It would appear that the future existence of Wakefield Country Day School is indeed hanging in the balance.
In a letter Sunday afternoon to families, faculty, staff and alumni, school board director Brett Haynes wrote that an article appearing in the Rappahannock News on Friday “was inaccurate.”
Haynes, in a verbatim and on the record interview, told this newspaper on Friday: “We have the initial capital needed right now to continue” into the coming academic year.
The comments he disputes came two days after the WCDS board informed the school community in writing Wednesday evening that absent a “sudden influx of capital” the prestigious private school in Flint Hill would close at the end of this academic year.
“What I said to the reporter was that there are a lot of people who care deeply and are passionate about Wakefield and that we were hopeful that the funds would be secured so that Wakefield could continue well into the future.
“I believe the editor heard my comments about the enthusiasm of the community being high and truly thought we had met our goal.”
The Rappahannock News, which stands by its original reporting, is in possession of additional private information passed along Friday by another high level member of WCDS that corroborates what this newspaper reported.
In his Sunday letter to the WCDS community, Haynes wrote: “Many parents have reached out to me asking for an update on the Fund Drive. As of this morning over $50,000 in pledges have been received. The Board is looking into creating a Gofundme option as well so that people who want to give cash can do so and know it will be returned if the goal is not met.
“Many are letting us know they plan to pledge after tomorrow [Monday] evening’s meeting, if answers they hear to questions make them confident that the school will be moving forward on a constructive and sustainable path.”
In its two-page letter Wednesday, the board stated that despite 22 months of diligent efforts “we have not been successful . . . garnering additional funding to offset our enrollment loss.”
“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,” the board wrote.
“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 [this past Saturday], the Give Local Piedmont [May 7], 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.”
It concluded: “Needless to say, we are heartbroken by the decision we have had to make. This was not a decision that we took lightly.”
WCDS is the fifth largest employer in Rappahannock County, just behind the Rappahannock County government.
With that in mind, the chair told the News on Friday that he hopes the entire county realizes WCDS’s “benefit to the community and helps support it . . . as an asset to not only Rappahannock but also surrounding communities. It means a lot to so many people.”
In order for the school to operate without having to raise additional funds it needs to enroll “at least 200 students.”
“The last time enrollment numbers were at that level was in 2014,” the board stated. “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.”
The board added that WCDS has never before had to “recruit” international 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.”
But in 2017, WCDS was informed by academic placement agencies that “their students would no longer be studying in the U.S.; 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.”
Furthermore, the board said it realizes “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, closing the school in the coming weeks, “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.”
On Thursday morning, Welby Lynn Griffin, the daughter of Mrs. Tucker and her late husband, William, wrote to the WCDS community that the sudden word of the school’s potential closing caught her off guard “in the middle of my youngest son’s 9th birthday celebration.
“Never did I dream that I would spend the same evening blowing out the candles on an institution that has been like a parent, sibling, and child to me — and just as dear as any of those,” Griffin wrote. “The closing [of] the school is even more painful for me on a personal level because this institution has been my most tangible tie to a father I lost at age 10.
“Watching his life’s labors crumble is like watching my father die all over again, but this time in a way that hurts more than his actual death. That is because this place meant more to him than his life, and he would have happily given one to see the other endure.”
Griffin added: “Indeed, it is easy in this moment of shock and grief to turn next to anger. And while I wish that things had been handled and conveyed to us differently, I do not believe that anger and finger-pointing is what will give us any chance of keeping my parent’s dream, which has always been as fragile as it has been beautiful, alive.
“There will be time later for the corporate meeting, for committees to tackle strategic marketing and recruitment, and the soul searching that will be necessary to carry the vision forward in the long term. Now is the moment to consider what this place means to each of us, and then back our feelings up with actions.”
Meanwhile, Haynes told this newspaper in Friday’s interview that the contract with the head of school Jessica Lindstrom expires at the end of this academic year and is up for renewal. He said it is the board’s desire that Lindstrom, who became headmaster in 2012 with more than 30 years in the education field, remain with the school, and directors “expressed we want her to continue.”
Until then, he stressed, “the focus is on the business of the school, where the focus ought to be.”
In a separate email to this newspaper on Sunday, WCDS Head of School Lindstrom confirmed the school had “not yet met its goal to secure the future for us, although there are those who firmly believe we will succeed.”