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Trinity Hall: All Girls High School Could Be at Fort Monmouth in 2013

Founders are looking at two potential sites for the school, a building at Fort Monmouth and land in Holmdel.

You may have heard a rumor going around that some folks are planning to open an all-girls high school here in Monmouth County. Well, Rumson residents Victoria Gmelich and Mairead Clifford want you to know, it's no rumor.

"We are opening September 2013. We are doing this," Gmelich said Monday when Patch caught up with her and Clifford.

With $5 million of seed money already raised, the pair of moms is poised to open the kind of school they remember fondly from their youth; one where girls are encouraged to focus on their education, become leaders and grow in faith. The school will not be a Catholic school, like Red Bank Catholic, but will instead be in the Catholic tradition, which will include brothers and nuns on a board.

The women are quick to emphasize that their venture is not to aimed to siphon students from other parochial schools like RBC or Mater Dei.

"It's not for every girl," Clifford said, "but it should be an option for every girl. Just like CBA (Christian Brothers Academy) is for boys."

The school's mission statement:

Trinity Hall is an innovative, independent college-preparatory high school for young women, in the Catholic tradition. In a technology-rich learning environment, a superior faculty and a challenging interdisciplinary curricular program fosters leadership, respect, perseverance and faith.  Unique and exciting co-curricular learning opportunities accommodate a diverse, yet a collectively passionate, creative and caring student body.  These young women will be empowered to take risks, pursue personal passions, network globally and grow as learners - and as valued individuals.

Transplants from North Jersey and Long Island, Clifford is a graduate of Mt. Saint Dominic Academy and Gmelich a graduate of Sacred Heart Academy, and both of their husbands also attended single sex high schools. In their hometowns, the women say, single sex, religious education for girls needs no explanation or defense, but the pair said that in Monmouth County, they are often called to defend it. You can read their argument for a girls-only school here.

When Gmelich and Clifford met in a playgroup more than a decade ago, they bonded over their shared past. Their all girls schools, they said, were empowering and relaxed with no stress of boy-girl interaction in class, or in the hallway.

"The focus is on learning, no distractions," Gmelich said. And, Clifford added, "The bonds (between classmates) were much stronger."

"It wouldn't completely eliminate the drama," Gmelich said, "but it did truly lessen it significantly."

"It was empowering because you were expected to do well, expected to participate," Gmelich said.

Clifford says that in the same sex school, whether it is the chess team, student council or the swim team, it's "all girls in every leadership role."

It's the kind of experience, they said, that they wanted for their kids too.

So when Clifford first moved to Rumson, pregnant for the first time, and delivered one girl, then over the years two more, she said she realized, "There's nowhere for them to go."

With seven girls between the two women, they determined that it would be up to them to create that type of school. So in 2010 they hired a consultant and launched a feasibility study with 2,100 families participating. (View the study here.) The results showed that in September 2013, Trinity Hall, as it will be named, can expect a founding class of about 79 girls, wearing school uniforms. Trinity's tuition will likely be in the mid to upper teens, the founders said.

This summer the founders will ask for a non-binding letter of intent from seventh grade girls who are interested in becoming the founding students. The pair intend to draw students of all socio-economic levels from all over Monmouth County, with financial aid available. Gmelich said she is hoping to build the diverse community at Trinity Hall.

In the near future Clifford and Gmelich expect to announce their choice for Head of School.

Then the fundraising push will be on to garner millions more to have what founders have estimated to be the start-up costs for the school, which will include facilities, faculty and equipment for technology-rich classrooms. Trinity Hall, founders say, will be a "highly academic, highly innovative college prep school for girls."

The founding families are pursuing two sites for the school, one is a building in thesection of Fort Monmouth and the other is land in Holmdel.

The faculty that Trinity hopes to hire includes a higher ratio of guidance counselors than is typical for the class size, Gmelich said: "One of our deliverables is we will place your girls in good schools."

"We realize this is not for everyone," Gmelich said, "But we want to deliver upon something that does not exist in this area."

Susan Murray June 13, 2012 at 11:36 AM
What can we do to push for this new school to utilize existing facilities at the Fort? Teaching these girls the value of reusing what is available versus constructing a new facility would be a phenomenal way to start this initiative. http://www.preservationnation.org/information-center/sustainable-communities/sustainability/green-lab/valuing-building-reuse.html
Martin Costello June 13, 2012 at 02:29 PM
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, it's long overdue. The need for this type of school will be met following the road to Trinity Hall.
Shannon K. Winning June 13, 2012 at 02:35 PM
Susan, if the founders choose Fort Monmouth, they will likely do a lease to purchase of an existing building. But since virtually all buildings at the fort need major updating, it would require renovation. There is a possibility that the school will utilize temporary space near the site, during the renovation process. (But this is all still up for negotiation. Nothing has been signed.) Victoria Gmelich relayed a story to me about another school where founding girls were in their temporary space for two years. In their junior year, those founding girls, and the entire school walked across the street together as a student body and entered their new building for the first time. Gmelich said that one of those students, now an adult, told her it was a moving experience and something she will remember for the rest of her life. That idea of founding a school and, watching it grow up around you, the founders say, gives students a deep sense of ownership and belonging.
VL June 13, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I applaud their commitment and vision, but the Fort Monmouth idea seems like a long shot. There is going to have to be a master plan in place for that site, and then whomever is charged with managing the entire site will need to devise some parameters and guidelines for the kinds of allowable uses, and then the school would need to enter into some sort of long term lease that would need to be created from scratch, since there is no precedent for private uses at the Fort. In my experience this is the kind of thing that takes at least three years to figure out.
Shannon K. Winning June 13, 2012 at 05:03 PM
VL thanks for your comment. The founders are presently in negotiations with the Fort Monmouth Economic Revitalization Authority (FMERA), which is the entity charged with the redevelopment of the fort. FMERA is in the process of securing leases and sales of properties and buildings on the fort to private companies and government agencies. FMERA intends to move properties as quickly as possible so I don't see the timeline being an issue in this case. And there are provisions in the development plan for uses like this. You can read more about this here on Patch: http://patch.com/A-twdJ This story contains many embedded links to other Patch stories that explain the ins and outs of the process.
Dee Burtnick June 13, 2012 at 05:23 PM
OMG What an awesome idea I had this idea a long time ago but didn't have the money, you go girl! I am so excited about this project. It is about time!
deborah sullivan June 13, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Little Siver Mom!! So excited that this project is coming to fruition!! An all girls private school that teaches Catholic values is one thing that has been lackinig in this area. Having two girls in high school I am saddened this opportunity was not made available sooner but content knowing this is available for my third daughter!! Praise for a job well done to the gmelich and Clifford duo.
Brian Daneman June 13, 2012 at 07:44 PM
It sounds great. How do I get my Daughter's name on the applicant list for first year.
Shannon K. Winning June 13, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Brian the founders will be asking for non-binding letters of intent this summer. They will be posting how and when to do this on Patch, as well as when the next informational session will be held.
Susan Murray June 14, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Thanks all. Keep the dialog going! Each time I drive past the Fort, I cannot help but wonder what the future will bring for that area (including the Track) that is so close to my home.

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