Losing Battle: Administration Before Hank Battle Needs More Scrutiny, Reader Says

Categories: News, School Daze
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Our feature story last month about Pine Crest School continues to generate discussion and feedback from people who are concerned about the school's future. Lately, two recent graduates came forward to talk about the secretive student groups that met with Hank Battle, the president who served for 99 days earlier this year.

Now, a commenter named Brian Ross, who identifies himself as a Pine Crest parent, says there's another part of the story. He emphasizes the point that to address all the problems the school faces, one needs to look at past decisions.

Specifically, he claims that the former president, Dr. Lourdes Cowgill (who was allegedly ushered out of office so Battle could take the helm in February), oversaw the departure of many teachers, as well as an increase in class sizes. The article attempted to paint a full picture based on the facts garnered from many sources, as well as alluding to a more complicated situation behind the scenes in the boardroom.

Here's an excerpt:

Dr. Cowgill sainted as she is by Mr. Kamph's sources, had her own issues. Under her tenure, Pine Crest saw the departure of numerous talented administrators. The headmaster's position at both campuses has been in flux for years.

She bumped class sizes up from the 180s to the 220-230 range at the high school when my oldest son started four years ago. If you do the math, that's at least $4.5M in revenue between tuition for the four classes admitted at that size and extras like bus service and parking and all of the other hidden costs. It helps build a building or two without a campaign. It also bumped up class sizes in some classes to 24 to a classroom.

Teachers were added, but several turned out to be very inadequate to the job, or were there for very short terms by their own design. It does not aid in stability for the children's education.

Dr. Cowgill herself departed quietly, but under circumstances where there were question marks as well. Her CFO was forced to step down last year after some irregularities popped up. It would have been fair to report that life was not always sunny there previously.

Mr. Kamph mentions Brandon Knight. Fine young man. One could ask why the school poured money into selected portions of the Athletics program under Dr. Cowgill and not others. Why athletics saw the lion's share of discretionary spending while facilities in the arts grew decades out of date.

A prior headmaster expressed frustration at times with teachers who had been at the school many years who had not kept up with their educational training and were failing to apply some of the continuing education which the school provided to them. This might also explain some of the dismissals of teachers suing the school for age discrimination. It might not.

One might look at the disparities between the academic performance of the lower school in Fort Lauderdale and at the Boca campus and get a better understanding of why any administrator would want to make changes to bring performance levels up to similar standards at both campuses.

Pine Crest has a tremendous college placement program. It provides a very high level of academics. What is something of an indictment of past leadership, though, is that the majority of "famous" people from the school come from Bill MacMillian's days running the place, when it was more dynamic and less rubric-driven. We have a porn star from Dr. Cowgill's tenure who floats up when people talk about famous alumni of more recent days. Beyond that, there may be more, but, other than Mr. Knight, few are touted often or come to mind.

As one Pine Crest headmaster noted: "It's a good school that could be a great school." It's not a great school yet, although I am sure it will be one day.

It was time for a change in culture, modernizing the academics and in bringing the school up to speed with the Andovers, Choates, Horace Manns and Harvard-Westlakes.  It is unfortunate that the Board did such a poor job with the due diligence on Mr. Battle, and that these transitions weren't better handled. One should also wonder about the wisdom that the Board used in authorizing a headmaster's salary of $1M a year plus bonuses.

The school needs to move forward.

Progress would be in using more dynamic teaching method and teaching kids to think outside the box more, take chances, and serve the community around them as leaders for their generation.

As always, we welcome feedback from the Pine Crest community past and present. Keep the conversation going over in the comments.


Follow The Pulp on Facebook and on Twitter: @ThePulpBPB. Follow Stefan Kamph on Twitter: @stefankamph, and Facebook.
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