Lawrence Woodmere Academy was looking for help in January, when the school’s trustees asked former students for ideas on how it could remain open. The nonsectarian educational institution was struggling financially.
Five months later, the school, whose history dates to the late 19th century, is feeling better about its future, as alumni and parents have joined forces in a group called LWA into the Next Century.
“One would be hard pressed to find any comparable institution, near or far, that is able to instill the self-confidence in all students, from the moment they arrive and every day thereafter,” the LWA Alumni Committee wrote in an email earlier this month. “Our LWA students graduate as true global scholars, ready to take on the world and meet any/all challenges. They carry a part of LWA with them, for the rest of their lives.”
The school enrolls students from preschool through 12th grade. Its origins date to 1891, when Lawrence Country Day School was founded.
In 1912, Clarence G. Galston, an attorney with two children who lived in Woodsburgh, met with a dozen families from the Rockaway Peninsula, and the meeting inspired the launch of the Woodmere Academy in a home at the intersection of Woodmere Boulevard and Central Avenue.
Lawrence Country Day School and the Woodmere Academy merged in 1990 to form Lawrence Woodmere Academy.
Over the years, financial struggles have forced the school to sell portions of its 10-acre property.
The Friedman Group purchased 1.33 acres of the land for $2.5 million in 2018, and was planning a 33-unit residential development until the Town of Hempstead blocked the project from breaking ground in 2019.
Last year, LWA sold a three-acre, horseshoe-shaped parcel of land to Campus Estates LLC, which plans to build 17 single-family homes there.
In its email, the alumni committee wrote that LWA into the Next Century had promised the school that it would set a goal of long-term sustainability, and that it did not want LWA to run into the same financial problems again.
“As a board, we decided we needed to be transparent,” said Ella Schwartz, a member of the school’s board of directors, explaining the initial appeal for help in January.
“We did not want to keep secrets from the community.”
Schwartz, whose children were educated at LWA, said the support from alumni and parents shows how influential the school is.
“I stand by that decision as a board member,” Schwartz said of the January appeal.
“It was the right move, and it is what led us to finding a solution to a problem.”
School officials said that Nadia Kalyan, an LWA alumna, created LWA into the Next Century. Calls to Kalyan were not returned.
Learning that LWA could close, many former students came together to share their support and experiences.
A change.org petition called “Save Lawrence Woodmere Academy” was created two months ago by Batya Cohen, asking for former students’ support.
More than 900 people signed it.
Robert Podolsky, a 1980 Woodmere Academy graduate, wrote in an email that the school gave him freedom in learning. “The school provided great freedom to explore my academic interests, a range of extracurricular activities to figure out what else I was good at and my most enduring friendships,” Podolsky wrote.
His exploration led him to a career in marine biology.
Another alumnus, Harold Kwalwasser, commuted by train from Queens to Woodmere Academy each day because his parents convinced him that the school was better than the public schools in New York City.
“I was a true commuter,” Kwalwasser wrote in an email. “Every morning, I boarded the 7:57 a.m. train at Jamaica station and headed for school back and forth. I went for six good years, carrying a briefcase that looked similar to the one ‘Dashing Dan’ carried in the LIRR logo that adorned most of the cars back then. Since (the school) was a small place, there was an infinite number of opportunities.”
As a new chapter begins at LWA, the alumni committee’s next goal is to improve all aspects of the school, from its appearance to its curriculum.
“We are diligently working to not only reinvigorate our alumni relations, but to maintain open communication and oversight to keep you informed of the day-to-day life within the walls of our LWA,” the committee wrote in its email.
“In this new era for LWA, we recognize that we cannot change the past and acknowledge that LWA’s alumni and former parent body have been severely ignored and overlooked.
‘‘While we have motivated and enthusiastic members of our groups and the LWA community at large, we are respectfully seeking your assistance, in several ways, as we seek to humbly regain your trust.”
Do you have stories of your experiences at Lawrence Woodmere Academy you want to share? Send a letter to firstname.lastname@example.org.