CHAPTER 9

TURN-AROUND, THEN INSTABILITY

 

In April 1976, Dr. John A. Lander, Girard College class of 1940, was appointed President of Girard College.  Dr. Lander held a B.S. and MBA from Temple University and a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.  He also studied at Yale, John Hopkins, and the Sorbonne in Paris.  He was a member of the Girard faculty from 1944 to 1964, Principal of Collingdale High School, a professor at West Chester State College, and finally Associate Dean of the School of Education at West Chester University.  In his first letter to the alumni he specified that his immediate priorities were to improve the morale of the students and staff, to evaluate the programs to determine if they fit the needs of the students in today's world, and to improve recruitment.  Lander was officially inducted on Founder's Day 1976.  The alumni were contented that one of their own had become President.

Lander acted quickly.  He reorganized the staff into five departments.  He formed a parents association, established a child study team, created a recruitment committee, cleaned up the campus and requested alumni support.

In 1977 Edith Feld, now retired, was the Assistant to the President. Joseph Devlin, now President of the College, was the Head of the Department of English.  Changes continued into 1977.  There were only 285 students at the beginning of the year and for the first time in years the number increased to 294 before the year was over.  In August the Orphan’s Court granted permission to admit "functional orphans," defined as those boys who did not receive adequate care from their natural parents because of separation, divorce, desertion, disability, or any other reason.  This change caused a significant increase in applications.

Lander continued to change the educational curriculum.  He introduced new text books, established a track system of progress, and reemphasized English, Mathematics, and Social Studies.  The upper class students, specializing in business courses were assigned to work in the various College offices.  A discipline code was developed and implemented.  Dress codes were enforced, vandalism eliminated, and pride in the school was instilled.  Health screening was improved.  Improvements to the facility continued.  In 1977, it cost $4.1 million to operate the College, an average of $14,350 per student.  He continued to make progress although resignation of house parents was still a major problem, possibly due to the living conditions.  Turnover of teachers declined.  Education improvements continued to be made.  The summer program was expanded to include tutorial help for students who were struggling or failing in school.  Some students were being trained in media applications, learning to use video and photographic equipment and produce training films.  The Compensatory Student Work Program, pay for work, was in effect but continuous participation depended on the student's reliability, academic achievement, and behavior.  The Social Service Representative met frequently with the Parents Association, providing an interface between the parents and the school.  The school was finally taking advantage of the Government entitlement programs.  Under Title I, $70,340 was obtained for remedial reading and math, and for arts and crafts instruction and supplies.  Under Title IV, $665 was obtained for audio visual supplies.  Act 89 provided a speech therapist.  Act 90 provided $1,207 for instructional material, and Act 195 provided $4,709 worth of textbooks.  Total enrollment increased from 294 to 326.  Of the 105 admitted, 73 were functional orphans.

Unfortunately, Lander's achievements were disrupted in 1979, by staff strikes that delayed the opening of the fall semester.  Students were directed to stay home until the strike was resolved.   The College did not open until October 8th.  Student turnover was another significant problem with most leaving before graduating.  More were leaving then entering.  Unfortunately, in 1979, Board member John W. Pinnel, an Alumnus and a strong supporter of the school, died.  Since his death, until 1992,[1] no Girard College graduate has served on the Board, perhaps retribution for the Alumni having harassed the Board during the unfortunate Lawrence years.  For most of that period, William Austin Meehan, a political figure in Philadelphia, was the President of the Board, and Chairman of the Girard College Division.

In 1980, Lander reported that the Elementary School students were demonstrating significant improvement in their reading and math ability.  Sixteen Elementary students had an I.Q. greater than 125 and they were being given special attention.  Students throughout the college were improving and Lander made these comments; "Students are now dressed and groomed more appropriately than in recent years, students are more responsive when spoken to or corrected; more civil in their relationship with peers and adults; more responsible in fulfilling their daily obligations; more outgoing; more serious about their academic work; and more interested in the welfare of the school community."

In 1981 the mechanical school was renovated.  Mechanical Instructions were still benefiting the College in that the Carpentry Shop students made cabinets for the College, the Machine Shop produced items for the Maintenance Department, the Print Shop did all the printing for the College and Alumni, and the Automobile Shop performed maintenance for the College vehicles.  Nearly one third of the boys were involved with the Scouting program. Nine boys canoed 108 miles down the Allegheny River.  One boy achieved Scout’s highest honor, Eagle Scout.   The number of applicants increased, and student enrollment increased to 361, due mainly to the advertising.  Functional orphan applicants were maintaining the school's population.  Of the 134 candidates selected this year, 115 were functional orphans.  The College had changed from a school for orphans into a school for neglected children.  Turnover of staff was still a significant problem with the resignation of 10 houseparents and 15 educational positions.  Educational quality was improving at all levels.  The basketball and soccer teams won the Penn-Jersey Conference Championships.  Merchant Hall was completely renovated, divided into many living quarters instead of dormitories, and occupied by seventh and eighth grade students.  Some work was accomplished to preserve the exterior of Founder’s Hall.   Girard College was mending and its future appeared bright.

            A major event occurred in 1982.  Until then, the "male" provision of the Will was unchallenged.  However, in the 1970-1980 period, women's rights movements were influencing people.  The court was ruling "all men" clubs and organizations to be illegal.  Rather than wait for the Will to be challenged, then spend considerable funds in a useless defense, the Board decided to petition the court to permit acceptance of girls.  On September 3, the court directed Girard College to accept girls.  This action was another in a long line of court-mandated deviations to Girard's will.

.           Progress was again interrupted in 1982 when teachers struck again.  A five-month strike occurred, the third strike in as many years.  It began on the first day of school in September and lasted until February of the following year.  Teaching salaries were approximately $7,000 less than the public school system and about $4,000 less than private school teachers.  The strike disrupted the students, especially when they were told, in September, to stay home and enroll in their local schools.  Finally, a court injunction forced the teachers back to work on January 26, 1983.  The frequency of these strikes created the impression that this was a poor school unable to pay a competitive wage, and having to settle for less than the best teachers.  The Estate was far from poor.  In 1982, $6 million was spent to operate the school and excluding real estate, the Estate was worth $92 million and more then fourteen thousand dollars this year was spent this year to maintain each child even though they were home for nearly half of the year.  The irony of the strike is that after being evaluated by an outside team, the College was finally given a full 10 year accreditation.  While the College was closed, many long overdue physical improvements were made.  The House Group (west end) was demolished.  At years end the student population was 450 but because the College was closed, the newly selected children hadn’t physically entered yet.  Only 16 graduated this year.

On February 7 1983, school reopened after having been closed by a strike since September.  There were significant problems bringing the boys back to a common education system after they had been entered into many different community schools.  During the strike, the entire Mathematics department resigned and all new math instructors had to be hired. For the third consecutive year the Director of Education was new.

Dr. Lander had to start again rebuilding the confidence of the staff and students.  Greater emphasis was given to academic achievement and minimum standards of achievement were designated.  The music  program was expanded.  Many new instruments were purchased including several pianos and the older pianos were restored to good condition.  Twenty-five students were taking piano lessons.  A Computer Department and a central computing system were established.  Junior School was being renovated to accommodate girls and renovation of Mariner Hall and the new Banker Hall, located in the Dining and Services Building, was completed.  The renovations expanded the College capacity to 672 students.  Enrollment continued to increase and the year ended with 477.  In June there were 12 graduates and nine of them went onto college.  The cost to maintain each student for the year was an astounding $17,072, an amount more then the expenses to attend an Ivy League College.

Girard College became a coed school in 1984, after extensive renovations to bathrooms, bedrooms, locker rooms, and other living accommodations.  The girls were admitted for grades 1-4 and housed in separate quarters of the Junior School but they attended classes with the boys.  The converted quarters could house 66 girls. 

Another major event was the reestablishment of the Middle School.  Many changes had been made to the educational curriculum and the results were encouraging. Computers became an integral part of education at every level.  The Standard Achievement Test scores for reading, English, and mathematics, revealed significant improvement in student progress.  Public speaking courses and foreign language college preparatory courses were offered.  The music program had expanded and over 200 students were either involved with the band or choir or taking music lessons. The High School gym was converted into music suites.   Instructions were also given in automobile, machine, print, wood shops and drafting.  The Art Department, then located in the Mechanical School was producing competitive materials. The school's athletic program was thriving and the varsity teams were excelling.  Weight training was popular and racquetball, team handball, and golf were added to the gym class activities.  The library was being used more frequently. Turn-over of house parents was a perpetual problems that would never end.  The houseparents consisted of mostly young people, 45 percent female and 55 percent male, and 65 percent of them had college degrees, something that hadn't been true for many years.  Although the Will restricted distinctive dress, students wore garnet blazers, with a school emblem on the pocket, and either gray trousers or skirts.  Strict academic achievement was required and poor performance, if not improved after counseling and considerable evaluation, resulted in expulsion.  By the end of the year enrollment was at 558.  Further improvements to the facility were made, including demolition of some unused, deteriorating buildings.  The campus appearance was outstanding.  One hundred and fifty-seven children were admitted this year and of that number only three were fatherless orphans.   Dr. Lander and his ever-changing staff, after some very difficult years, had succeeded in restoring respectability to the College.

In 1985, for the first time in many years, there were more applicants than available spaces.  For a change, the school had the opportunity to select only those most qualified.  Sixty-six girls were in classes 1 through 5.  The graduation class did well with 93% going on to college.   Students were being held to a higher standard of expectation. Computer usage was increasing with each term.  Girard teams won championships in wrestling, track, soccer and cross-country. The Compensatory Student Work Program was still in effect and those who were eligible to participate could work 10 hours per week and earning $2 an hour.  The students worked in the kitchen, various offices and the resident buildings.  Bordeaux Hall was completely renovated.  The cost of maintaining each child was $16,135. Although 79 new students were selected, 61 other students were asked to leave and their parents removed another 24.

In 1986 renovation of the Chapel organ was completed and the console was mounted on a lift to rise from the choir pit.  Girls had reached the Middle School level, requiring further facility changes and so far no significant problem were encountered in the mixing of sexes in class and other functions.  There where 82 females students.   The SAT Test results indicated that nearly all of the students scored above the national norm. The average number of students declined to 525. All but one of the 77 new students were functional orphans.

Dr. John A. Lander retired in the summer of 1987.  He succeeded in halting the decay in the facility and the decline of the College as an educational institution.  He should be credited with having saved the Stephen Girard legacy.  He inherited a school that had been damaged by questionable decisions and administration.  He presided during a period of teacher turmoil.  He administered the school through historical changes like the acceptance of functional orphans and girls.  He guided $15 million of renovations to a facility that had badly deteriorated.  Dr. Lander's contribution was outstanding.

Dr. Lander was replaced in July 1987 by Dr. Don P. Sheldon, who showed great promise of becoming a good president but after only two years he resigned to become superintendent of the Fairfax, Virginia school system.  While at the College, Sheldon intensified recruitment by sending the Director of Admission traveling nearly 10,000 miles, to preach the value of Girard College to 934 schools.  Dr. Sheldon reported “the caliber of students has continued to improve with the current student body much more academically able and motivated than previously was true.”  This was a tribute to Lander’s program.  Computer training was expanded especially in Business Education where the students were learning Word Perfect and Lotus.  Nearly 100 students were enrolled in various parts of the summer school and failing students were tutored on a one-on-one basis.  Including 1986 and 1987, the school discharged 91 students and their parents removed another 77.  The number of students maintained declined again to 474 and their cost of maintenance was $21,438 per year.  Here was a school trying desperately to provide an outstanding education, costing $21,438 per student per year, but it couldn't keep its staff or students.  The facility had, in recent years, been upgraded but it appears like a museum of the past, with only a few students making it all the way to graduation.  This year Joseph T. Devlin, who would later become Head of the School then President, was promoted to Principal of the Middle School.

Perhaps Sheldon’s President’s Report for the year reflects why he left so abruptly after only two years.   He reported that “More and more students, we find, are coming to us from homes where drugs and/or alcohol dependency is evident, or where parents are recovering from use of these drugs.”  Student discipline was a growing problem.  The Health Department indicated that providing health care for girls and boys was becoming a challenging job.  It cautioned about the increased use of drugs by the younger generation, problems related to transmission of sexual diseases, the fear of Aids, and child neglect and abuse at home.  The report stated that caring for girls was completely different then boys in that one had to be specially trained to deal with possible pregnancies, abortions and sexually transmitted disease.  Then too, the medical profession was becoming concerned about lawsuits and liability.  Girard College had many new challenges brought about by Court mandated departures from Stephen Girard Will.

The value of Vocational Training was being questioned.  Student morale and school spirit were a major concern.  Incentive programs were implemented whereby good behavior and conformance were rewarded with off-campus trips and dining with the staff.  “Coupons” were awarded to students who did something special and each week drawings were held to pick students for special recognition.[2]

In October 1989, Dr. Howard Maxwell, a 1948 Girard College graduate and former president of the Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades, became President.  Maxwell graduated from Gettysburg College with a B.A. in history then earned a Master's Degree from Harvard and a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan.  Maxwell became the school's 15th president.  When he was inducted, in June 1990, the student population was 527.   One of Maxwell's stated goals was to reduce the school's high attrition rate.  When the class of 1990 entered the college it consisted of 105 students of which only 18 graduated

 In 1991, there were 532 students in the college and the cost of operating it was $12.6 million or $23,687 per student.  Eighty-five functional orphans were admitted and 93 were separated of which 75 were at the request of the College.  A new High School head was selected, a position frequently changing.  The College joined the Penn-Jersey League and became a member of the National Association of Independent Schools.  Allen Hall was reopened as a dorm for girls and security was  a major problem.  High School students were still permitted to leave each weekend but had to return Sunday evenings.  To improve security, ID photos were issued to all the staff and students. The outside wall of Founder’s Hall was repaired.  The Architectural drawings were returned from the Pennsylvania Historical Society.

Dr. Maxwell’s term as President lasted only until 1992, when the Board eliminated the President's position, supposedly for economic reasons, and appointed Joseph T. Devlin, former director of education, to serve as Head of the School.  The College was again subjected to a major staff reductions and another reorganization all to save money.  Budget constraints were placed on all line items.  Elementary pre-first grade and remedial positions were eliminated as were several teaching positions.  The Middle School principle position was eliminated.   Cut backs occurred in house staff and the positions of Senior Housemaster were abolished.

One of the first actions of Mr. Devlin was to consolidated instruction and residential departments.  The College adopted James P. Comer’s model for educating poor urban children, a program developed at Yale.  The number of students was 499 and the cost per student was $24,725. [3] By years end the cost of operation was down to $10 million.   While the College was cutting costs dramatically the estate’s value rose to $210 million.

As of Nov 30, 1993 there were 608 applicants seeking admittance.  One hundred and ten new students were admitted and student population rose to 551 of which 44.8 % were girls.  A recruiter was hired on a per capita basis and the College was seeking Asian American children. Neighborhood social services were solicited for likely candidates.  The court was petitioned to raise the admittance age from 12 to 15 to increase the number of high school students.  Fifteen new students were more then 12 years old and 17 were Asian Americans.  Dental Service was discontinued.  A partnership was formed with Cabrini College and Temple for student teaching.  Computers were being installed everywhere.   The College finished the year with $600,000 left over from its budget, claiming this was accomplished through austerity but in fact many important projects in the College were deferred.[4]

In 1995 there were 802 applicants for admission. Ninety-four students were accepted that year of which 51were boys and 43 girls.  Eighteen were over 12 years old.  Girls now represented 49 % of the students.  Recruitment and screening processes were modified.  Interviews were required of all candidates and consideration was given to bringing potential high school students for an overnight stay before acceptance.   More economical changes were implemented in 1995.  The summer program was eliminated and Girard College became "a ten-month residential school."  If a student needed remedial help during the summer, it became the responsibility of the parent, not Girard College.  For students to be readmitted each September they were required to have "C or better grades."  The student body was now 548 and the average cost per student per year was reduced to $17,575.    Mr. Devlin made these comments in notes to the Alumni Association: "For the last two years Girard College has been undergoing a tremendous transformation.[5]  We are building a program that will make this a top quality school.  We are developing a comprehensive program that will develop academic excellence, character, citizenship, responsibility, values, and a strong work ethic."[6] 

To help assure success, the Board of Directors of City Trusts created a Board of Managers of Girard College to assist in the governance of the school.  This managerial group consisted of Board members, Head of School, alumni, educators, community leaders, and parents.[7]

Girard College surely has changed.  Today, Girard College stands as a relic of the past, a tribute to a man's dreams and ideals.  It started with one hundred students, then slowly increased to seventeen hundred, then decreased to below three hundred, and today contains nearly six hundred.  It began with five buildings sitting on 43 mostly unoccupied acres.  As the student population increased, new buildings were added until all of the 43 acres were occupied.  Excluding the five original buildings, all the pre-1900 buildings, except the Mechanical Building, are gone and what remains is a sedate, under-populated, private school, with open spaces that once contained beautiful Gothic buildings full with students and staff.  Its reputation for scholastic excellence has also been through several cycles.  Girard College is a little-known, old school adjusting to modern times and hopefully it will survive because it is needed  Girard's words to, "provide a better education, as well as a more comfortable maintenance, than they (children) usually receive from the application of the public funds."  Girard College had passed through trying times and one wonders if they have ended.

 



[1]When the Board finally selected another Girard College alumnus to the Board,  they selected Dominic Cermele, of the 1959 class,  a very active Philadelphia politician.

[2]Apparently this system was not uncommon. I recently wrote a book on Sleighton Farm School, a reformatory for delinquent children, and they used almost an identical system of rewards for conforming to rules and extra effort.

[3]Since no President’s Reports or Head of School report was apparently published I obtained this and the following information from the Board’s Report on file at the Philadelphia Main Library.  It is impossible from the available record to determine whether the reorganization plans were Devlin’s or Board directed.

[4]Some of that money could have been used to prevent the decay that is occurring on the third floor of Founder’s Hall.

[5]Having examined the yearly Board reports it is interesting to note how often the President of the College, now President has reported "a year of transition."  The college is having one now, probably the second since 1992 when Joseph Devlin became the Head of School.  In 1990, Dr. Maxwell reported a "year of transition."  In 1987, Dr. Sheldon attempted a transition but left before he finished.  Between 1976 and 1987, John Lander had several changes in educational direction.  In 1974, Emil Zarella had a transition to correct most of the things that Lawrence did between 1969 and 1974.  Dr. Odgers began to play with transition in 1947 when he created the impression that the Estate was going broke.

[6] From a letter to the Alumni from Joseph T. Devlin, Head of School, published in the Steel and Garnet, Aug/Oct 1996.

[7] Cermele was appointed Chairman of the Board of Managers.



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