01/26/2014 15:30 EST | Updated 03/28/2014 05:59 EDT

Queen of Angels Academy board chair explains closure

A top administrator at Queen of Angels Academy in Dorval says low enrolment is to blame for the decision to close the historic English-language private high school for girls.

The decision was disclosed to parents in a letter dated January 23. 

Dominic Varvaro, president of the school's board of directors, told CBC News that it was a difficult decision to make, but a drop in enrolment from 500 three years ago to just 186 now means there’s no way to keep the school open.

“The reality is enrolment is not where it needs to be,” he said. “It wouldn’t make sense to open next year given the level of tuition that we would have to charge.”

Annual tuition at Queen of Angels is around $9,000 a year. That's twice what tuition was seven years ago and the administration says it would have to double that fee again for the school to break even.

Varvaro said the arts and science-focused high school is financed almost entirely by tuition and other student fees and efforts to increase the number of students have failed.

“We’ve taken many actions over the last three years, but the results are that enrolment continues to decline and we can’t afford to be open at this point,” he said.

Among those initiatives were marketing campaigns and the sale of some property that Varvaro said “bought some time.”

Varvaro said the administration also conducted studies into rebranding the school as a co-ed institution or turning it into a French-language school. However, he said it would have taken the school years to reach adequate numbers in either realm.

So, keeping the school as is was not an option.

“The market is just not there for us anymore,” he said. “There’s a shrinking market for English education in Montreal.”

Economy is another factor, Varvaro added, as are the laws that govern English schools in Quebec.

“Quebec’s laws don’t help. They draw a fine line around who can attend an English school,” he said.

Former Queen of Angels Academy student Leanne-Marie Durocher said the news caught her by surprise and wondered if alumni couldn’t have helped to keep the school open.

“It was a place where you could flourish without feeling stamped down. I am where I am because of the education I got at Queen of Angels,” she said.

Durocher said she was never contacted about the school’s closing.

However, Varvaro said there was nothing anyone could do to save Queen of Angels.

“Not at this point, the board doesn’t feel that’s the case at this point,” he said.

The Dorval school was founded in 1888 by The Congregation of the Sisters of Sainte-Anne. In 1959, the academy acquired the neighbouring Royal Montreal Golf Club clubhouse, where it is now located. 

It was incorporated in 1998 as Collège Queen of Angels Academy.