Following scandal, prestigious Delaware prep school appoints new leader


    Elizabeth "Bessie" Speers speaks at her installation ceremony Friday. (Avi Wolfman-Arent, NewsWorks)

    The ceremony comes just months after the former head of Tower Hill School in Wilmington was sentenced to 50 years in prison on child pornography charges.

    It was a day of pride and pomp at Tower Hill School in Wilmington, as the prestigious private academy officially designated Elizabeth “Bessie” Speers as its tenth head of school.

    Speaking over the patter of rain drops, Speers, who is the first woman to hold the position, urged students and alumni gathered inside the school’s field house to take pride in Tower Hill.

    “It is time to embrace all that makes Tower Hill great,” Speers said in her inaugural address, which had to be moved indoors due to the weather. “It is time to stand tall.”

    The gloomy conditions outside served as a metaphorical reminder of the clouds still hanging over this pristine campus in the city’s upscale Greenville neighborhood.

    Just five months ago, a judge sentenced Christopher Wheeler, Tower Hill’s former head of school, to 50 years in prison for dealing in child pornography.

    Wheeler’s misdeeds came to light in 2013, while he was still the school’s top in command. Wheeler, whose salarly regularly topped $300,000, quickly resigned, but the stain and strain has lingered through trial and sentencing.

    In August, Wheeler appealed his conviction, dragging the episode out ever longer.

    Speers is the school’s first permanent leader since Wheeler’s sudden dismissal, but she did not mention her disgraced predecessor or the scandal. Nor did any of the other five speakers at the installation ceremony. Instead, speakers focused on the future, with more than one declaring it a “new era” for Tower Hill.

    “Let’s embrace the great promise and possibility of this moment,” said Speers, who assumed her current role in July.

    Speers is a veteran of independent schools with more than 25 years’ experience. She is a graduate of the all-girls Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore, where she later served as Director of Admission and Financial aid.

    She’s also held administrative positions at the Loomis Chaffee School in Windsor, Connecticut, the Calvert School in Baltimore, and Episcopal Academy outside Philadelphia. Most recently, Speers was the Head of School at the Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, Connecticut.

    Members of the du Pont family founded Tower Hill in 1919, and it has since become one of Delaware’s most esteemed private schools. Graduates include U.S. Senator Chris Coons, former congressman Mike Castle, and television personality Dr. Oz. It serves students in preschool through twelth grade and regularly ranks among the nation’s best private schools. Tuition runs as high as $27,725 a year.

    Much of that splendor was on display Friday. Trustees and students–most decked out in the schools colors of green and white–heard crisp tunes from the school band and an angelic version of “It Takes a Village” sung by the Upper School Vocal Ensemble.

    “It takes a whole village to raise our children,”  sang the choir. “It takes a whole village to raise one child.”

    Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Elizabeth Speers’ most recent job was at Episcopal Academy. That is incorrect. Before accepting her position at Tower Hill, Speers was head of school at the Ethel Walker School.

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