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Westbury Friends School shuts upper grades

A welcome sign at the campus of the

A welcome sign at the campus of the Westbury Friends School in Westbury. (June 28, 2013) Credit: Steve Pfost

Westbury Friends School is closing its kindergarten through fifth-grade operations because of declining enrollment and has let go of 10 full-time and part-time teachers and assistants, school officials confirmed Friday.

The 56-year-old private school, which enrolls children as early as age 2, instead will focus on early childhood education for toddlers through pre-K, they said.

Several parents said enrollment dropped at the Quaker-run school after the school's board of managers decided several months ago not to renew the contract of Gerri Faivre, its head of school. The five-year contract expires Sunday.

Faivre, responding to messages Thursday, said she was not available to comment until next week.

"She had a vision for making the school the best possible environment for students," said parent Lindsay Boorman of West Hempstead. "She was just a leader that I can't imagine finding a replacement for."

Board of managers member Marta Genovese said the school plans eventually to reinstate the upper grades by growing a strong section on early childhood education. The school will offer toddler, nursery and prekindergarten classes in the fall, and about 21 students have enrolled, she said.

School officials confirmed that the teachers were not offered new contracts.

Elizabeth Enloe, clerk of the Board of Friends Seminary in New York City, has been named interim head of school, effective Sunday, and kindergarten teacher Barbara Hershman has been named interim director of early childhood, Genovese said.

"We were doing our best to keep the school to fifth grade to serve the families, but the expense of doing that over the past five years was not allowing the school to balance its budget," Genovese said. The board had held meetings with parents, she said.

Annual tuition is $14,500 for grades 1 through 5.

Parents got word of Faivre's impending departure earlier in the school year. Alex Orloff, a parent from Manhasset and former board of managers member, said parents sent a letter in March protesting the loss.

The parents asked for an explanation of the plan to maintain accreditation for the 2013-14 school year and for Faivre to be reinstated. They also asked for a meeting, but Orloff said that meeting never took place. Parents started to leave the school in stages, he said.

"My understanding is that as of last week or a week-and-a-half ago, there were only three kids left," he said.

When asked about the decision not to renew Faivre's contract, Genovese said, "The board in its examination of where we wanted to go . . . felt that it was in the best interest of the school that her contract wasn't renewed."

She acknowledged that some parents were displeased with the decision. "As some parents left, people began to get nervous about what the class sizes would be and perhaps that led to a little bit more," Genovese said. "We wish those families well . . . and we are quite sure we are going to be successful in the future."

Across Long Island, enrollment in public elementary schools has been dropping in recent years. Several Catholic schools also have closed.

This time last year at Westbury Friends, about 75 upper-grade students were enrolled in the third and fourth grades combined, and six students in the fifth grade.

The school was founded in 1957 by members of the Westbury Monthly Meeting and is a member of the Friends Council on Education. It is a not-for-profit educational corporation, chartered by the New York State Board of Regents. The school has been accredited by the New York State Association of Independent Schools.

A call to the Friends Council in Philadelphia was not returned Friday, and the director of the state association of independent schools could not be reached.

Westbury Friends, located on a 15-acre campus off Post Avenue, is separate from Friends Academy, a Quaker-based school in Locust Valley.

"Westbury Friends is a very special Quaker school and we are sorry to hear that they are curtailing grades K-5," said Bill Morris, the head of school at Friends Academy. "I remain optimistic and hopeful that their early childhood program will remain very successful and will establish a firm foundation on which to build for the future."

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