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Parents, community groups upset over staffing changes at Sewickley Academy

SEWICKLEY, Pa. — Parents, community groups upset over staffing changes at Sewickley Academy

Alumni, parents and state activists are outraged over changes made in the leadership of Sewickley Academy.

The Concerned Parents of Sewickley group, state NAACP and alumni say staff members have been fired, including the head of the Diversity Equity and Inclusion social justice program.

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“It feels almost like we’re back in 1950. I’m here because I want that to change,” Sewickly Academy alumna Carolyn Cox explained.

Last week, the academy terminated five administrators, including the school’s director of diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice; and a fifth-grade teacher.

“We’re here to support a group called the Concerned Parents of Sewickley. That group is extremely upset about the recent firings that have gone on here,” said parent Susan Cox.

A group of parents are concerned that the removal was motivated by a group of parents who sent a letter of concern to families about the schools diversity, equity and inclusion plan.

“It started with an anonymous letter that was sent to our homes saying the school was going to be radically changing; they kept using that term ‘radical,’” Susan Cox said.

The interim head of school at Sewickley Academy told the group of parents who sent the letter, that it did not influence the school’s staffing decision, and that leadership changes were made due to steady low enrollment over the years.

The former director of admissions and financial aid is suing the academy for alleged racial discrimination.

According to the complaint, during Douglas Leeks’ first full year, he enrolled the most students of the last three years, and says he was commended for his work in a performance evaluation.

The following statement is from Dr. Ashley Birtwell, Interim Head of School for Sewickley Academy:

“Sewickley Academy is laser focused on enhancing our educational experience for students and families, as well as reversing the recent trends in reduced overall enrollment and increasing attrition. Based on research-driven recommendations by our Board and direct and ongoing input from our stakeholders, we determined that a series of targeted leadership changes were necessary to ensure our world-class institution is positioned for continued educational excellence and success.

As part of this meaningful change geared toward educational excellence, several highly talented Sewickley Academy educators and administrative professionals have been elevated to new leadership roles at the school, replacing former colleagues who have moved on. Sewickley Academy is and always has been committed to fostering a safe and inclusive environment for students and families of every race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation and socio-economic status, and ultimately provide an experience that delivers academic excellence. The Academy’s new leadership is committed to being responsive to all of our stakeholders, and we will work diligently to advance our DEISJ initiatives and toward the shared goal of ensuring all students and families feel welcomed and engaged.

On behalf of the new Sewickley Academy leadership team, I’m eager to listen to members of our community – just as I met with a group of parents with concerns earlier today who brought to my attention specific experiences of their children at Sewickley Academy over the years. I value their willingness to engage with us in a safe place and to be vulnerable. I am looking forward to further conversations with them and all members of our community so that we can be the best we can be moving forward.”