By Barbara K. Schwartz
Delray Beach Tribune
Three months after Henry “Hank” M. Battle, Jr., took over the helm as president of Pine Crest School, one of the oldest and most prestigious prep schools in South Florida, the Board of Trustees on Tuesday ousted him.
“Dear Pine Crest Families, This is to inform you that the Board of Trustees voted unanimously last night to place Henry M. Battle, Jr. on administrative leave,” according to a Board of Trustees memo obtained on Tuesday.
Battle’s deputy, David C. Bowman, whom Battle had brought to Pine Crest from his prior post at the Forsythe Country Day School outside Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was also put on administrative leave indefinitely.
Vice President Dana Markham was named acting president “while the Board works diligently over the next several months to finalize a plan for the future leadership of the School,” according to the memo.
“Dr. Markham has 23 years of experience at Pine Crest and has demonstrated consistent and skillful leadership and an unwavering commitment to the School,” the memo read.
The announcement of the shakeup was made at a faculty meeting Tuesday, where faculty members cheered at the news.
Battle, 54, became the school’s fourth president when he succeeded Lourdes M. Cowgill to run the elite prep school and academic powerhouse with campuses in Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale. The school, which has a student body of 2,500 from pre-school through 12th grade, serves some of the wealthiest and most powerful families in South Florida. Tuition can top $22,000 a year.
Immediately after his appointment on Feb. 1 of this year, Battle began creating waves. Employees complained of a cowboy-style management with promotions, appointments, and terminations of numerous longtime faculty members without justification.
His actions alienated many parents and alumni, who voiced their displeasure over the Internet and in campus gatherings.
“I am as sad today as you may feel confused about what is happening with the
leadership at Pine Crest,” Bernard “Barney” Danzansky, a 1986 graduate of the school, wrote in a letter on Tuesday. “I know that you might not understand what is going on at Pine Crest but in its simplest terms, the Board decided that the school needed a new Dr. Mae [McMillan, the school’s founder].The Board tried once to find a replacement but you should know that filling Dr. Mae’s shoes is no easy task and it might be some time before they successfully do so.”
The tension was amplified following media reports that eight Pine Crest employees, ages 54 to 72, filed age-based antidiscrimination complaints with the Florida Commission on Human Relations and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, They allege that their firings broke laws protecting older workers.
In a meeting with hundreds of parents in the school’s Stacy Auditorium last week, Battle tried to quell rumblings and discuss his “evolving vision” for the future, which was to make Pine Crest the “No. 1 school in the nation.”
“Pine Crest School strongly denies allegations of age discrimination made by a small group of employees whose jobs have been impacted by changes at the school, and who have chosen to file an EEOC complaint,” Battle said in a statement. “Because this is a legal matter before the EEOC, the school cannot comment on these specific accusations.
“It is never easy to part ways with people who have been members of the school community,” Battle continued. “Our team of administrators continuously reviews all programs and personnel to build upon what is already a strong educational institution.”
The Board then gave Battle a vote of confidence and assured parents and faculty that they had made the right decision.
Battle reportedly brokered a $1 million annual contract.