Boarding Decision

Hockaday Announces Boarding Decision

April 14, 2021

Adapting to long-term trends in independent school education, The Hockaday School Board of Trustees has decided to phase out the School’s Boarding Program over the next four years, even as Hockaday redoubles its engagement with and expands access to the Dallas-Fort Worth community. In its vote, the Board reaffirmed the School’s commitment to fully supporting current Boarding students through to graduation and to honoring the special legacy of Boarding at Hockaday.
Trustees voted on the strategic realignment on April 14, 2021, after more than 20 years of discussion about the strengths and challenges of the Boarding Program and how best to fulfill the School’s mission, including an exhaustive six-month examination completed in April by the Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Boarding Program.
In close consultation with stakeholders across the School community, the Ad Hoc Committee examined Boarding’s role in the School’s mission; Hockaday’s ability, now and in the future, to deliver a high-quality Boarding experience that meets the School’s expectations for an exemplary student experience; the competitive landscape in residential education; what would be required to achieve long-term financial sustainability in Boarding; and the opportunity costs for the School in supporting Boarding.
“Boarding has been an important and valuable part of Hockaday’s offerings for more than a century. We make this decision with a heartfelt appreciation for that legacy, as well as a deep sense of our responsibility to current and future students and families,” said Board Chair Kathryn Walker Francis ’94. “This shift ensures that Hockaday’s programming will continue to fulfill the School’s mission, live up to Hockaday’s high standards for the student educational experience, and achieve long-term financial sustainability.”
Dr. Karen Warren Coleman, Eugene McDermott Head of School, said the decision represents a significant milestone for Hockaday and another in a history of bold decisions by the School.
“For many in our community, including Boarding alumnae and all those who benefited from their relationships with and connections to our Boarding students, this will come as sad news,” Dr. Coleman said. “This decision also holds great hope for a new era in which the School engages more deeply and meaningfully with the Dallas region, extending Hockaday’s leadership and living out our core values of access, inclusion and equity more fully.”
Noting that Boarding students, families and alumnae have contributed significantly to the life of the School throughout its history, Dr. Coleman said, “We will be working over the coming weeks and months on creative ways to celebrate the legacy of Boarding, preserve its beloved traditions, and embrace our Boarding alumnae as a vital part of the Hockaday community.” Alumnae and students will be invited to participate in a planning effort that could lead to events, exhibits, storytelling, online remembrances, and other commemorations.

List of 3 frequently asked questions.

  • History and Process

    The Boarding Program was established in 1914 as the “Home Department,” housing six girls on Haskell Avenue. During the intervening years, Hockaday changed its name twice, changed its campus location twice, grew dramatically and substantially changed its programs and admissions.
    In 2005, faced with significant challenges to the Boarding Program’s enrollment and finances created by a shifting admission market, Hockaday’s Board of Trustees created an ad hoc committee to study Boarding. That committee reported back in 2007, and the School pursued the ambitious set of recommendations it offered.
    While some of the Committee’s goals were met, however, many others were never achieved, including making the Boarding program financially self-sustaining by 2012, consistently enrolling a full class of academically qualified students, realizing international diversity, and better supporting students with faculty and staff who live in residence.
    In 2018, the Board of Trustees identified the Boarding Program as a topic for future attention. In 2019-20, the School gathered detailed feedback about Boarding from students, parents and alumnae as part of a comprehensive research project, Hockaday 360. In October 2020, in light of ongoing questions and the length of time since the prior review, the Board of Trustees formed a new Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Boarding Program and charged it with developing recommendations about the program’s long-term future. This evaluation was completely separate from the short-term decisions about the Residence Hall necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The Ad Hoc Committee engaged in a thorough process of research, deliberation, and engagement with the Hockaday community, reviewing hundreds of pages of data and history and conducting more than 100 meetings and interviews with stakeholders between October and mid-April. “Gathering data and talking to Boarding families and alumnae has been an essential part of our process, as has sharing our findings broadly with community members and hearing their feedback and questions,” said Elizabeth Cullum Helfrich ’98, Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee.
  • Committee Findings and Recommendations

    The Committee learned that the Boarding Program has suffered from declining demand in the U.S. and internationally, a reality that has led to persistent low enrollment (below the School’s capacity) and has meant that increasing amounts of financial aid are needed to yield students into the program. The resulting structural deficits over the past 30 years are too large to be addressed by increasing enrollment, raising tuition, reducing financial aid, or fundraising.
    In sharing its recommendations with the Board, the Committee summarized its analysis: “The 2005-07 Ad Hoc Committee completed its charge with optimism, and the School made many valiant attempts to strengthen enrollment, improve the student experience, and shore up the program’s finances. These efforts made a positive difference, but they were not sufficient to overcome the significant, long-term market forces that have affected small boarding programs everywhere. The original reasons that Hockaday’s Boarding Program was both necessary and distinctive have changed over time.”
    The Committee went on to express concerns about the student experience, including staffing levels in the program and high attrition levels more than three times that of the Day population. The Committee concluded: “We believe that for Hockaday’s Boarding Program to be competitive in the future, it would need to make significant investments in the program and facilities — and even with such investments, success is not guaranteed. We are resolved that if Hockaday cannot deliver a program that it can say with confidence is among the best anywhere, it should direct its resources and attention to other efforts that better serve its mission, enhance its leadership and distinction, and deliver, in the words of The Hockaday Difference, ‘an extraordinary student experience’ and ‘a model for how to educate girls.’ ”
    Based on those findings, the Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Boarding Program recommended phasing out the Boarding program while supporting current students to complete their educations and graduate.
    “While it is difficult, the decision to close the Boarding program is the right one,” said Lyda Hill '60.  "As a former Boarding student and longtime Trustee and supporter of the School, I admire Ms. Ela Hockaday’s willingness to embrace change when circumstances warrant. Our time at Hockaday has taught us to be leaders, and as such we are charged with the responsibility of making courageous decisions that move us forward.”
  • A Renewed Civic Commitment

    As the Ad Hoc Committee deliberated on the future of Boarding at Hockaday, it also posed a question: What could the School do to continue to ensure that the student body is culturally, ethnically and globally diverse?
    Dr. Coleman said leaders are already drawing answers from the School’s most recent strategic plan, The Hockaday Difference, as well as the School’s extensive research. The strategic plan outlines a fundamental commitment to recruiting diverse students, staff and faculty and to “sustaining a culture of genuine inclusion.” Hockaday 360 research also found that families and alumnae alike believe the student body should be more socioeconomically diverse. Hockaday currently lags behind its peers in the amount of financial aid it provides to Day students.
    Dr. Coleman noted that Hockaday’ student body is more diverse than at any time in its history, with students of color making up 40 percent of its Day enrollment this year — and even more opportunities exist in Hockaday’s back yard. “Dallas-Fort Worth is the fastest-growing metro area in the U.S., and it has grown significantly more diverse. A majority of children under age 10 now identify as minority and one-fourth of Dallas residents are foreign-born,” she said.
    This creates an unprecedented opportunity — and need — for Hockaday to play a greater role in the lives of girls from a variety of backgrounds, opening up access to a college-preparatory education for more students from across Dallas.
    Much of this work is already underway at that School — in the classroom, in co- and extra-curricular activities, in admissions, in public service, and more, Dr. Coleman said.
    “We intend to focus on programs that will deepen our engagement across the region,” she said. “I expect this will be a multi-year initiative, with some efforts rolling out more quickly and others taking time to fully develop.”
    Dr. Coleman said the School will develop operational plans for several key areas, including:
        •    Expanding Day enrollment and financial aid
        •    Developing partnerships and outreach to recruit diverse students, faculty and staff
        •    Refreshing the curriculum to ensure innovative teaching approaches along with multicultural and global perspectives
        •    Enhancing equity and inclusion programming and professional development for faculty and staff
        •    Extending programs that support social and emotional well-being for all students
        •    Expanding ground-breaking efforts such as the Institute for Social Impact
        •    Exploring summer pipeline programs in partnership with other independent schools

    Ms. Francis said these efforts are in keeping with Miss Ela Hockaday’s original vision in 1913. “From the beginning, Hockaday’s mission has always been about providing access to a top-notch, college preparatory education to girls from a wide range of backgrounds,” Ms. Francis said.
    She added that Trustees are proud of and grateful to those whose extraordinary dedication and efforts have ensured that Hockaday takes the right steps for future generations.
    “We are grateful, too, to this entire community, whose passion and energy and commitment make Hockaday an extraordinary family, and an extraordinary force for good,” she said.
In parallel with the Ad Hoc Committee process, the COVID-19 pandemic led to short-term decisions that affected Boarding at Hockaday. The School closed the Residence Hall in March 2020, and students finished the year remotely. Concerns about student health and well-being led to the continued closure of the Residence Hall in 2020-21 and a pause in recruiting new Boarding students. 
These decisions were due solely to the pandemic and were not connected to the Ad Hoc Committee’s work. Most Boarding students were able to continue learning at Hockaday as Day students or remotely, and the School has committed to reopen the Residence Hall in January 2022.
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