When a family member or friend is suffering the throes of dying, close watchers can see the end approaching. They prepare themselves for the inevitable. Still, death evokes strong grief and pain.
This same sad cycle affects academic institutions, small and large businesses, churches and a slew of civic organizations. The impact pervades the communities of participants and supporters, spurring disappointment and despair.
Such an event happened last week to my wife and me, my daughter and granddaughter. The Oldfields School, an all female independent boarding school founded in 1867, announced it was closing in June.
Enrollment had continued to decline in recent years. Financial challenges were insurmountable. Choices were scarce.
My oldest daughter had graduated in 1991, her daughter in June 2022. Located in the lovely rolling hills of northern Baltimore County in Glencoe, Oldfields offered a nurturing environment that enabled adolescent women to achieve academic success and heightened self-esteem.
The experience was invaluable to my daughter and granddaughter, as they both acknowledge. My wife and I will be forever grateful.
Small classes (including day students), special attention and firm but caring expectations combined to give Oldfields a special feeling, one felt by thousands of alumnae over 156 years. The emotional attachment will not fade for its graduates and their parents.
As the board chair and interim head wrote last week, Oldfields and the Garrison Forest School will establish a “collaboration.” It is not a merger. Located in a nearby valley in Baltimore County, Garrison Forest will offer current students an opportunity to attend a well-respected boarding and day school.
As a graduate of an excellent public high school in Baltimore, I well understand that outstanding public schools permeate our country. Fortunately, they are well-funded for the most part. They are incalculable assets in the communities they serve.
They form the foundation of our country, producing first-rate citizens.
Private, independent schools rely on tuition, alumni giving and endowment (built by donations and bequests). They are expensive. Parents consider them worth the financial sacrifice. However, as the cost of colleges and universities has risen, the expense of secondary and higher education institutions can become unbearable.
Single-gender independent schools are finding it increasingly difficult to sustain themselves throughout the nation.
My daughter and I, as we observed plummeting enrollment and rising tuition in recent years at Oldfields, anticipated drastic action. When the school head left after four years last June to accept a number two position at a private school in New Hampshire, the colloquial phrase of “ jumping from a sinking ship” seemed apt.
Dying is wrenching to watch. You pray for a miracle. Then, death suddenly happens. But to those attentive to a failing school or business or church, the demise is hurtful and heartfelt—but not stunningly surprising.
Oldfields’ lovely setting will no longer be a venue for academic and emotional growth. Supporters hope that it does not sprout mini-mansions, as is evident on adjacent parcels. This past parent (academic verbiage) has proposed that should the property be sold, that the proceeds be used to establish a scholarship fund for young women.
Out of something disturbing can come some good. Time will judge my innate optimism.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. After 44 years in Easton, Howard and his wife, Liz, moved in November 2020 to Annapolis, where they live with Toby, a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel who has no regal bearing, just a mellow, enticing disposition.
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