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Face-to-Face Discussion of Student Demands Provides Opportunity for Progress at Sewickley Academy

SEWICKLEY, PA – A meeting of Sewickley Academy students and the school’s administration occurred this morning providing the opportunity for dialogue.
“I am pleased that we were able to get together,” said Dr. Ashley Birtwell, Head of School at Sewickley Academy. “However, as per the content included in the students’ press release this afternoon, I’m concerned that our interpretation of the outcome differs.”
 
Dr. Birtwell also stated, “It was very important to me to meet with the students and discuss their petition. I want them to feel heard and know that steps to address all of the items included in the petition are currently under consideration. They have requested a public apology for what they are referring to as disparaging remarks. While I was not present during what occurred in my office on March 3, I stand by how it has been described in recent statements. That is consistent with how it was relayed to me by several trusted individuals who were in attendance, including Academy security.”
 
“Another key topic the students raised in yesterday’s press conference is in regard to a clause in our Student and Family Handbook. I was glad to be able to explain to the students today that the handbook underwent a legal review last summer in which revisions were made by a law firm that was hired to make it consistent with language used in similar books state and nationwide. The language in question is considered best practice among independent schools,” said Dr. Birtwell. “However, I assured the students that when the handbook is again reviewed this summer by legal representatives, we will share the students’ feedback regarding this particular clause.”
 
“Even after today’s lengthy discussion, I’m not clear why the students mentioned our national search for an ongoing DEI director in their petition and included the same information in their subsequent press release as a pressing demand,” said Dr. Birtwell. “We have been very clear that this is, and has been, an on-going national search and the initial candidate review is underway. In fact, one of the students is a representative on the task force that has been conducting the search for the past several months.”

In addition to Dr. Birtwell, the Academy’s administration, faculty and staff were represented by David Fortna, Director of Enrollment Management, Bob Allison, Director of Human Resources, Derek Chimner, Interim Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and Jessica Peluso, Dean of Student Experience. Carrie Miller, Director of Breakthrough Pittsburgh, also participated. The students invited parent representatives to serve as their advocates during the meeting. Additionally, and not in accordance with previous agreement concerning who would attend, the students included an adult representative whom Dr. Birtwell recognized as someone not currently affiliated with the Academy, but acquiesced to her presence.
 
Dr. Victoria Mattingly of Mattingly Solutions, the DEI consulting firm working with the Sewickley Academy community, and Dr. Phillip K. Woods, superintendent of Aliquippa School District, invited to serve as impartial facilitators, were not permitted by the students to participate in the conversation.
 
Sewickley Academy administrators remain open to additional meetings with students regarding other items listed in their petition.
 
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 www.sewickley.org.
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