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St. Paul’s taps administrator to oversee closure / July 17, 2013

Hoping to preserve both the facilities and the mission of St. Paul’s College in Lawrenceville, the college Board of Trustees has appointed Millard D. “Pete” Stith, Jr. as executive administrator. Previously, Stith was Vice President for Institutional Advancement at the school.

His new job will be to organize the orderly closure of the 184-acre campus while helping transition the school’s remaining students over to other colleges and universities, which will allow students to complete their studies.

At the same time, Stith will be available should any existing school wish to discuss ways to partner with or purchase St. Paul’s.

Stith, who retired in 2010 after serving nearly 20 years as the Deputy County Administrator for Chesterfield County, originally worked on fundraising for the historically black college, which closed down earlier this year after it lost its academic accreditation. However, once the decision was made to permanently close down the campus, the Board asked Stith to take on the job of administrator.

Said Board Chairman Oliver Spencer, “The next phase for St. Paul’s will require someone with Mr. Stith’s knowledge and outstanding reputation in the community.” He is a graduate of Norfolk State University and he attended Marshall Wythe School at the College of William and Mary. He also holds an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Virginia State University, where he served as both a member of the Board of Visitors and as Rector.

Stith said he was saddened by the decision to close the campus, which has served as a valuable presence in Southside Virginia. “It was the only school in the state” to offer higher education to single parents while also providing them with access to day care and housing. Once the school lost its accreditation, that program was closed, and the participants forced to relocate.

For others, the school served as an “alternative to life as a farmer. Not that there is anything wrong with farming,” said Stith. “It’s an admirable profession, but not one that everyone wishes to pursue. St. Paul’s was their way to new endeavors.” For instance, said Stith, “the school graduated many fine teachers who continued to live and work in the community.”

On a positive note, Stith said St. Paul’s has, for now, been able to continue operating its child care center and hopes to continue its head start program. “We go month to month,” he said, “but our parents understand and are working with us.” The Massey Cancer Center is also still operating out of the school’s library.

While all of the teaching staff are gone, the school still employs about 26 people, mainly security and maintenance staff and some administrative staff — especially those who are helping with student transfers.

“Many people were not aware that before the decision was made to close, we had recruited nearly 250 students for the coming year, and we were about to begin remodeling work on our fifth building, Brown Hall.”

All remodeling work has ceased and the school was forced to return nearly $1 million in grant money to the federal government and an additional $150,000 to the Virginia Tobacco Commission.

The school is not actively pursuing any merger or other business arrangement with existing schools. There is a hesitance on the part of the Board after the abrupt manner in which St. Augustine’s College chose to end earlier merger talks with St. Paul’s. It was the decision of St. Augustine’s to forego any relationship with St. Paul’s that forced the board to vote in favor of closing down.

Still, Stith calls himself the eternal optimist and believes there is an entity out there that will see the benefit to reopening the college or using it in a way that brings jobs to Southside V. So, he plans to make certain the buildings are maintained and the grounds are kept up so that any prospective buyer will see a beautiful and historic campus.

In the coming weeks, Stith said he and his remaining staff will focus on implementing the school’s close-out plans, satisfying faculty and staff contracts, transferring students to neighboring Virginia institutions, such as Norfolk State University and Virginia Union, and settling debts.

St. Paul’s College, a historically black college in Lawrenceville, was founded in 1888. It is affiliated with the Episcopal Church of Virginia.

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Sad to close this school, but when factors work against keeping it open...

My sincere hope is that it can someday reopen and educate people as it did for 125 years. I still believe a degree from one of the HBC's carries great prestige, and I am a middle-aged white man who came of age in the segregated South. Several years back I was talking with a black friend about his daughter going to Hampton, and he was concerned about her finding a good job upon graduating (being able to repay her student loans actually) and I said to him then that a Hampton degree would open doors.

Unfortunately with the competition from big-name schools for enrollment, I fear St. Paul's may be only the tip of the iceberg.

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