Tull Family Foundation Gifts Prep School $ 20M for Labs, Robotics

(TNS) – The Tull Family Foundation has gifted Sewickley Academy $ 20 million – the largest donation in the school’s history – to fund a set of projects and initiatives meant to improve the institution’s academic and athletic offerings and expand access through an increased scholarship program.

More than half the money will go toward upgrades to facilities, including robotics and computer science labs and athletic field enhancements, Sewickley Academy officials told the school community Monday.

“We could not be more thrilled by the possibilities a donation of this magnitude brings to the academy,” said Head of School Ashley Birtwell in a news release. “As we continue to position the academy for the future and prepare for the next 100 years, it is critical that we put in place now the academic programs and infrastructure necessary to ensure our place in this community for years to come. This generous donation from the Tulls enables us to do just that. “


The Tull Family Foundation did not immediately provide an explanation for the donation, but the organization bolsters three causes: conservation, medical and scientific research, and education. According to the foundation’s website, it supports education and sports programs geared toward grades 6-12 in economically challenged communities with the goal of ensuring students complete high school and are college ready.

The donation comes as Sewickley Academy faces questions about its direction and commitment to diversity initiatives following the firing of the school’s longtime head and five top administrators last summer. Several of the administrators who were fired, as well as an elementary school teacher, were involved in the academy’s diversity, equity, inclusion and social justice programming.

Academy officials said the staff moves were made to ensure the school was meeting its standards of excellence and because of enrollment issues. But the firings came weeks after an unaffiliated and anonymous group of academy parents sent a letter to school families and leaders expressing concerns about what it called political and ideological persuasion in the institution’s curriculum – a note that many in the community felt had threatening, racial overtones .

The Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools has opened multiple investigations into Sewickley Academy because of complaints from parents and faculty members over the firings and environment at the school. Douglas Leek, the director of admissions and financial aid who was among those axed, filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against the academy, which was settled for an undisclosed amount in October. Mr. Leek, a Black man who was in his first year in the position, was replaced by a white woman.

Since the firings, two Black Sewickley Academy trustees, Douglas Allen and Aaron Washington, have left the board. And at least two teachers who had been involved with DEISJ initiatives left the school. The reasons why the trustees and teachers left were unclear, and none of them has commented on the matter. And some students at the school have also protested against recent decisions by the school’s administration.

Sewickley Academy said more than $ 10 million of the Tull donation will be used for making improvements to facilities, and over $ 5 million will be put into scholarships and resources to expand access to the school. The remainder of the money will be used to support the academy’s faculty and staff and for science, technology, engineering and math initiatives.

The school said it plans to establish partnerships with regional universities and educational institutions, overhaul its robotics and computer science labs and athletic facilities, and expand its computer science department with increased curriculum offerings including cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and advanced robotics.

“From dramatically revamping our STEM and computer science curriculum to recruiting the best teachers and building best-in-class facilities, this is a game-changing moment for the school and cements its position as a center for academic excellence in both the region and the country, “said Kate Pigman, chairwoman of the Sewickley Academy board of trustees.

© 2022 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Leave a Comment