Crisis Deepens at Lone Greek Day School in N.E.

LOWELL, Mass. – The withering situation at The Hellenic American School of the historic Holy Trinity parish here, known today as Hellenic American Academy, appears to be deepening due to low enrollment numbers, financial condition, and other internal problems, including an incident of food poisoning that endangered students’ health.
Holy Trinity’s Parish Council member and former President George Zaharoulis, during the Council’s June 13 meeting, asked School Director LeeAnn Conners about the food poisoning incident, and she allegedly replied that “the milk was outdated” and refused to give further details or to reveal the name of the teacher who had resigned.
Conners had gone to the Parish Council meeting to ask for salary increases for the teachers ranging from $500 to $700. Both Conners and Principal Vina Troianello did not respond to TNH’s request for comment.
Currently, 56 students have submitted their intent to return for the next academic year, while 25 children are expected to leave. Among them are children of Parish Council members and also of the Strategic Committee which was formed in February 2012 to reorganize the school and make it financially self-sustaining. Sixth grade teacher Ashley Rogers has resigned while TNH has learned that other teachers are seeking employment elsewhere.
During a parents meeting with the Strategic Committee on June 10 at the Holy Trinity’s hall, school officials acknowledged that thus far 56 students will be returning in September, 10 of which belong to the Preschool.
The enrollment is only on paper, meaning that they have not gone through the company that collects tuition or makes arrangements for monthly payments.
Parish Council member Voula Ionnidis said she has yet to decide whether to remove her son next year, although TNH has acquired information from eight different sources that she plans to withdraw him. TNH has also learned that Parish Council members as well as parents are privately expressing concern over the state of the school.
The presiding priest of the Holy Trinity parish, Rev. Nicholas Pelekoudas, who is also Supervisor of the Greek Education of the entire Metropolis of Boston, did not respond to TNH’s request for comment, nor did Parish Council President George Christopoulos.
TNH had revealed in the April 12 edition that an exodus of students occurred at the beginning of this academic year, to the point that that seventh grade had two students and the eighth grade had just one. Sixty students left in total and out of the 157 in 2012, only 97 remain.
Indicative of the climate today is the incident that occurred during the June 10 meeting between the parents and the Strategic Committee, when Parish Council President and Strategic Committee member George Christopoulos, in Pelekoudas’ presence, asked Zaharoulis and auditor Demetris Mattheos to leave the meeting, telling them that the meeting was only for the parents. They both refused to leave the room.
Zaharoulis told Christopoulos, “I am not going anywhere.” Mattheos did not respond to TNH’s request for comment. Zaharoulis verified the incident but declined to comment further. Both Zaharoulis and Mattheos are former Holy Trinity Parish Council Presidents.
The Parish Council had entered into negotiations with Lowell Charter School to lease to it part of the school parking lots, properties, and buildings including the cultural center, the cafeteria and the classroom in the basement for $650,000 for one year to house 200 students.
The issue was discussed at a special meeting of the parish on Sunday, June 9 after the Liturgy at the church. The intent was to proceed further with the communications with the Lowell Charter School. Fr. Pelekoudas didn’t attend and also five of the 15 members were absent. Elections for the Parish Council haven’t occurred in at least the last three years due to lack of candidates.
The Church officials did not disclose to the parents at the June 10 meeting that they had been engaged in negotiations to rent part of the school to the Charter School of Lowell. Parents who found out unofficially from within the parish spoke to TNH under the condition of anonymity and expressed that they were going to remove their children from the School if the Parish Council went ahead with its plan.
Pelekoudas assured the parents that he would never allow the school facilities to be rented to the Lowell Charter School. Pelekoudas at the Parish Council meeting of June 13 stood up and spoke vigorously against the leasing of the School’s facilities. Many members of the Parish Council agreed with Pelekoudas’ plea and the majority voted the proposal down.
Hundreds of Greek-Americans have graduated from the School during its century-plus existence, many of whom have become doctors, lawyers, college professors, and successful businessmen.
The School was known for its high academic level and its uniqueness of the Greek Orthodox identity through the teaching and advancement of the Greek language, history, culture, traditions, mythology, dances, and the Orthodox faith.
The downward course of the School began in February 2012, when the Parish Council instituted a three-year strategic plan. A four-member committee called the Strategic Committee assumed the responsibility of executing the plan, whose core purpose was to make the School financially self-sustainable. The members of the Strategic committee are: Nicholas Theokas, Chairman, and secretary of the Parish Council; Peter Danas; Christopoulos; and Lewis Demetroulakos, former Parish Council President. Demetroulakos in past years was, and continues to be today, the legal advisor for both the parish and the School.
In February 2012, the Parish Council organized an open meeting with parish members at the Olympia Restaurant and presented the plan to approximately 120 parishioners. They said they did not plan to alter the identity and the structure of the School by decreasing the teaching of the Greek language and its Hellenic heritage, which has given the school a unique quality for more than a century.
The Committee also proposed the organizational structure and the creation of new positions for the implementation of the plan. They also said that the sum of $1.5 million would be required for the implementation. The funds would be provided from contributions of wealthy parish members and the broader community, as well as from the Endowment Fund, which has close to a million dollars today. TNH was present at the gathering.
The next day, Christopoulos did not allow the Strategic Plan to be approved or denied by the Parish General Assembly, claiming that the monies for its implementation would not come from the parish.
Upon the recommendations of Tsapatsaris and the Strategic Committee, the Parish Council hired Conners, who was named Director in order to implement the Strategic Plan. Shortly thereafter, Troianello was hired as Principal upon Conners’ recommendation. Troianello had been the principal at a Roman Catholic School in the neighboring city of Lawrence that had closed down.
In early August it became clear to many parents that attempts were being made to downgrade the teaching of the Greek language to a secondary “special subject” on par with “music, art, and gymnastics.” (In the interest of full disclosure, Angeliki Kalmoukos, wife of this columnist, left the school after 22 years as a teacher of the Greek language.)
The Hellenic American Academy has an Endowment Trust, which is under the control of the Christopoulos Family. According to the School’s website, “The Hellenic American Academy Endowment Trust was started in the year 2000 with the goal of increasing the school’s revenue base. The Hellenic American Academy is the sole beneficiary of the interest the fund generates.”
According to the website, the trustees are Christopoulos’ wife, Donna, and her sister, Lynda Rizos. The Board of Directors are: Christopoulos; Grillakis, another sister of Donna; Voula Danas, wife of Peter Danas, who is a member of the Strategic Committee; Theodora Stathopoulos; and Kathy Kourkoulos.


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