A 156-year-old boarding school in Baltimore County will reopen to students once again this fall after parents, alumnae and supporters rallied to reverse plans for its closure.
Trustees for the Oldfields School, an all-girls day and boarding school, announced in April that the institution would close at the end of the academic year and sell its property in Sparks-Glencoe. Officials cited declining enrollment, financial challenges and the pandemic as reasons for the closure.
Advocates announced this week that they had reached an agreement with trustees, settling a lawsuit filed in June to temporarily halt the sale of the institution’s 140 acres while supporters developed a plan to keep the school open.
The agreement states the school will open in September and hand over its management to a newly installed board of trustees chaired by Taylor Smith, Oldfields’ former head of school, according to attorney Douglas Gansler, who represented plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Smith said Monday he is drafting a letter to former students and their families encouraging them to return this fall. During Smith’s time leading Oldfields, the school enrolled about 175 students in grades eight through 12. The student body dropped to around 100 students, about three-quarters of whom boarded at the school, by the time it closed in June. Smith hopes at least 15 to 20 students will return in September, he said.
Smith and Gansler acknowledged school operations will likely be scaled back this fall because news of the reopening comes during the summer break.
“Students had to scrounge and scattered and figured out where they were going to go to school next year,” he said. “Many made commitments to other schools. The faculty and staff obviously needed to seek other employment.”
Smith said some educators have expressed a desire to return to the school while others have sought employment elsewhere. The newly installed board on Wednesday and Thursday plans to interview three candidates for head of school, two of whom have prior affiliations with the Oldfields, he said.
Former school leaders said in the spring they were working on an agreement with Garrison Forest School that would allow Oldfields students to transfer there for next school year. Smith said he did not know the status of the arrangement but said the new board would meet to discuss organizational details in the coming days.
The settlement agreement also shrinks the board from more than 25 seats down to 15, Gansler said. Twelve new board members including Smith were sworn in Friday. Gansler expects all seats will be filled by January.
Oldfields leadership still has “plenty of time” to prepare for the fall semester, Gansler said. Officials promised a new chapter for Oldfields School including a robust capital campaign to ensure the school remains open.
Smith said the board has not yet established a fundraising goal, but he estimates the group will aim for about $20 million to $25 million. The school needs its endowment to cover about 20% of revenues, he said.
Founded in 1867, the school notably offers students an equestrian program. Smith said the school still owns about 20 horses and hopes to continue an equestrian concentration for students interested in riding, barn management and other equine studies.
Turning around Oldfields will take a lot of work, Smith said, but comes with a groundswell of support from alumnae across the globe. Within two weeks, the school was able to raise enough money to get through the coming academic year, he said.
“It’s [Oldfields is] a place where kids from many environments come together,” Smith said. “This is something we don’t want to lose.”