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Academy of the Holy Names' changes, secrecy worry parents

TAMPA — A week and a half after one of the area's oldest and most prestigious private schools announced a sudden shift in administration, officials at Academy of the Holy Names are preparing for an interim president but staying tight-lipped on other details.

On July 1, the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, a national group based in Oregon that oversees the academy, dismissed its local leadership, which included Hillsborough County Commissioner Rose Ferlita and former Tampa City Council member Bob Buckhorn.

A board of seven Roman Catholic nuns and interim campus president Harry V. Purpur will run the school for now.

But some parents say they've received little explanation, and they worry about the school's stability.

The change comes about a month after former academy president Jacqueline Landry left for a position at a California private school. She had been president for four years — far too short a time, said Victoria DiFabrizio, who has had two daughters attend the school. She said she has seen about four principals come and go in the past seven years.

Academy leaders have been "very secretive and not forthcoming on what they're doing and why they're having trouble keeping principals, or why they have trouble keeping presidents," said DiFabrizio, who has volunteered as a homeroom mom and served in the Mother's Association, similar to a PTA.

"When you're paying the kind of tuition that we are, I would expect consistency."

Shannon Almadrones, the mother of a fifth-grade boy, said she also hopes for consistency and is happy with the school's current elementary principal.

"We'll see what the board of nuns is going to do," she said. "That's the biggest thing for all of us is the turnover and the uncertainty."

The Academy of the Holy Names enrolls about 815 students at its Bayshore Boulevard campus, where tuition costs more than $10,000 a year. Originating in 1881, it is the state's second-oldest high school, according to the Florida Council on Independent Schools.

Still, school leaders are vague about the recent events.

The reasons for the overhaul?

A sweeping change in direction, according to Sister Jo' Ann De Quattro, who now sits on the new board.

"It's not appropriate for me to say anything that was confidential," De Quattro said this week. "It's a turning point in the life of the school. We saw this as an opportunity to begin anew and have a fresh start, and really open the opportunity for the thinking that's emerging at this time."

Some former trustees said they were informed of their release by e-mail. Those reached for this story declined to comment, except for Ray Ifert.

"We love the school, and I don't wish anything but the best for them," he said, while deferring most questions to De Quattro.

De Quattro maintained that the decision was not made because the 18-member volunteer board did anything wrong.

Purpur, who lives in Orlando, takes over Monday as interim campus president. He completed the past academic year as interim principal at Immaculate Conception-Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, a K-8, in Everett, Wash.

From 2001 to 2008, Purpur served as superintendent of Catholic schools for the Diocese of Orlando. He held the same position for the Archdiocese of Seattle from 1994 to 2001, according to the Academy of the Holy Names.

He could not be reached this week because he was in the middle of moving to Tampa, said Deb Shannon, Sisters of the Holy Names spokeswoman.

Purpur has put his children, now grown, through schools run by the Sisters of the Holy Names, De Quattro said. He plans to live in town while a private search firm holds meetings with parents, students, faculty members and alumni to get input on the school's future and find a new president. The meetings have not been scheduled.

Purpur is making a one-year commitment. If a replacement isn't found in that time, he could be asked to stay longer, De Quattro said.

As for a permanent board of trustees, De Quattro said, members will be chosen sometime this year. The board will, as it has in the past, include lay people, she said.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

Academy of the Holy Names' changes, secrecy worry parents 07/09/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 9, 2009 5:30am]
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