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Prep School to Close
By Gail Wesson
The Press-Enterprise

Saturday, December 15, 1990

Alice Wier, 89, wants to remember the good years at Elliott-Pope Preparatory School, but yesterday she felt compelled to join the students and faculty for what was billed as "The Last Supper," a dinner and awards program.

The board of trustees decided last month to close December 31 because a fundraising appeal failed to rescue the 60-year-old school from financial difficulties. Final exams yesterday signaled the end of school for more than 100 students. They will move out by this afternoon.

Wier, who worked at the school 37 years before retiring in 1989, lives in a one-bedroom cottage at the Saunders Meadow Road campus screened by pines and oaks, but close enough for occasional visits from old friends.

"It's very difficult, you can imagine. I expected to be here the rest of my life," she said from her cozy living room dotted with photographs and mementos. Wier and her daughter, Laury White, do not yet know how the closure will affect those who live in adult campus housing.

For now, Wier thinks more of what will become of the students and faculty. "I just feel so sorry for them." Of last night's farewell she said, "Frankly, I'm not keen on going because it's kind of sudden. This is it. This is forever."

Instead of listing sports and activities, a message board inside the campus lodge noted the dinner program, the availability of packing boxes at $2.50 each from the student store and the transportation schedule for airport-bound students.

The lodge, usually a center of student activity, is hauntingly quiet. An almost full bowl of popcorn sits near a fireplace. There are questions from passersby about where faculty and students are headed next. And there are many goodbyes.

Richard Elliott Jr., whose parents, Richard and Edith Elliott Sr. were instrumental in founding what was then called Desert Sun School, has difficulty publicly expressing his feelings about the closure.

His father, who died in 1989, liked the phrase "the great family of man," and considered it the essence of the school. That family feeling is one the younger Elliott, a school trustee, hopes students take with them out into the world.

"This is a sad time," said Headmaster David Goodsell, who joined the school last summer. It's like the end of the school year, but because no one will return, "They won't have friends to come back to," he said.

"I think the majority of our students have a place to go. A place where they would like to be, not forced into a situation," said Director of Studies Kyle Tong.

While some may enroll in public school for the second semester, far more have found places at other independent, academic prep schools throughout the U.S. and, in one case, Perth, Australia.

Admissions officers from a dozen schools have met with students on campus since the closing announcement November 27. Most students have schooling options and time to visit campuses or their families before making decisions. Some schools accepted several Elliott-Pope students, including schools in Claremont and Ojai.

Idyllwild resident Mahri Kintz, whose two children attended the school, said she and some other parents of day students are still studying education options.

Twenty-three Elliott-Pope students have been accepted into the special arts and education program at Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts, according to Jim Zuberbuhler, who accepted a job as arts school deputy director of development and will leave as Elliott-Pope's director of admissions.

Zuberbuhler, who helped Tong and faculty members find other school placements for students, said, "We wanted the kids to land on their feet because it's certainly not their fault."

Hemet Unified School District officials helped by notifying the school of substitute teacher openings for faculty members who do not yet have jobs, he said.

Some have found jobs, but it is difficult to place teachers in the middle of the school year, Tong said. Some may seek short-term jobs while applying for permanent fall teaching positions.

Those leaving the school cherish memories of the good years, as have Alice Wier and her daughter. Wier enrolled White for summer camp beginning in 1948, when the school accepted elementary-age children, then for the regular school term in 1950. White attended from fourth grade through high school.

Wier worked as a receptionist, houseparent, infirmary worker and tended a rose garden. Back then, students wore uniforms and faced morning inspection. For 26 years, she chaperoned the students on Saturday night outings to the movies.

"It wasn't work for me. It was something I thoroughly enjoyed," she said. The closure announcement came as a shock. She decided against sending out the usual Christmas cards to a long list of former Elliott-Pope associates because if she did, "I would have to tell each and every one" the sad news.

Copyright: The Press-Enterprise


Copyright 1998 David Gotfredson