Private School Column
In an uncharacteristic public airing of an independent school's internecine feuding, three former trustees of Miami's Palmer Trinity School have sued 14 current and former trustees over what they say is a breach of the agreement between the Palmer School and Trinity Episcopal School when the two merged two years ago.
The lawsuit, filed in May and set for a September hearing, caps a tumultuous period at the school characterized by increasing bitterness between the Palmer and Trinity camps.
In addition to being buffeted by trustee resignations, the resignation of the school's head, and a student sit-in, the school also suffered heavy damage from Hurricane Andrew last year.
In their suit, the three former trustees, who were affiliated with the Palmer School, argue that the composition of the Palmer Trinity board violates the merger agreement, which they say calls for an even balance between Trinity and Palmer representatives.
They say Palmer board members have left the new board and have not been replaced while one Trinity vacancy has been filled by a "Trinity person.''
The former trustees complain that the board now has a majority composed of people connected with Trinity School who "vote as a bloc.'' They also are upset about the dismissal of two popular top administrators and what they consider to be the trustees' flouting of the school's bylaws and failure "to maintain the spirit and substance of the institution.''
The suit maintains that the present board is unlawfully operating as a corporation.
Tina Lane, the immediate past president of the Palmer Trinity board who is named as a defendant in the suit, said the board has operated democratically pursuant to the school's bylaws, which she said supersede the informal, unsigned, and undated merger agreement.
A copy of the merger agreement obtained by Education Week does not explicitly address the replacement of trustees who resign. Similarly, the school's bylaws do not address the board's composition in the event of a vacancy.
"Everyone knows that in a merger situation, neither school's identity comes forth,'' Ms. Lane said.
"So some of Trinity's values were imposed upon Palmer and they didn't like it,'' she added.
Observers believe the school may be headed for more placid times with the arrival of a new interim head--Allen C. Adriance, former Secretary of the Academy at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.--as well as the departure of board members allied with the old Trinity and Palmer schools.
A junior boarding school in California, taking advantage of its location on the Pacific Rim, this summer apparently became the first United States school to host young students from the People's Republic of China.
The Ojai Valley School in Ojai, which spans prekindergarten to 12th grade and boards students as young as 8, in June welcomed to its summer school four children, ages 6 to 9, from Guang Ya Private Primary School near Chengdu in Sichuan Province.
The visit initiates Guang Ya's sister-school relationship with Ojai Valley. Guang Ya is one of China's first comprehensive private primary boarding schools.
C. Michael Connor, admission director at Ojai Valley, said the Chinese students, who were accompanied by their headmaster, Qing Guang Ya, have adapted to their new environment so well that plans are already being made to send 15 more children from China next month.
Mr. Qing sought out an American experience for his students because he wants to prepare them for life in a market economy. For the same reason he hopes to put his school on a par with private schools here, Mr. Connor said.
Ojai Valley students are probably not headed to China any time soon.
Guang Ya school only takes students in grades kindergarten through 3, he said, and it is unlikely that Ojai Valley would send its own students overseas at such a young age.
Ojai Valley has agreed, though, to send some of its teachers to the Chinese school this fall to help train teachers.
A study of low-income families participating in private- and public-school choice programs in San Antonio has revealed that they are willing to spend a big chunk of their income on private schooling.
According to the study released last month by researchers at the University of North Texas, the desire for a high-quality education is the most important factor cited by parents who choose an alternative to their neighborhood school.
The data were gathered as part of an ongoing, three-year study of two programs: a private-school voucher program funded by the Children's Educational Opportunity Foundation, and a public-school choice plan operated by the San Antonio Independent School District.
Parents who choose an alternative school also tend to have more education, higher incomes, and fewer children than parents who stick with neighborhood schools, the study found.
As of Aug. 1, the National Association of Independent Schools will combine its Boston and Washington, D.C., offices in new quarters at 1620 L St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036-5605; (202) 973-9700.--M.L.