April 30, 2020
Dear Saint Mark’s,
It is with sincere regret that we are writing this letter to inform you that Saint Mark’s Episcopal School, the elementary and middle school portions, will close at the end of this academic year. Our hope is that the preschool will continue to serve our youngest students, as it has for the last 60 years.
Many of you know that the school has been rebuilding enrollment and gaining strength over the last several years. In August of 2018 we were at 76 students, and the school leadership had choices regarding the future of the school. As we had reserves in the bank, a group of committed students, families, and teachers, and a mission which felt vital to our larger community, we decided to go forward. From that time, using our tuition revenue and reserves the school had built up over a number of years, we have grown to 106 students. All indicators were that we would continue to grow our student body and could forecast a time in the near future when we would have enough revenue from tuition to meet our budgetary needs. Last fall the church agreed to temporarily release the school from some of our shared expenses, thus offering us an extra $80,000 per year in funds, with the understanding that their resources were also finite, that they could only offer this remission for a limited period of time, and that we begin incrementally to raise tuition while also increasing enrollment. We consulted with educational leaders with years of experience, as well as with other schools and the Diocese, and given our growth across all grades this looked viable.
Prior to COVID-19, this was the plan going forward, and we entered into admissions season for the 2020-2021 school year with much anticipation. However, given this worldwide event and the economic consequences that will follow, our financial forecasting indicates next year will not be possible. Independent schools around the country are reaching into their reserves to fund themselves while planning for decreased enrollment and increased tuition assistance over the next several years. As our own major disruption happened 3-4 years ago, and we have been using reserves to support ourselves during this time of growth, we do not have this option. We have thought about many possible scenarios that involve continuing next year, and at this time do not believe any are viable. Any responsible plan would have to account for the next two years of financial hardship, and would require over a million dollars to fund, in addition to maintaining 95 students, which is unlikely. The other option is to price tuition at the actual amount that we need to educate students, which is around $20,500. This is also difficult to imagine given our current community, and we would need to be prepared to lose many of our families, which would mean that tuition would need to be even more. The School Board met to discuss this situation and passed a motion to alert the Vestry to the present circumstances. On Sunday, April 26, after much deliberation, concern and awareness of how this will affect each individual associated with St. Mark's, the Vestry decided to close the school.
Saint Mark’s Elementary and Middle School were born out of a call to offer a comprehensive education that is both spiritually grounded and academically rigorous; a program that is developmentally advantageous at each stage of life, while also building a foundation for a life lived well in later years; and, always, a community built on love in which relationships were primary and our responsibility to others and to God was reaffirmed during Morning Prayer and seen throughout the campus daily. We succeeded in this mission, and for almost 40 years offered a unique community built around meeting the needs of the children and adolescents in our midst, while also providing a generative space for staff, faculty, and families, many of whom shared communities in both the school and the church.
While we have discerned that it is time to close our doors at this time, that does not mean that our mission has ended. We have graduates in the world from over 30 classes who are living our mission with their lives. We have staff and faculty who have been changed forever, for the better, by being part of our community. Families continue to remember Saint Mark’s as an important part of their “village” for a considerable portion of their children’s lives, which gives them more strength today. Our mission partners abroad in Haiti and here locally continue to benefit from our relationship, and our mission is woven through their own as they meet needs now, and into the future.
Our intention is for the preschool to continue, although we are uncertain what this will look like as we come to understand our educational context, especially for early childhood education, amid COVID-19. We understand that many of you want to continue to support the life of the school. Please know you can do this by supporting the preschool, which has been offering education for 60 years, even longer than the elementary and middle schools. The mission to offer education and formation will continue on with our youngest students here and will be even stronger with your support.
We also hope to offer a teach out for next year’s 8
grade. We understand that transferring to a new school will be difficult for our students, and doing it in the last year before high school is even more challenging. To continue to support these students and their families, we are looking into a program that would allow them to finish and graduate at Saint Mark’s. Guen Vinnedge, our Director of Middle School, has agreed to oversee this program, and information regarding this program will follow for our current 7
When we can, likely in the fall, we will offer a worship service to honor the school and the many people who have been part of our mission over the years, as well a time to say goodbye. We are also in conversation about ways we might connect prior to this, as the stay-at-home orders are lifted and gathering together is an option, most likely mid-summer. We are aware of the difficulty in processing this without physical connection to each other, and to the school, and we will seek to provide space for this in the coming months.
This information is a lot to take in and will be unexpected by many. If this were happening under usual circumstances, we would have grief counselors ready to speak with students after the announcement. As this is not possible right now, we have arranged for a therapist and member of our community (alumni, preschool parent, and church member), Elizabeth J. James, LMFT and LPCC, to speak with the teachers on Friday morning about how to support students in this grieving process. After this, teachers will be available at 11:00 to meet with students online, and can help them begin to process the emotions that are part of this loss, especially when it is part of so many losses that the students, and so many of us, are experiencing right now.
We also have a Town Hall meeting scheduled via Zoom at 4:00 pm on Monday, May 4, where we can answer other questions you have about this decision, or this process. Please submit questions to
before 1:00 pm on Monday, May 4. We will assemble these with other questions we anticipate into a FAQ, which will be available to you all as well.
The flames we have kindled over decades will continue to provide light and hope in various parts of the world, and wherever people who have been part of our school are alive our mission will live with them. As I [Karri+] have become more aware of the likelihood of our closure, I have thought frequently of the image below. In the spring of 2016, I was invited to be part of a delegation from the Claremont School of Theology to the annual Lantern Floating Ceremony in Hawaii. These lanterns were lit by thousands of individuals, families, and groups, who sent them out into the world with hopes and prayers. The beauty I witnessed was beyond words and left a deep impression upon me as I saw the lights disperse into the night. I see our community, filled with hope and prayers, moving into our world today in much the same way. Every individual brings the spirit of St. Mark's with them in their every step, every action, every relationship, and with their very lives. When I reflect on all we have been, I know I have witnessed beauty here, with you all, that is also beyond words.