I recommend reading the website of MiltonK–12.org, a new organization committed to preserving Milton Academy as a school that runs from kindergarten through grade 12. “Why is this an issue?” you may well ask. Here’s why:
Periodically, rumors surface that the Trustees and the Administration wish to jettison the lower grades. This year, the rumors were unusually strong, fueled by letters from the Board President, by the Head of School’s flat refusal to answer “Can you confirm that the Lower School will still be here in 18 months?” and by reports that senior administrators have discussed the closure of the Lower School as an immediate strategic objective.
You may well wonder why a school with a long history of successfully serving students of all ages would want to become a 9–12 prep school in the mode of my own alma mater, Phillips Academy. We don’t need another Andover or Exeter, but we do need a Milton Academy. As reported last week in the Boston Globe, the Upper School has moved from being 40% boarders to about 50% boarders in the past few years, thereby serving a more national audience, and there are those who want to move further in this direction by closing the Lower and Middle Schools:
The parent rebellion has shaken the 200-plus-year-old academy, one of seven private schools in Massachusetts that run kindergarten through 12th grade. School officials said they considered eliminating the K-8 grades as a way to increase faculty salaries and financial aid and maintain strong programs.
Parents, backed by faculty and students, say they are furious that trustees even considered closing the elementary and middle schools. Tuition for those grades ranges from $16,700 for kindergarten to $28,450 a year in eighth grade, and normally guarantees a slot in the competitive upper school. Parents say they fear that trustees want to transform Milton into a high-powered school mostly for boarders. At Milton, 6 in 10 students overall are local residents.
Robin Robertson, who as head of school earns more than $370,000 a year and is one of the highest-paid leaders of private preparatory schools in Massachusetts, upset parents because she could not say that the lower schools were secure. Robertson declined to comment.
Parents, students, and faculty worry that the school’s trustees are trying to transform Milton into a boarding school like Phillips Academy in Andover, which has triple Milton’s endowment, or Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where boys must wear neckties to class. At Milton, students stroll the campus in flip-flops and T-shirts.
The Lower School and Middle School consist entirely of day students from local communities such as Milton itself and Dorchester. Neckties vs. T-shirts make good newspaper copy, but that’s not the real issue. The real issue is providing an excellent progressive education for local families.
My own connection with Milton is the Saturday Course, which I’ve written about often in these pages. This past year it served 662 non-Milton-Academy kids, including 44 from Dorchester alone! Abandoning the Lower School would be a tremendous loss for these kids and others like them.