Last week’s cover story on Pine Ridge School, “Hard Lessons”  by Ken Picard, provoked numerous responses. Some people took issue, quite vehemently, with our depiction of the school’s troubles and its headmaster, Dana Blackhurst.
Unfortunately, those who were most angry about the accuracy and fairness of the story would not agree to have their comments published in our letters section; nor were they willing to have them edited for space, as we routinely do.
Seven Days values the opinions of our readers, especially those who have concerns about how we report, write and present the news. We hope to be able to publish a more comprehensive airing of the response to “Hard Lessons” in the near future. For now, here’s what those readers who agreed to be published had to say.
THE REAL DANA
I was the registrar/office manager and assistant to Dana Blackhurst from July 2006 to January 2007. This article is ridiculous.
First, Dana is far from frightening. He is extremely caring and gives individual attention to each student and his or her needs. Even with students that he and Pine Ridge staff found to be outside the educational profile, he would help them plan for which educational institution would best suit that child’s needs.
In any company, new management and changes bring fear and resentment. He has helped to organize and structure academics. Extracurriculars are important, but learning comes first. He wants to help students achieve, learn, attend college, organize themselves and become successful adults.
As for the so-called “cinder blocks” that the students were asked to carry, they were small bricks and were moved right in front of my office window. This method of discipline has been used for years, and if there were ever any bleeding from this, which there wasn’t, the nurse would surely have been alerted.
This article is a gross misinterpretation of facts, and I believe it to be a personal attack on Mr. Blackhurst by an author informed by angry ex-employees.
To clarify a few things in the article about Pine Ridge School:
1. My son’s last year at Pine Ridge was not “horrific.” However, that word does describe certain aspects of the 2007-08 school year, when Woody volunteered weekly as part of his independent home-study program. And though he was not on the roster, he was working toward his Pine Ridge diploma.
2. As former vice president of the Pine Ridge School Parents Association, I was involved in the search for a new headmaster. The search committee and board of directors hired Dana Blackhurst despite grave concerns of staff and parents that were voiced and dismissed. There was deep division at the school. Therefore, the fallout that ensued upon Dana Blackhurst’s arrival is not surprising.
3. After reading the article, some might think that homework and student accountability was nonexistent until Dana Blackhurst arrived. This is false.
4. “Educational drift” is another vague and confusing term. Do not discount the fact that many Pine Ridge graduates, including my son, have solid reading and writing skills. They worked diligently to achieve their goals. This needs to be recognized.
5. The tutorial program that existed at Pine Ridge School was excellent, as was the counseling program. Those two programs, along with talented classroom educators, created a supportive environment where students gained confidence and skills.
6. It is my wish that current and future Pine Ridge students have such a positive and supportive educational environment. The loss of what was once there is profound and unfortunate. Positive change can occur without destruction.
Ken Picard has written a timely and truthful article about the situation at the Pine Ridge School. There is indeed a profound sense of sadness for the parents and students who had to make the difficult decision to leave the school this year.
My son had been to several different schools prior to attending Pine Ridge. An important goal for him was to be able to spend four years there and to graduate. When he started in 2006, we fully expected him to be able to fulfill this goal. After Dana Blackhurst came on as the headmaster, it was clear that it was not to be.
Dana made it extremely clear to students and parents alike that if we weren’t happy with how he ran the school, we were welcome to leave. Both he and the Board of Trustees were prepared to start the school from scratch. Perhaps that was even their goal. They did not want and would not accept any parental input into their destruction of the school.
There was no real search for a new headmaster for Pine Ridge. Dana was handpicked by the Board of Trustees. We can only hope that the Board is completely satisfied with their decision, as they stand alone with the outcome.
A PINE RIDGE SUCCESS
My bright, intelligent, 16-year-old son is dyslexic and will be a fourth year student at The Pine Ridge School this fall. He will be a junior.
Pine Ridge changed my son’s life, all for the better. Public school failed him over and over. There was no purpose to Ken Picard’s article about Dana Blackhurst and the Pine Ridge School. I agree there has been a tremendous amount of change this past year at the school. Some wonderful educators left the school and will be sorely missed.
I also believe there was a lot of tension between the school board, headmaster, educators and staff. My son never felt the negative undercurrent thanks to the professionalism of his teachers and the fact that it was not gossiped about at home.
My husband and I truly believe in Pine Ridge and will send our son there for the next two years. It is an amazing place that was able to help my child with his learning disability. My son is reading at grade level and learning all his subjects at grade level.
Ken Picard should rethink his article and find out about all the successful students that are in college or in the workplace thanks to Pine Ridge.
A SAD REALITY
I would like to sincerely thank Ken Picard for the first honest and open assessment of the situation at what was once a fantastic school.
My daughter attended Pine Ridge during the three years prior to Mr. Blackhurst taking over. The “old Pine Ridge” changed her life. The people at that school were warm and loving and taught in a way that learning disabled children could truly benefit from. My daughter learned and grew and is now entering her sophomore year in college, having been on Dean’s List during both of her freshman semesters.
When it was revealed to us that not only was there a new headmaster, but one who had a totally different philosophy along with limited educational skills, I was horrified. I did write a letter in protest but was vilified to the point that I felt that my daughter would be treated unfairly due to my public objections.
Ultimately, of course, all my concerns have come to a very sad reality. It is a shame that money and ulterior motives have gotten in the way of the education and happiness of these deserving children. I am very relieved to hear that there will now be another school — Middlebridge in Rhode Island — where these children will be able to thrive.
Barbara G. Freundlich
NEW YORK, NY