Commentary: Springside Chestnut Hill Academy: merger or hostile takeover?

Opinion March 29, 2011 1 Comment

by Nathan J. Carr-Whealy
CHA class of ‘03

My parents decided to send me to Chestnut Hill Academy in seventh grade. The thought of an all-boys school was not appealing, but after one visit I was hooked. Single-sex education with a slow integration with the all-girls Springside School seemed perfect.

CHA and SS proudly marketed themselves as two separate schools working together with the best interests of boys and girls in mind. It worked. It was described as the “best of both worlds” by The Harvard Insider’s Guide to Prep Schools.

But now, with word that the schools are combining their upper schools into one entity and changing the name, it’s time to take that off the website. “Best of both worlds” applies to the old CHA.

So why after all these years are CHA and SS becoming one high school entity? Well, that’s exactly what the alumni would like to know.

I received a letter in the mail a few years ago that explained an initiative to more closely partner with SS. We already had a partnership with SS, and it was a great. There was no reason to suspect anything was changing. But then, a year or so ago I was driving down Willow Grove Avenue and saw flags hanging along the road. It said “CHASS” and had both CHA and SS colors and logos. I nearly lost control and crashed into the Wissahickon Inn.

There have been several events that served to answer questions about the merger. No details were available for the following issues: the name, graduation ceremony/diploma, marketing strategy, proven evidence for improved education, faculty and student morale, use of resources, traditions, alumni support, financial situation, or college acceptances.

Every event is the same thing. “Things are great.” Really? Twelve teachers were laid off last year. Things are not great.

Despite a lack of answers as to how the merger will work, one thing is certain: It is happening. Alumni were not consulted or asked for input. Teachers were kept in the dark. Student opinions were either ignored or manipulated. Why should we expect to know what’s happening and be involved now? I’ll tell you why. We went there. Our parents paid the bill. CHA sold us on single-sex education, and now they’re selling out.

A combined co-ed high school means more than just a new name. It means there is only one class president and one student government. It means boys and girls are competing for one award, position, or college acceptance. If they can’t fill the seats, the ratio of boys and girls could change.

It means the high school has to be at either the SS or CHA campus. A kindergartener won’t be able to look up to a senior. A graduating class could have only male or female Ivy League acceptances.

It’s not acceptable to say, “We’re going to merge two schools and have two years to work out the details.” The plan should come first. After all, don’t they want the best for both schools?

So why has every information session been devoid of real answers? Why is single-sex education so bad all of a sudden? They sold thousands of parents on it. It worked for them and all the other alumni. Saying that studies show co-ed education is better is not adequate. Anyone can find a study that supports his or her view.

You give me statistically proven evidence on why this will make CHA and SS attract/retain the best students and teachers, improve college acceptances, and retain a unique identity among respected private schools, all while preserving tradition, and I’ll disappear.

Statements such as “We can save resources by only having one head of upper school, one department Head, etc.” sound great if you aren’t thinking about school traditions or why a private school can’t afford to pay one more measly salary. One example was the cost of running two separate graduation ceremonies. How expensive is it to set up white folding chairs in the courtyard and plug in a sound system?

Two years ago I went to a reunion event and said I was concerned about the school identity because of “CHASS.” Now there is a new name: “Springside Chestnut Hill Academy for Girls and Boys.”

I did not go to CHASS. I did not go to Springside Chestnut Hill Academy for Girls and Boys. I went to Chestnut Hill Academy. I am Light Blue. I was Class President of 2003. I won awards in instrumental music and 3D art. I wrote for the newspaper and had the honor of going to board meetings as a member of student government.

My son would have been Light Blue, too. My son would have understood all the great stories and traditions I shared with my classmates. My son would have realized why out of three degrees (BBA, MS, JD), I consider CHA to be the best education and most meaningful years of my life. Now, he won’t get the chance to experience that. CHA is gone. He won’t go to the new version, and I won’t be donating.

 

 

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  • AnonSCHParent

    Hi Nathan. Would you tell me what your opinion is on the environment at SCH for the minority students. During your time there were the students of color treated fairly by classmates and faculty? Did they fit in? Were they accepted? etc…