Wakefield Country Day School elects new board chairman as its future remains uncertain

While the future existence of Wakefield Country Day School remains uncertain, word came this week of Brett Haynes’ resignation as chairman of the WCDS Board of Directors, with a new chairman now elected to replace him.

At a special meeting of the WCDS Board held this week, Paul Larner, who resides in the Slate Mills area of Sperryville, was elected unanimously as an At-Large Board Representative and immediately thereafter elected unanimously as Chairman.

Chairman Larner will lead the next WCDS community meeting next Monday, May 6th, at 6 p.m. in the school’s Cowherd Auditorium.

In addition, WCDS board of director and parent representative Jason Brady confirmed Tuesday that he resigned from the board prior to its two-page letter going out last Wednesday, April 24, to the school community, stating that despite 22 months of diligent efforts “we have not been successful . . . garnering additional funding to offset our enrollment loss,” thus the private school in Flint Hill faced closure.

“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 [Tuesday, 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.”

The letter 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 also previously listed as its 2018-2019 Board of Directors Rosita McKee (vice chair, who became acting chair in recent days), Jitu Patel (treasurer), Lisa Marciano (secretary), Pamela Lynn Tucker (Lynn representative), Aaron Marks (parent representative), John McMahon (faculty representative), Greg Vaught (at-large representative), and Lindstrom (head of school, ex officio member).

Meanwhile, in a letter sent Sunday afternoon to families, faculty, staff and alumni, Haynes wrote that an article appearing last Friday in this newspaper “was inaccurate.”

Haynes, in a verbatim and on the record interview, surprised this reporter — given Wednesday’s revealing letter — by stating: “We have the initial capital needed right now to continue” into the coming academic year. He declined to disclose the source of the reported funding.

“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,” the chairman wrote. “I believe the editor heard my comments about the enthusiasm of the community being high and truly thought we had met our goal.”

This newspaper, which stands by its original reporting, is in possession of additional private information passed along that same Friday by a high level member of WCDS that further corroborates what was reported in the News.

In his letter to the WCDS community, Haynes added: “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.”

The former chairman also told the News on Friday that he hoped 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.”

WCDS is the fifth largest employer in Rappahannock County, just behind the Rappahannock County government.

In order for the school to operate without having to raise additional funds, according to the board of directors, it needs to enroll “at least 200 students.”

“The last time enrollment numbers were at that level was in 2014,” the board stated in last Wednesday’s missive. “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.”

Last 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.”

Before his resignation, Haynes told this newspaper that the contract with WCDS Head of School Jessica Lindstrom expired at the end of this academic year. He said it was the board’s desire that Lindstrom, who became head of school in 2012 with more than 30 years in the education field, remain with WCDS, and the 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.”

About John McCaslin 449 Articles
John McCaslin is the editor of the Rappahannock News. Email him at editor@rappnews.com.

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