Dear VBFS Community,
We write today to share an important update regarding our school’s future and a path forward to ensure a continued and vibrant Friends School experience for our students and families for years to come.
As many of you are aware, Virginia Beach Friends School (VBFS) has struggled with enrollment over these last few years. This year, with a new administration in place and an amazing community surrounding them, the School has seen a dramatic enrollment turnaround. This enrollment shift is in large part due to an incredible Friends community and the continued need for Friends education in Hampton Roads.
While we have had a strong 2018-19 enrollment year with 63% growth from 71 students as of July 1 to 116 currently enrolled students, the primary interest in and new enrollment for the 2019-20 academic year has been in its Pre-Kindergarten through 8th grade program. Even with strong marketing and investment for all three divisions of our school, there has been very little interest in our Upper School program. In addition, those prospective students who are looking at the VBFS Upper School have more learning needs than our current program is equipped to handle.
This year, the VBFS Upper School has 35 amazing enrolled students with very committed and supportive families. As we look to the 2019-20 school year, we currently have 18 enrolled students in the Upper School which is not financially stable for the long-term. Students and families who are moving on from Friends are grateful for their Friends education but are seeking larger student bodies and wider experiences than VBFS is able to provide at this time. Hampton Roads offers a very competitive high school landscape, and we are simply struggling to compete.
As we look to the future, and through the lens of our School’s mission to educate the whole child, developing strong academic intellect and personal character, through recognition of each child’s individual light and living the Quaker testimonies, we have made the difficult decision to retire our Upper School program at the close of the 2020-21 academic year.
This decision has not come lightly. The VBFS administration and School Committee have examined multiple scenarios with regard to the Upper School, and we have collectively come to this decision as the best path forward for the long-term sustainability of the overall VBFS academic program. Retiring the Upper School program will enable us to concentrate our resources and allocate further resources to our growing Early, Lower and Middle school programs. We understand this decision will impact and affect our community. And, it is our continued commitment to ensure an honest, transparent, and equitable transition for each of our members.
What does this mean, specifically? This means that the 2019-20 academic year will be the last full year of the VBFS 9-12 grade program. As we have done this year, Mike Barclay (HOS), Galen Hamann (Assistant HOS), and the faculty will continue to provide a strong college-preparatory academic education for our enrolled 9 through 12 grade students grounded in the Quaker testimonies, S.P.I.C.E.S (Simplicity, Peace, Integrity, Equality, and Stewardship). There has been incredible trajectory with the Upper School program this year and you have our commitment it will continue through its retirement.
For the 2020-21 academic year, VBFS will look to help place all students, with exception of the rising 2021 seniors, in other best fit high schools to finish a strong academic career.
To our current rising 9th and 10th grade families, we are regretful your children will not receive VBFS diplomas. We are committed to working with families and students to help make sure the next year is a great one and more importantly, that your child’s transition to another school for the remainder of their high school career is as smooth as possible.
For our rising 11th and 12th grade families, we are committed to seeing your students graduate over the next two years. We want our rising seniors to have an amazing coming school year in all facets. Ultimately, Friends will look to graduate its last senior class, the Class of 2021, in June of 2021. It is our hope and commitment to see the Class of 2021 to their academic finish line at Virginia Beach Friends School by allowing them to finish their academic career with a Friends diploma.
For the coming 2019-20 school year, all VBFS Upper School teachers have been extended full-time employment contracts, and we look forward to a wonderful year ahead. While we know this news may be hard to digest, it is the most viable path forward for our school.
In-person communication will be conducted as follows:
- Parent Information Sessions (for rising 9th – 12th grade families):
- Tonight, April 29th at 6:30pm in Tom Stewart’s classroom (second floor of main building) with Mike Barclay (HOS), Galen Hamann (Assistant HOS), and Joanne Young (Clerk of School Committee).
- Tomorrow, April 30th at 7:30am in the Library with Mike Barclay (HOS), Galen Hamann (Assistant HOS), and Joanne Young (Clerk of School Committee).
- Tomorrow, April 30th at 9:15am: Upper School student meeting with Mike Barclay (HOS) and Galen Hamann (Assistant HOS).
- Tomorrow, April 30th through Friday, May 3rd: One-on-one meetings with Mike Barclay (HOS) and Galen Hamann (Assistant HOS) for rising 9th-12th Grade families. This will provide an opportunity for individual family discussions. Please sign-up.
- Tomorrow, April 30th at 6:30pm: Community Information Session for all other Friends families with Mike Barclay (HOS), Galen Hamann (Assistant HOS), and Joanne Young (Clerk of School Committee). This event is specifically for our current and to-be enrolled families and is not open to the public. Any external inquiries should be routed to Mike Barclay, Head of School.
As VBFS looks to the future, the School holds conviction in returning to its roots as a first-class primary program (Toddler through 8th Grade). Our founder, Louise Wilson, had a vision to provide a formative education steeped in helping to shape a child’s intellect and character, and it is through that vision that Friends School will continue to be a safe, curious, and hands-on learning environment for our students. With that, we will continue to invest in our Early, Lower, and Middle School programs to not only maintain our standards of education, but to continue to increase the offerings in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Mathematics) and overall Experiential Learning for our students. In addition, we are also re-opening The Cottage, a warm and loving environment for ages 2.5-3.5 years. The Cottage has a rich history with Friends and the Hampton Roads community, with many of our parents holding fond memories of their Friends education starting within those walls. Retiring the Upper School over the next two years will enable teachers to specialize in the developmental ages of early childhood-8th grade and give us the classroom and campus space that the growing younger divisions will need.
Finally, our hope in sending this news prior to meeting with families is to allow each family to process this information on an individual basis. We are sensitive that this news is coming before a face-to-face conversation, and we realize how important not only the information sessions, but also the one-on-one meetings with each family will be. However, it is with careful thought we send this news now as to ensure we do not take families by surprise by delivering this news without proper preparation and consideration.
To all VBFS families, thank you for being steadfast in your commitment to our School these last years. You have all anchored the School through thick and thin. For this, we are in your debt.
Head of School
Clerk of School Committee
Any external inquiries regarding this communication should be routed to Mike Barclay, Head of School at (757) 428-7534.