Faced with significant financial challenges that threaten the permanent closure of historic Girard College, the Board of Directors of City Trusts today announced that it has approved a plan to temporarily scale back Girard’s operations to allow time for the Girard Trust to grow back to full financial health. The College also will revamp its educational program to provide more standards-driven, research-based practices to its students.
Under the plan announced by the Board, Girard College – founded by businessman Stephen Girard and funded with income from Girard’s estate – will operate as a Grades 1-8 extended day school for 425 students, with no residential program, effective at the start of the 2014-2015 school year. Girard will continue its current model – a five-day a week boarding school for grades 1-12 – for the coming 2013-2014 academic year.
The new educational program will be introduced during the coming academic year. The Board stressed that its decision to scale back, which must be approved by the Orphans’ Court of Philadelphia, is temporary in nature, and that it is committed to Girard “growing back” to a Grades 1-12 residential school as finances warrant in future years.
The changes at Girard, which has operated since 1848 as a free boarding school for poor children from single-parent families, were forced by both its staggering financial challenges – the Girard Residuary Fund, the trust that subsidizes the school’s operations, lost nearly a third of its value in the economic recession – and by the need to address Girard’s infrastructure issues, which include a projected $111 million for long-term renovations to extend the life of the spectacular but aging buildings on Girard’s North Philadelphia campus.
“These are extraordinarily painful decisions that impact the lives of our students, their families, and the many people who work at Girard College and are part of the Girard family,” said Ronald Donatucci, President of the Board of City Trusts. “We have concluded that by addressing Girard’s financial and infrastructure challenges today, we can ensure the long-term viability of this institution while strengthening the educational program of the school Mr. Girard wanted this school to benefit children in perpetuity, and we are confident that these changes will allow Girard College to survive and thrive for generations to come.”
“Girard College plays a vital role in the life of our city, and the primary purpose of this decision is to ensure that Girard can continue to serve children in need for another 165 years or more,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter, who also serves as a member of the Board of City Trusts. “These are difficult decisions, but they are necessary, and I support the Board’s action today.”
As a first step, the Steering Committee carefully crafted, with support from the Institute for Research and Reform in Education – national experts in urban education — a new education program for Girard College, one that will strengthen Girard’s current offerings and can be implemented with whatever structural changes are required to meet the current financial exigencies.
Next, the Committee generated a wide range of alternatives, and winnowed these alternatives down to nine different structural models for deeper analysis – including options for scaling back to an elementary school, a middle school, a high school, and smaller-scale models of each with a limited residential component. In the end, the Committee concluded that either a Grades 1-8 or 9-12 non-residential model with approximately 425 students would provide the best chance to serve Girard’s mission while simultaneously providing a way for Girard’s finances to be fully restored.
“Ultimately, the Committee’s recommendation to go forward with a 1-8 model rests on the belief that if we must temporarily scale back Girard’s operations, we can have a greater impact on children’s lives if we can reach them at a younger age,” said Bernard Smalley, Chairman of the Board’s Girard College Committee and a member of the Girard Strategic Plan Steering Committee, which led a comprehensive two-year review to consider Girard’s future and issued formal recommendations that led to the Board’s announcement.
“It was a very difficult decision because all of us wanted Girard to continue to be a 1-12 residential school,” Smalley said. “But we reached consensus on the thinking that if we admit children at a younger age and can keep them for eight years as opposed to four, it provides the best chance to maximize Girard’s positive impact on their lives.”
The Committee’s recommendations include a commitment to develop a series of “benchmarks” that will provide a mechanism to gradually grow back to the current 1-12 model at some point in the future.