Parents and alumni of Valley Forge Military Academy and College upset with the shocking departure of the school’s president demanded his reinstatement at a meeting Saturday and also called for the chairman of the board of trustees to resign.
The impassioned appeals at a monthly meeting of the school’s alumni association -- attended by some trustees -- mark the latest chapter in a controversy that has engulfed the Radnor Township school since Walter T. Lord resigned as president earlier this month.
“We demand that Gen. Lord be reinstated immediately,” said Scott Keith Newell, according to a live stream of the closed meeting that was posted on Facebook. The group of about 100 parents and graduates at the meeting immediately responded with a loud standing ovation. Newell said he drove nearly 700 miles from his home in South Carolina to attend the gathering.
Some parents threatened to pull their students out of school if the former president was not reinstated.
Lord, who was hired in April of last year, resigned in a letter to the board dated March 8. In a Facebook post, the 54-year-old retired Army major general and Valley Forge grad attributed his departure to “a philosophical disagreement with our board chairman,” differences that he said could not be resolved.
The chairman, John English, responded in a statement last Sunday that the board was surprised by the resignation and that Lord was stepping down because of “irreconcilable differences.” Lord had offered to remain until the end of the school year but was terminated immediately because the resulting turmoil was “detrimental to the institution,” English wrote.
English, a Valley Forge alum who was honorably discharged from the Marines in 1996, did not return calls seeking comment Saturday. Lord also could not be reached for comment.
Conrad E. Muhly IV, one of the trustees who attended the alumni association meeting, said on the live stream that he had talked with Lord three weeks ago and told him that he was doing a “great job” and that “it’s been better than I’ve seen in 17 years during my tenure on the board.”
When Lord resigned -- the third leader to leave the school in four years -- Muhly said he was shocked. Board members asked if there was anything they could do to change his mind, Muhly said, and Lord responded no. When Muhly, another board member, and the school’s attorney attempted to meet with Lord the next day, Lord refused and was not available, Muhly said.
Col. Stuart B. Helgeson, the school’s superintendent and chief operating officer, and Vince Vuono, chief financial officer, have assumed Lord’s duties.
Parents and alumni have been expressing their outrage and disappointment in online posts, with more than 2,100 school graduates and others signing a Change.org petition demanding improved transparency from the board and the return of Lord.
“You have a major general who has an impeccable record and he comes here and has a problem. I think the issue is the board of trustees,” graduate Damien Timofai said Saturday before walking into the meeting. “Maj. Gen. Lord has been nothing but caring, professional, respectful and progressive. He’s raised money, exceeding goals, and is an exceptional leader,” said Timofai, 29, a businessman from Upper Black Eddy.
Roque Schipilliti, president of the alumni association, and Maj. Gen. Jessica Garfola Wright, a former undersecretary in the Department of Defense, have resigned from the board of trustees in the wake of the controversy.
English said he offered to “step down if the board wanted to retain MG Lord,” but the offer was unanimously rejected, according to his statement.
On Friday, Lord reposted a message from a year ago on Facebook: “When a toxic person can no longer control you, they will try to control how others see you. The information will feel unfair, but stay above it, trusting that other people will eventually see the truth just like you did.”
The turmoil comes as the 91-year-old school is working to recover from a troubled decade during which enrollment declined and officials struggled with dwindling finances, layoffs, and allegations of hazing and sexual assault by students. Valley Forge Military Academy and College is an all-boys private school for cadets in grades 6-12 and also offers a two-year coed college program.
Greg Offner Jr., a graduate who serves on the alumni association’s board of directors, said the meeting was a valuable exercise. Members of the board of trustees promised to consider the parent and alumni concerns in an upcoming meeting, Offner said.
“I think that everyone’s opinions were heard and that the general tone leaving the meeting was one of optimism,” said Offner, 36, a business consultant from Philadelphia. “At this point," he said, “the involvement and attention that parents and alumni are investing in this school is greater than I’ve ever seen. It’s this kind of activism that the school needs to thrive, and I hope it continues.”