The following case study is based on true events. Names and identifying details have been modified.
Freeman-Brown Private School (FBPS), based in Illinois,was founded in 1944 by the Brownand Freemanfamilies. Over the years, the school acquired areputationas a leading academic institution with an advanced curriculum. Parents described the school as having a highly performing academic environment that provideda rigorous curriculum while fostering a safe, family-oriented atmosphere in a place where community was valued. Not surprisingly, the student population grew and the school opened multiple campuses in the metropolitan area (Bristol, Culpeper, Richmond, Hampton, and Staunton).TheBrown and Freeman familieseventually sold FBPSto the for-profit,Alabama-based CaudhillInternational Family of Schools in 2007. The mission of the Caudhillgroup was to broaden the international focus of FBPS, along with the nine other schools it owned (across the United States, Switzerland, and Mexico). Even under the new ownership, the environment in the various FBPScampuses was still described as achievement-oriented and supportive.
- 1944-Freeman-Brown Private School was founded by the Brownand Freeman families.
- 1944-Inaugural opening establishedHamptoncampus.
- 1969-Culpepercampus was established.
- 1981-Richmondcampus was established.
- 2003-Bristolcampus was created.
- 2007-Freeman-Brown Private Schools joined the Caudhill International Family of Schools.
- 2008-Culpepercampus relocatedto Stauntoncampus.
- 2008-The inaugural freshman class joinedFreeman-Brown Preparatory High School.
- 2010-Freeman-Brown Preparatory High School was designated an authorizedInternational Baccalaureate (IB) Programme School.
- 2012-Freeman-Brown Preparatory (High) School graduatedits first class in May.
- 2012-Freeman-Brown’s new 6th-12th grade Middle and Upper Schoolcampus opened in August in North Richmond.
- 2013 -The Upper School Athletic Complex and Student Center opened.
Within ayear of Caudhillowning the school, parents noticed a subtle name change.The school, which was previously known as”Freeman-BrownPrivate School,”was now “Freeman-Brown Preparatory School.” This name change in itself didnot seem to affect the school’s imageor functioning at an operational level, but it was an early indication of the strategic direction in which the school would be heading.
In 2008, FBPSattempted to enter the high school business at its Culpeper campus, butthat initial attempt was not as successful as anticipated. This was probably a contributory factor to the relocation of the high school to a new state-of-the-art campus in Richmond, known as the NorthRichmondcampus.
A high point for FBPScame in 2010 when it launched its International Baccalaureate Programme (IB Programme). Its first IB graduating class wasMay of 2012. However, that same yearFBPSdecided to close both the Culpeper and the Hamptoncampuses. At the time of the Hamptonclosure, families were informed that low enrollment was the reason behind the closure and that all other campuses would remain open.The economic recession in the United Statesbetween 2005 and 2011 led to many organizations going out of business, and the education sector was not exempt (U.S. Department of Labor, 2013).
In addition to the economic recession, private schools in Illinois have faced intense competition from charter schools, which are independently run public schools. Between 2011 and 2013, two top-rated charter schools opened campuses within 5miles of the Staunton campus.Some FBPSStauntoncampus students transferred to those schools.
In 2013, FBPS sent an e-mail to parents in error, informing them that the Stauntoncampus (pre-K through middle school)would be discontinued. That e-mail was withdrawn on the same day, and shortly afterwards, the head of the school retired. Caudhill appointed Dr. Audrina Murphy as the new head of the school. Dr. Murphy, a well-educated and experienced administrator, worked with “strategic planning experts” to create a niche and a new mission for the school. Dr. Murphyembraced her new role and continuously assured parents that the Stauntoncampus would remain open. Parents who attended the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) meeting in mid-December 2013 affirmed that she offered assurances at the meeting.
Winter break started on Monday, December 23, 2013, and students were scheduled to return to school on Tuesday, January 7, 2014. On Monday, January 6, 2014, theStaunton campus principal received information that the campuswould close at the end of the semester, and this news was conveyed to faculty and staff at the school. Only two campuses would remain open: the Richmondand NorthRichmondcampuses.
Parents were outraged, students were in disarray, and faculty and administration were in shock.If parents had beeninformed earlier, it would have been possible for them to try to secure a spot for their children at one of the schools nearby. However, open admissions at the surrounding schools had closed earlier in December. Parents attempted to place their children on waiting lists, but most lists had already filled up, some in excess of 800 students. Additionally, many local schools had already completed their hiring for the following academic year, leaving FBPSfaculty and staff limited in employment options.
As it turned out, FBPSwas not the only school closing campuses. That period was a difficult time for schools in Illinois in general, with reports from the Center for Education Reform (2011) reporting that between 2010 and 2011 themajor reasons schools closurewere financial, mismanagement, anddistrict-relatedissues.
Parents were invited to a meeting on January 8, 2014, to meet with the head of the school and a Caudhill official. Parents invited the media to the meeting, but the media was denied access. At the onset of the meeting,Dr. Murphytook the podium and beganby praising the Stauntoncampus and its community. These statements bothered some of the parents, who demanded to know why the school was closing if it had all the positiveattributes just attributed to it.
The meetinggrew tense andheated.Parents felt betrayed because of the timing of the closure announcement. Dr. Murphy stated that buses would be provided to shuttle children ages 2-12 to the new locations. However, the closest campus would require a trip of 40-miles(minimum)twice every day. This would not be a viable option for manyparents, but the announcement timing left them with fewoptions.
Other parents tried to negotiate with the administration to run the school for one more academic year sofamilies would have enough time to transition their children. Neither the Caudill official nor Dr. Murphy agreed to this proposed solution.
Some parents offered to pay more in terms of tuition, but administration again did not agree to this proposal. Parents asked if the closure was due to financial reasons. Dr. Murphy replied that finances were “not a factor” and the closure was for “demographic reasons.”
WhileDr. Murphy stated that the reason for the closure of the two campuses was not financial in nature, Moody’s analyticsreported that the parent company (Caudill)was experiencing some strain. The rating of Moody’s analytics is a representationof the analysts’ opinion of the creditworthiness of an organization. From August 2012 to 2014, the corporate family rating (CFR) went from B2 to Caa2 indicating a lack of confidence in the financial health of Caudill.
Following the parent meeting in January, some families pulled their children out of FBPS immediately, prior to the completion of the academic year. Those families received no financial reimbursement as parents had signed a contract for the academic year. Other families decided to withdraw from the school at the end of the semester. By June 2014, student population had significantly diminished on the affected campuses.
Some of the students who remained at Staunton planned to transfer to surrounding schools. Few decided to continue at the Richmond and North Richmond campuses. Others registered at Allegiant Academy, a new non-profit private school opened by parents previously affiliated with Staunton. KaseyLuce, daughter of one of the FBPS founders, came out of retirement to become principal of Allegiant Academy. In addition to her role as principal of the school, Lucewas also the president of the non-profit corporation that owned the school.
Allegiant Academy began with an enrollment of about 100 students (pre-K-8 grade), rising to 120 students by the end of the year. Most of these students were from the Staunton campus population. The school leased a church for its first year to house the school. Parents described Allegiant Academy in positive terms with approximately90% of families choosing to reenroll for the 2015-2016 academic year.