Private Schools Column

By Mark Walsh — February 21, 1990 4 min read

Episcopal High School in Alexandria, Va., one of the most exclusive private boys’ boarding schools in the country, has decided to admit girls beginning in 1991.

The board of trustees of the 150-year-old school voted in January to become coeducational. In doing so, they added Episcopal to the list of other venerable schools for boys, such as the Lawrenceville School and Deerfield Academy, that have decided to admit girls in what has been described as a “second wave” of coeducation at the leading boarding schools. The first wave began in the late 1960’s.

The school, which does not admit day students, was founded by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in 1839, but has been run by an indepedent board of trustees since the early 1920’s.

School officials offered both practical and philosophical reasons for the decision to admit girls, citing not only the economic need to increase enrollment but also the belief that students learn better in a coeducational environment.

The school, which currently has an enrollment of 285, expects about 50 girls to enroll for the 1991-92 school year.

While 12.2 percent of students in independent schools are members of minority groups, according to the most recent figures, only 3.7 percent of teachers and 2.3 percent of administrators are minorities.

To attract prospective minority teachers and administrators, the National Association of Independent Schools will hold job fairs in four cities on March 3. Some 175 schools will be represented at fairs in New York, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Boston. A fair was scheduled for Feb. 17 in Dallas, and one is to be held April 7 in Cincinnati.

The fairs will run from 9 A.M. to 3 P.M., with no charge for admission. More information is available from Randolph Carter, director of diversity and multicultural affairs at nais, or from the independent-schools associations in states where the fairs are being held.

Catholic-school enrollment in Chicago dropped by 25 percent over the past decade, but enrollment in that city’s evangelical Christian, Jewish, and independent private schools gained dramatically, according to a survey by local researchers.

Over all, the proportion of Chicago students attending private schools remained constant at about one in four, according to the report by Loyola University’s Institute of Urban Life.

Enrollment at Catholic schools within the city limits of Chicago dropped from 132,169 in 1977 to 98,792 in 1988. The enrollment declines were a factor in the Archdiocese of Chicago’s recent decision to close six elementary schools and one high-school seminary in June.

Lutheran-school enrollment dipped 11 percent, from 6,917 students to 6,174, while the ranks of public-school students declined by 20 percent, from 524,000 to 419,000.

Enrollment at other Christian private schools, however, more than doubled in the period, from 2,236 to 5,698. The increase was fueled mostly by the growth in the number of evangelical Christian schools that opened--a trend that was mirrored nationwide, the report noted.

Other types of schools showing growth during the period were Jewish, independent, proprietary, and Islamic schools.

“The importance of Chicago’s private schools to the urbanization of newcomers, to the vitality of neighborhoods, to the setting of higher standards for public schools, and to urban civility is often undervalued,” said Ed Marciniak, president of the institute.

Further information about the report, “Chicago’s Private Elementary and Secondary Schools: Enrollment Trends,” can be obtained from the Institute of Urban Life, 1 East Superior St., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

Headmasters at seven of the Washington area’s most prominent private schools have joined together to express concern about a common problem: student drinking parties.

The headmasters wrote to parents to warn that students are throwing large, unsupervised parties in which “excessive drinking and sexual license are common.”

Parents were asked to increase supervision of their children to prevent such events, which can attract several hundred students, according to the headmasters’ letter. At least one such party seems to be available each weekend, they said, and several have resulted in fights between students from the various private schools.

The letter was signed by headmasters from the Georgetown Preparatory, Gonzaga, Holton-Arms, Landon, National Cathedral, St. Albans, and Sidwell Friends schools.

Some 5.4 million students attend private schools in the United States, out of a total elementary- and secondary-school enrollment of about 46 million students, according to a new survey released by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Catholic schools enroll the most private-school students, with 2.6 million. An estimated 1.7 million attend other religious schools, while 713,000 attend nonsectarian private schools, according to “Key Statistics for Private Elementary and Secondary Education: School Year 1989-90.”

For more information about the survey, contact Marilyn Miles McMillen at the National Center for Education Statistics, (202) 357-6754.--mw

A version of this article appeared in the February 21, 1990 edition of Education Week as Private Schools Column