Months after state pulls kids from Glen Mills Schools, new leadership hopes to win back trust

Jim Melwert
June 26, 2019 - 3:13 pm
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DELAWARE COUNTY, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — It’s been about three months since the last student left the Glen Mills Schools campus, an institution that was once called “the Harvard of reform schools.” 

Not long after, it lost its state licenses. Now, new leadership is hoping to turn things around.

Dr. Christopher Spriggs, the new acting executive director of Glen Mills Schools, jumped in when he said the school was in need.

"I thought I could step up and step in and hit the ground running," he said. "I stepped up and told the board I was willing to take on the challenge dealing with the crisis we were dealing with at the time."

Spriggs has spent 35 years of his career working with and mentoring kids. The first step, he said, is getting the school's licenses back from the state, which he acknowledged is a tall order.

"But we’re dedicated to implementing any reform efforts that we need to gain the confidence of the state," he said, "so they can trust we can have a program they don’t have to be concerned about moving forward."

As part of the the school's re-evaluation, Spriggs said they’re looking at everything from hiring practices to how to individualize programs for children who have suffered trauma — whether it be abuse, the death or incarceration of a parent, even the color of blankets and paint on the walls.

Carolyn Seagraves took over as president of the board after the prior president stepped down in February. As a mother, she said it was heartbreaking to hear the allegations against the school, but she emphasized that violence has never been condoned at Glen Mills Schools.

"I hope that we get the opportunity to bring kids back on a smaller scale to prove ourselves with support from state and local officials and to right the ship," she added.

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Philadelphia pulled its students from the juvenile facility in February after The Philadelphia Inquirer revealed accounts of abuse and employee cover-ups. Several weeks later, the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services pulled its licenses, and all remaining children on campus were removed.

The state DHS labeled the reform school as a culture of abuse, coercion and silence.

About 250 employees, contractors and staff have been laid off.

A Glen Mills counselor, who prosecutors say was caught on video last summer beating a student, is scheduled for trial on aggravated assault and other charges next month. Charges against another counselor were thrown out.

Glen Mills is appealing, and while Spriggs can’t discuss specifics, he said they are cooperating fully with the DHS investigation and the state auditor general’s inquiry.

"We’re actually interested in hearing what recommendations they bring to the table when they conclude their reviews," he said. "We’re willing to implement them, however, we need to make sure that we’re implementing the best practices in the field."