The Hillier School to Close After 56 Years

The Hillier School announced in an email to parents on April 5 that it will close at the end of this school year after 56 years of serving students with learning differences.

The school, which charges a fraction of the tuition of its competitors and gives more than half its students financial aid, has been struggling for years and can no longer afford to stay open, chairman of the board Jeffrey S. Hillier said. 

“This was a very difficult decision,” he said. “It was named in honor of my father. This is very painful, but it’s a business reality.”

Jeffrey S. Hillier said the school’s enrollment shrunk post-COVID from a high of 52 to the mid to low 20s, and the number of students has not recovered. The Hillier School has been reliant largely on his and his wife’s donations, along with the generosity of Highland Park Presbyterian Church, to make ends meet. 

The school had almost exhausted the funds available for its daily operations when board members learned that the head of school was resigning to pursue a graduate degree. 

“The board felt that, given our resources, it would be impossible to attract and retain a qualified head of school, and looking ahead to the retiring faculty over the next few years, it would be very difficult to attract and retain qualified faculty,” Jeffrey S. Hillier said. “It was as if all these dominoes fell into place, and forced us into this decision.”

Parents at the school have said they were shocked by the announcement, which came less than two months before the end of the school year. They are scrambling to find spots and scholarships for their children at other area schools for students with learning differences.

Janice Tomlin enrolled her granddaughter, Alexandra, in Hillier when she continued to struggle after repeating kindergarten. 

Now a second grader, Alexandra “is doing super well,” Tomlin said. “She has made a marked improvement. She’s reading. Hillier has been great. We would 100% be going there next year. They took our deposit, so we thought we were going there next year.”

Jessica Gwin, the president of the parent club who has a fifth grader at The Hillier School, said the school’s announcement has left students “high and dry.” 

“LDs schools have cut offs or they’re extremely expensive, and financial aid (deadlines have) already passed,” she said. 

Tomlin said that every family signed a letter to The Hillier School’s board of directors asking whether the school could remain open for a “bridge year” to allow time to find an appropriate placement, or use endowment funds for student scholarships and tutoring at other schools. Parents are still waiting for answers to those questions, she said.

Jeffrey S. Hillier said that the endowment is composed of funds restricted by donor intent, and that usually when a nonprofit closes, its board returns to donors to ask how they would like their funds recommitted.

The Hillier School, he said, has contacted “virtually every LD school in town,” and those schools have encouraged families to reach out and apply. “We’re encouraging families to apply and seek financial aid,” Jeffrey S. Hillier said. 

“Over the years, I can’t tell you how many families have come up to me crying to talk about how the school changed their lives and their children’s lives,” he said. “That has meant a lot, and I’m very sorry that that is going to come to an end.”

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