students going forward.

Faced with this projected, serious, future shortfall, the Board, working with Mrs. Lindstrom, Mrs. Cieplak, and Mr. Carter over the past 22 months, has pursued vigorously a number of potential student and income-producing ventures:

– developing an ELL summer school program for Korean and Chinese middle school students;

– discussing innovative ideas for collaboration with other independent schools;

– seeking new funding opportunities through foundations and/or grants;

– offering of our high school courses to homeschool students in surrounding counties;

– recruiting actively new international students through agencies in countries other than those in Asia;

– establishing ties with new brokers/agencies in Asian countries;

– renting space to other area educational programs like Rapp U;

– arranging shorter-term cultural experiences of one semester or less for students from various countries;

– considering aligning ourselves with classical charter schools affiliated with Hillsdale College;

– offering referral incentives ($450 last year) to WCDS parents in hopes that they would bring new friends and relatives into the school;

– signing a formal partnership and exchange with a new international school in China whereby WCDS teachers were to travel to China to teach, and teachers from China were to come to WCDS to offer Chinese as a foreign language option.

We have not been idle, but we have not been successful either in getting these initiatives off the ground and/or garnering additional funding to offset our enrollment loss. We also recognize we are located in a county with a dwindling population whose own public schools are facing enrollment challenges and know as well that in the past five years, five independent schools in our surrounding areas have faced similar challenges and have had to close.

In February it looked as if we had a number of new domestic students and international students in the pipeline that would ensure more stability next year, but within the past two weeks, it has become apparent that our numbers are not going to rebound and could be even lower than they are this year. Thus, after reviewing every possible option, the only responsible decision the Board can make, in the absence of a sudden influx of capital* before May 9, 2019, from the Auction, the Give Local Piedmont, and an outpouring of donations from friends of Wakefield near and far, is to close Wakefield Country Day School at the end of this academic year. By choosing to do so now, we know we have the funds and assets available to repay all families who already have put down deposits or paid tuition in full. We would also be giving our much-deserving faculty and staff time to seek positions elsewhere so that they can continue to support their families.

Needless to say, we are heartbroken by the decision we have had to make. This was not a decision that we took lightly. We as Board members all have close ties to this wonderful school: we are all either teachers here, spouses of teachers and staff, alumni, or parents and grandparents of current students and alumni. We are your neighbors, friends, and partners in the remarkable educational endeavor that has been Wakefield Country Day School. We believe, however, that closing now, assuming we do not receive an influx of new capital, is in the best interest of all, and Mrs. Pamela Lynn Tucker, co-founder of the school, has expressed her gratitude for the 46 years the school has been able to be the example of excellence in education for all other schools. She is proud of her legacy and thankful to all of you who have chosen WCDS for your children.

We hope you will recognize how hard we have tried behind the scenes to keep the school afloat and how critical it is now for all of us to end the year on a positive, passionate, and compassionate note. Please continue to support us in these next few weeks. Come to the Auction this Saturday. The dinner and play will be amazing. Mrs. Carter and Mrs. Jordan with their incredible team of volunteer parents have created an extraordinary evening of fun you will never forget. The items up for bid are exquisite and rare finds. Please come and make this the best final gala of the year.

Most Respectfully,

Members of the Current 2018-2019 Board of Directors:

Brett Haynes, Chair; Rosita McKee, Vice Chair; Jitu Patel, Treasurer; Lisa Marciano, Secretary

Christopher Korte, Pam Lynn-Tucker, Aaron Marks, John McMahon, and Jessica Lindstrom, Ex Officio

*The capital needed to ensure the School continues not only for another year but far into the future would be $1,500,000.00 – $2,000,000.00.

April 24, 2019

This is a developing story. Stay tuned to Rappnews.com for updates.

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5 Comments

  1. They waited until the last minute to announce this and it’s so disrespectful to teachers and staff. The reason for this is because they don’t want to raise the funds because the land is worth more than the school will make. Now teachers are our of jobs and it’s almost impossible for them to find one when the new school years starts in a few short months and most contracts have been filled.

  2. Very disappointing news, but unfortunately, not surprising if you look at the statistics over the past couple years.

    The enrollment of new foreign students in US higher and independent secondary institutions is down nationally overall. Students and their parents are more frequently choosing other English-speaking destinations to meet their educational needs.

    Why? The trend started a few years ago, first triggered it seems by the growing gun violence in US schools and communities. Maybe #45 has intensified the problem.

    Any educational institution that wants to thrive must now focus on its US applicant market to be realistic about its success and survival. The world beyond our borders is now looking elsewhere as a best destination for educational solutions in a reliably safe environment. From overseas (and often working through educational brokers) few could appreciate or trust the safety and tranquility of our little county!
    https://isminc.com/advisory/publications/the-source/international-student-enrollment-on-the-decline
    I hope Wakefield can find a way to refocus its strategic planning and still make it work!

  3. The potential loss of Wakefield Country Day School to the region is a devastating prospect. Wakefield offers parents a rare option for their children — one of high academic and personal expectations paired with a nurturing and caring environment and exceptional opportunities. My children benefited greatly from their years at Wakefield; it strengthened not only their academic achievement, but also their openness and commitment to learning, their ability and willingness to investigate the unknown and consider possibilities, and their ability to communicate their ideas and stay strong in their personal credo. In short, I believe they were changed as people and well-prepared for their future endeavors. Wakefield is a jewel tucked in a family environment.

    • Donations can be made at https://wcdsva.org/save-wcds/.

      The outstanding curriculum, focus on character and family atmosphere cannot be duplicated. It has been an incredible value and are devastated that our child may not finish out her secondary education there. The teachers, administrators, all of the dedicated staff are amazing. Please help keep this Rappahannock treasure going for future generations!

      Alison Pruntel
      Flint Hill

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