Former Ellis School head, trustees mum about sudden departure
One week after stepping down as head of The Ellis School, A. Randol Benedict won't explain what led to her sudden departure, and neither will her former employer.
“I'm sure she will do well, whatever she chooses to do next,” said Laura Phelps, executive director for the Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools, where Benedict serves as board secretary.
“Heads of schools leave for family, they leave for medical issues, they make these choices for a variety of reasons, usually personal ones,” Phelps said. “She has a passion for education and for Ellis as well. She'll be fine.”
Benedict, whose LinkedIn profile lists her as an independent “education consultant,” left Ellis three weeks after school started and four years into her tenure. Her annual compensation was $236,324 in 2011, according to tax records the nonprofit is required to file with the IRS.
Neither Benedict nor any of Ellis' 25 trustees could be reached for comment.
The board of The Ellis School, a private, all-girls school in Shadyside, is finalizing plans to recruit Benedict's replacement, spokeswoman Kitty Julian said.
Robin Newham, former director of Ellis' Upper School, is serving as the interim head.
In August, the board adopted a plan for the school that aims to redefine education for young women in a global society, emphasizes health and athletics, and develops confidence and competence in girls, a slight departure from the goals Benedict set in 2009 that stressed innovative community partnerships.
During her time as the school's head, enrollment declined 13.3 percent, a rate that experts say is a problem for a school that relies on student tuition of up to $26,000 a year.
“Anytime you can track a decline in enrollment, it throws up those red flags to check out what's going on,” said Rick Newberry, president of Enrollment Catalyst, a private, independent and Christian school consulting firm based in Seminole, Fla.
Tax records show Ellis lost more students than three other regional private K-12 schools between the 2008-09 and 2012-13 school years, dropping from approximately 486 students to 410, a nearly 16 percent decline. Enrollment fell at Shady Side Academy and Sewickley Academy in the same period, approximately 2.5 percent and 6.5 percent, respectively. Winchester Thurston School, also in Shadyside, has increased enrollment 4.75 percent since 2008.
“There are always multiple factors as to why a school might be facing a decline,” Newberry said, “but there's no question leadership plays a big role in that conversation. Sometimes changes have to be made.”
When enrollment is down, schools have to seek additional forms of revenue through endowments and fundraising, Phelps said.
“Ultimately, we are tuition-driven schools,” she said.
Annual tuition at Ellis ranges from $9,000 to more than $26,000, depending on the grade level. About 35 percent of students receive financial aid.
The timing, Newberry said, is most telling.
“Obviously, I'm speculating, but something may have been brewing for a period of time,” he said. “It's never a good time once school is in session.”
Julian, who said previously there was no “wrongdoing” involved in Benedict's departure, said the school will keep parents apprised through email and a series of small group meetings to meet Newham and share with the board any questions or concerns.
Megan Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5815 or email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Risks don’t get any better as online dating prospers
- Bettis lab, 4 others receive new name
- 3 from Allegheny County charged with Medicaid fraud
- Animal welfare groups see opportunities in dialogue about Vick signing
- Newsmaker: John Malone
- Two Brentwood council members change minds and don’t resign, council approves the third resignation
- Vote on partnership between Wilkinsburg, Pittsburgh Public School possible in October
- Board members bring business attitude to nonprofit August Wilson
- Penn Hills fire displaces 10
- Port Authority’s plan for car-free communities slow to bear fruit
- Citation of police observer called ‘abuse of power’ by Pittsburgh police