Campus News

Sewickley Academy Responds to Requests from Student Petition

SEWICKLEY, PA – It has been brought to the attention of the Administration at Sewickley Academy that certain Senior School students are preparing to publicly demand a response to the petition that they issued last week.
Specifically cited are two of the petition’s requests including instituting a national search for a permanent DEISJ director for the Academy and removal of statement regarding off-campus criticism of the school from the 2021-2022 “Handbook and Directory for Students and Families.” Additionally, the students are seeking a public apology from Head of School Dr. Ashley Birtwell and Interim Head of Senior School Mike Cesario for their involvement in the events on Thursday, March 3, during which police were called to the Administrative offices on campus.

“First and foremost, I commend our students for expressing themselves and their compassion for the betterment of our school,” said Dr. Birtwell. “Just yesterday I reached out to this group of students via email to schedule a meeting to discuss their petition. I suggested it occur either same-day or this Thursday. A representative from our DEI consulting firm could be available on either day, and I thought our students would appreciate his presence in the meeting, which I stated in the email. I am disappointed that this group of students and their parents have decided to conduct a public campaign against their own school rather than first meeting and collaborating with me and other school leaders, which is what they had originally requested.”

“Had the students met with Dr. Birtwell, they would understand that most of the requests in their petition could be agreed to,” said Kate Pigman, Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Academy. “The national search for a DEISJ director began months ago and in the past weeks we have interviewed candidates. That information has been shared with anyone who has asked. And we will be happy to listen to any suggestions and thoughts that they have regarding provisions of our handbook, and to have a productive discussion on what ideas may and may not work. Nothing is more important than having a supportive culture of trust and excellence in our learning environment.”

“What we want our students to learn is the respectful and constructive way to handle conflict and their grievances,” Dr. Birtwell also said. “It is unfortunate that I was unavailable when they came to my office with their petition last week. If they had scheduled time with me in advance, I would have made the time to meet with them. Meeting with students is one of my favorite parts of my role with the Academy. Ongoing disruption of school days is neither respectful of their classmates who choose to be learning at this time, nor a constructive way to resolve their concerns.”

Students and parents throughout the Academy have expressed support for the current administration and embarrassment and frustration with the actions of some of their peers who are attempting to discredit the reputation of their beloved school. Last week, an Academy student shared via a television news interview, “I think there’s a lot of unnecessary chaos at the school,” stressing that the distraction of her teachers and classmates was taking away from the most important reason for being in school: their education.

“The outpouring of support from our Senior School families has been tremendous,” said Mike Cesario, Interim Head of Senior School. “The faculty, staff, and I greatly appreciate all of the thoughtful notes and kind gestures that we have received this week.”
About Sewickley Academy
Sewickley Academy, founded in 1838, is a private, college-preparatory academy in Western Pennsylvania, preparing exceptional children for extraordinary lives. Sewickley Academy offers a welcoming environment for students from all backgrounds throughout the tri-state area of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. The Academy’s culture and programs stand on four legacy values: Character, Educational Vigor, Community, and Diversity.
Sewickley Academy's graduating class of 2021 achieved 94% admission to a top-choice college with SAT scores averaging 1301, 250 points above the national average. Nearly half (49%) of the class were recognized as AP scholars and 16% were recruited athletes. Of the current

Pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 student body, 34% are students of color, and 50% are female, representing 42 of the region's school districts. For more information, visit