July 20, 2023

Concerned about the direction the current leadership has taken our School, a collective group of current Episcopal Academy families and alumni, representing various generations contributed to this document.

Since the recent firing of the Boys Varsity Lacrosse Coach, we embarked on an examination of emerging trends that have raised serious red flags. Through our investigation, we have discovered a series of alarming developments, including questionable management practices, an inflated administrative framework, concerning financial management, breaches of HR protocols, the erosion of cherished traditions and core values, and a lack of sound judgment.

Regrettably, it has become evident that the communications disseminated by the School to current families and alumni do not paint an accurate picture of the School’s present state. In this communication, we aim to provide you, as a valued member of the Episcopal Academy, with insights into the revelations we have uncovered.

During Dr. T.J. Locke’s 10 year tenure as Head of School, Episcopal Academy has increasingly strayed from the traditional core values that have guided it for over two centuries, adopting instead values influenced by power, ideology, and financial considerations. Of particular concern, an inflated and costly administrative structure, and the unjust termination and demise of the boys’ lacrosse program, which poses significant concerns about the future of this beloved sport at EA, as it will hinder the recruitment of top coaches. These changes have fundamentally diminished the School’s stature as one of America’s foremost independent private institutions, without meaningful input or notice to the board or alumni. It is disheartening to acknowledge that Episcopal Academy leadership today can be described as “Morally Adrift.”

Our investigation has shown that these substantial changes to the School’s historical character and identity appear to be the result of one individual’s actions, the Head of School, Dr. T.J. Locke, with the acquiescence of an enlarged, apprehensive, disengaged, and sometimes unaware Board of Trustees. Over time, the Board has expanded to 29 members, with 59% of them having no alumni affiliation. It is worth noting that the Board of Trustees’ bylaws once required members to be alumni, and candidates were carefully vetted by a committee rather than being individually recruited by the Head of School.

As the entrusted stewards and protectors of this esteemed institution, the Trustees bear the responsibility of upholding the enduring values that have benefitted us all. Unfortunately, the Board has fallen short in fulfilling its fiduciary duty to effectively oversee the School’s management. Instead, it has relinquished its authority to the Locke administration, granting them the power to set the agenda and dictate policies and procedures, make arbitrary hiring and firing decisions without following proper HR processes, and enforce a demerit system for students without proper scrutiny. Episcopal Academy is a community comprised of students, faculty, parents, administration, staff, and, of course, alumni. Each of these constituents plays a vital role in safeguarding the School’s well-being and collectively developing a vision for its long-term future. None should be taken for granted.

What follows is a condensed summary of our findings. Those of you who, like us, hold a deep affection for Episcopal Academy will find them deeply unsettling.

The timing and reckless decision to terminate the Boys Head Lacrosse Coach Chris Bates was unwarranted and a coincidence.

In light of the information provided to families of the lacrosse team and as outlined in correspondence sent to the Board of Trustees, it is evident that the termination of Chris Bates showcases a severe lack of professional management and leadership judgment on the part of the school’s administration. Considering the evidence shared with some parents, it is difficult to comprehend the circumstances or facts that would warrant such an abrupt and immediate termination without further deliberation, especially when better timing could have been afforded.

The events that unfolded over several weeks ago have had a distressing impact on the entire lacrosse team up to this point.  The Upper School was in the midst of final exams when news of the termination broke, thrusting the students into an emotionally charged and traumatic situation. Instead of being able to properly prepare and concentrate on their exams, they were burdened with this distraction and the weight of the sudden firing.

Furthermore, the timing of the termination, on the eve of the Inter Academic Lacrosse Championship Tournament, was particularly distressing for the students. Many of the players on the boys’ lacrosse team were drawn to the school because of their admiration for their coach. The preceding days’ events had already taken a significant toll on the boys, affecting their mental well-being. The tournament, which should have been a joyous and exciting achievement, was overshadowed by the stark reality that their beloved coach had been fired.

By coincidence, Cabrini’s Head Lacrosse Coach, Steve Colfer,  was available to replace Coach Bates after finding out that he will no longer be employed at Cabrini since the campus will be sold to Villanova University.  Had the leadership at Episcopal Academy acted with honesty, due deliberation and measured judgment, the traumatic and negative repercussions of Coach Bates’ termination and the “screen play” conducted by EA’s administration to slide Mr. Colfer into the role could have been completely avoided. It is disheartening to witness the unnecessary suffering imposed upon the students and the disruption caused by a lack of thoughtful decision-making by the Athletic Director Todd Farlie, Upper School Head Michael Letts and Head of School, Dr. Locke. These moves validate what most began to think was a “set-up” concocted by administrators who discussed terminating Coach Bates while the season was in progress to make way for Mr.  Colfer to fill the role instead of waiting for the post-season playoffs to conclude. 

Curiously, it has come to light that Coach Bates was not terminated from his administrative role at Episcopal Academy despite the abrupt and immediate termination from his coaching position. This raises a valid question: if Coach Bates committed an act so severe that it warranted an immediate termination from his coaching role before the tournament, why was the same urgency not applied to his administrative position? And why was he escorted off the premises on the day that he was fired? The discrepancy in the treatment, the lack of consistency in the decision-making process, and the coincidence that Steve Colfer was “available” raise concerns about the transparency and fairness of the actions taken by the school’s leadership. 

The impact on our children’s emotions and overall well-being cannot be underestimated. It is crucial for school officials, particularly the Head of School, to acknowledge the distress caused and engage in open dialogue with families. Avoiding these conversations has only perpetuated a sense of mistrust and undermines the school’s commitment to the welfare of its students.

Brace for Repercussions

It is crucial to recognize that the impact mentioned extends far beyond the immediate emotional toll this incident has taken on students and their families. The consequences of the termination not only undermined the team’s performance but also their future college prospects. The presence of college recruiters at the tournament further exacerbated the negative effect, as it sent a clear message to the lacrosse community nationwide that Episcopal Academy is not a place where coaches are valued and where athletes can thrive and showcase their talents. This perception can have long-lasting repercussions, affecting the school’s reputation and its ability to attract talented student-athletes and coaches in the future.

Unmasking the System: Confronting and Resolving Deep-rooted Issues

By directing your attention beyond the lacrosse program or other athletic programs and taking a broader view of the administration as a whole, it becomes evident that there are numerous systemic issues that need to be addressed. These issues extend beyond the realm of a single program and have permeated various aspects of the school’s functioning. It is essential to recognize that the challenges we face are not isolated incidents but rather indicative of deeper-rooted problems within the administration. 

As an example, throughout the tenure of Dr. Locke, there has been a consistent pattern of disregard for school petitions brought to his attention, even when they highlighted positive changes that could greatly benefit the Episcopal Academy community. One such petition, signed by over 200+ Episcopal families in recent years, represented the collective voice and desires of the school community. We believe petitions like this one were never brought to the attention of the Board. However, the Head of School’s dismissal of such petitions reflects a disconcerting lack of concern for the well-being of the school and a leadership style that prioritizes personal preferences over the greater good. Such behavior raises significant red flags about the Head’s ability to lead and make decisions in the best interests of the entire school community, further underscoring the need for a more inclusive and responsive approach to governance and leadership. 

As a most recent example, despite a letter signed by over 40 families requesting a meeting regarding the Chris Bates incident, the Head of School made it clear that there was no opportunity for a group or town meeting. It is disheartening to witness this decision, especially considering that the majority of schools across the country facilitate communication between families and School Heads through such gatherings. The fact that Episcopal Academy’s Head of School has the authority to unilaterally make this decision is disappointing, as it hinders open dialogue and a sense of community engagement within the school.

It has become apparent that the Head of School has established a close-knit circle, commonly referred to by some faculty as “TJ’s Boys Club,” consisting of the CFO (Larry Capuzzi), COO (Mark Notaro), Head of Upper School (Michael Letts), and Athletic Director (Todd Farlie). These individuals are known to be exceptionally loyal to the Head of School and have been observed carrying out certain tasks on his behalf, even those that could be considered ethically questionable. What raises concern is that none of these individuals in these key positions of CFO, COO, Head of Upper School, and Athletic Director, ever underwent a transparent, national HR search and vetting process. Instead, they were appointed directly by Dr. Locke without undergoing formal interviews, suggesting that their placements were based more on their allegiance to the Head of School rather than their qualifications and suitability for these critical roles.

Human Resources: An Urgent Need for Accountability

Our research has revealed that school only has a “Hiring Manager” employed-a concerning absence of a functioning Human Resources department at Episcopal Academy. This raises serious concerns as faculty, staff, students, and parents lack a designated avenue to address grievances without fear of retaliation. The school must address the question: Who can employees turn to for HR-related issues? The absence of a dedicated HR department implies a concentration of power and a lack of accountability. Urgent measures are necessary to establish a robust HR structure, providing a clear recourse for resolution and ensuring the well-being of all stakeholders.

A) Upholding Ethical Standards: A Message to Our Children 

Allegations of marital affairs involving at least 2 administrators mentioned in this document with fellow faculty members have surfaced, potentially sending a detrimental message to students and families. In an educational environment focused on character development and ethical values, such behavior by administrators undermines the integrity of EA and sets a poor example for students. Episcopal Academy must take these allegations seriously, conduct thorough investigations, and demonstrate a strong commitment to upholding ethical standards. 

B) Behavioral Patterns and Leadership: Promoting a Culture of Respect 

Our research has shed light on concerning behavioral patterns exhibited by Dr. Locke, which include a tendency to lose composure, display quick anger, intimidate, and shut down others. It is widely felt that Dr. Locke views individuals as either friends or enemies, creating a divisive and unhealthy atmosphere. These behaviors of the Head of School directly contradict the principles of a servant leader and go against the core values embodied by the “EA Stripes.”

Recognizing and proactively addressing these behavioral patterns is crucial in order to foster a healthy leadership climate at Episcopal Academy. By cultivating a culture deeply rooted in the principles of the “Stripes,” encompassing the values of self-control, faith, honesty, courtesy, kindness, and respect, our school can not only reinforce the success and reputation of its leadership, but also address potential liabilities that may arise.

Holding the Head of School and EA’s leadership accountable to the “Stripes” is of utmost importance at this time to restore confidence and trust that have been compromised. By upholding these principles, we can work towards a stronger and more unified Episcopal Academy.

C) The Power Play: How Controlling the Narrative Intentionally Shapes Public Perception

We believe the absence of a functioning Human Resources department at Episcopal Academy has been raised by former trustees to Dr. Locke before and it raises significant concerns about the school’s organizational structure and transparency. The lack of a dedicated HR department gives rise to speculation regarding the motivations behind this decision, suggesting that the Head of School may seek to control the narrative and consolidate power. Such concerns are deeply troubling, as a functioning HR department plays a crucial role in promoting fairness, accountability, and employee well-being. 

Despite the MeToo Movement that emerged in 2018, EA has yet to “future ready” itself for problematic issues that will come up. It is paramount that Episcopal Academy takes prompt action to establish a functioning HR department, address any potential allegations with transparency and accountability, and promote a culture of respect and ethical conduct. By doing so, Episcopal Academy can provide a safe and supportive environment for all stakeholders and uphold its commitment to excellence.

Board Governance

The concerning situation where the Head of School appears to have “stacked” the Board of Directors with individuals who are unwilling to hold him accountable for his actions is disheartening. The lack of transparency and fear of retaliation expressed by some former board members, leading to their reluctance to voice concerns, is deeply troubling. (With 29 Trustees on the Board, 59% of them have no alumni affiliation but currently have children at EA which explains why.) The resignations of a number of board members over the past few years, driven by disgust over the Head’s behavior rather than engaging in necessary discussions with other board members, indicates a significant breakdown in governance and oversight. This situation not only undermines the integrity of the board but also fails to uphold the best interests of the EA community. It is imperative that the remaining board members reassess their roles and responsibilities, prioritize the well-being of the institution, and take decisive action to address the concerns surrounding the Head of School’s management style. Only through open dialogue, accountability, and collective effort can the board restore trust, ensure effective leadership, and fulfill its duty to the EA community.

EA’s Administrative Structure

The administrative structure has become top-heavy, over-inflated, and expensive in recent years. One questions if these decisions were child-focused and directly contribute to the growth and success of our students.

When we examine the structure, it becomes apparent that certain departments have experienced considerable expansion while others, such as Human Resources, seem to be neglected. For instance, in both the Lower and Middle Schools alone, there is not only a Head of Lower School and Head of Middle School but there are also an Assistant Head of Lower School and an Assistant Head of Middle School. Additionally, the administrative team includes a Chief Operations Officer and a Manager of Operations, an Assistant Head of School and the business office has doubled in size despite the fact that student enrollment has remained the same over the last several years. 

The Development office now has 13 individuals including a Director of Institutional Advancement, a Director of Annual Giving, an Associate Director of Annual Giving, 4 Leadership Giving Officers, and a Director of Advancement Giving, a Leadership Giving Officer & Director of Gift Planning, a Special Events Manager, an Advancement Operations Assistant, an Advancement Database Specialist, and of course, a Director of Alumni Engagement and a Coordinator for EAPA. But no HR Department.

These observations lead us to question the allocation of resources and the prioritization of roles within the Locke administrative structure. It is essential to evaluate whether the current composition of senior staff truly serves the best interests of our students and aligns with the school’s core mission.

As a school community, we should strive for an administrative structure that reflects our commitment to the holistic development and well-being of our students. This necessitates a careful examination of the roles and responsibilities within the administrative team from the top down, ensuring that they are balanced properly and that most are child-focused and directly contribute to the growth and success of our students.

Financial Mis-Management: A Concern

The recent construction of the new and extravagant Playground at the lower school, which reportedly has incurred a cost of $2,000,000, presents a negative image that is incongruent with our values. The message that will be conveyed to our children and community when the playground is completed will amplify extravagance and misplaced priorities. It raises numerous questions regarding the responsible stewardship of our resources by the Locke Administration and their lack of focus. Instead of fostering an inclusive and balanced environment for growth, the disproportionate investment in a single playground inadvertently perpetuates a culture of excess and undermine the principles and EA Stripes we aim to instill in our children. The “Locke Playground” is just one example among several projects that warrant a closer look at what this administration is really doing. 

We ask the Trustees: Have you really implemented robust processes and procedures to safeguard our beloved institution from any potential mismanagement of funds? Have you taken all the appropriate measures to ensure transparency, accountability, and adherence to financial best practices?  Capital improvement projects like the “Locke Playground” require an appropriate process, one that the school has not followed in most projects over the years, which raises many concerns about transparency, financial accountability, and management of funds.

Philanthropic Fallout Risk

Some current EA families and alumni have already expressed their decision to suspend their financial support for Episcopal Academy due to the growing concerns and red flags mentioned. This unfortunate development reflects the deep disappointment, loss of trust, and concern within the community regarding the current leadership. The refusal to contribute financial support serves as a powerful message, emphasizing the urgency for change and a commitment to restoring the integrity and reputation of Episcopal Academy. It is crucial that the Board takes these concerns seriously, acknowledges the impact of these actions, and takes decisive steps to address the issues raised. Restoring the confidence and support of families and alumni will require a comprehensive reevaluation of leadership and a genuine commitment to transparency, accountability, and the best interests of the school and its community. Regrettably, the Locke administration has exhibited a concerning lack of integrity when addressing these issues. It is truly disheartening to observe a perceived disregard for accountability among certain individuals within the administration. This disconcerting realization has been further substantiated by interviews conducted with 3 former administrators of Episcopal Academy, all of whom were keenly aware of the behavior and leadership challenges within the school.

In the past month, numerous parents and alumni have expressed deep concerns regarding the state of the school. These concerns can be summarized as follows: “The whole situation is uncomfortable, so given this, the goal is to be direct, open, and honest in our concerns about the events of the last week.  If there is pressure – it is in the trust and belief that the school administration will step up to a higher standard of behavior than what we witnessed in the last week.”

“We need to look beyond the lacrosse program, and more broadly at the athletic program, the athletic director, and the administration as a whole. While finding a new head coach was paramount, I’m concerned that the problems are more systemic.”

“The decisions that stemmed from (the Bates) incident were reactionary, were not student-centered, and focused almost solely on punitive discipline instead of restorative consequences.”

”…T.J. Locke’s over confidence has led EA astray. As a result, the administration has no moral compass.”

”…If (former Board Trustee Chair) Gretchen Burke was on the Board today, the behavior that we are witnessing would never have been tolerated.”

”…There is a shared responsibility that falls upon the Board of Trustees for failing to fulfill their crucial role of diligent oversight.”

“…The EA Stripes, once held in high regard, now face the risk of not just being sacrificed, but outright abandoned by the Locke Administration. As an Alum who loves this school, I feel we have lost our way…”

Conclusion: Restore EA’s Commitment

Episcopal Academy, once renowned for its cherished traditions and vibrant sense of community, finds itself at a crossroads. Our school has long embraced a commitment to nurturing the holistic development of students—mind, body, and spirit—placing equal value on their academic, physical, moral, and spiritual growth. However, recent events and the behavior exhibited by the school’s leadership have left us questioning the fate of our core mission: to inspire boys and girls to lead lives of purpose, faith, and integrity. We cannot help but wonder how we have strayed from the ideals that once defined us and what has become of our beloved school.

This departure from our foundational principles gives rise to profound concerns about the path Episcopal Academy is now following. It is of utmost importance that the Board of Trustees engages in deep introspection, reflecting on our school’s identity and rediscovering the essence that has made our institution extraordinary for more than two centuries. As responsible stewards of EA, they should be concerned about the fiduciary responsibility they have and the serious liabilities and risks our school faces. They must confront the challenges that have compromised the integrity of our “EA stripes” and wholeheartedly commit to restoring the spirit of faith, honor, and community that has been the backbone of our school.

Failure to undertake this critical self-examination not only jeopardizes the future of Episcopal Academy but also erodes the trust and confidence of our community, stakeholders, alumni, and donors. We rightfully expect transparency, ethical leadership, and responsible governance from an educational institution of our stature.

With this letter, we seek to ignite a ripple effect, where change, acts of goodness and integrity spread throughout our school community, inspiring each one of us to do the right thing. It is our collective hope that through reflection, accountability, and a renewed commitment to our “Stripes”, Episcopal Academy can reclaim its position as a beacon of excellence and a source of inspiration for generations to come.

If you care about the future of our School, we implore you to voice your concerns and stand with us in seeking the necessary changes that must be made without delay. 

Thank you.

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