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Phillips Exeter principal to resign at year's end

New Hampshire Union Leader

February 02. 2018 7:21PM

Phillips Exeter Academy Principal Lisa MacFarlane's resignation is effective at the end of the 2017-2018 school year. (File photo)

EXETER — The principal of Phillips Exeter Academy has announced she’s stepping down after a 2 1/2-year tenure to return to the faculty at the University of New Hampshire in Durham, the New Hampshire Union Leader has confirmed.

In a letter to the private boarding school community, Lisa MacFarlane said she’s proud of the work she’s done to make the school more responsive to student needs and to improve its physical plant.

“Nothing, however, has given me greater pleasure than spending time with our remarkable students: You have been, as you are for every adult on this campus, the source of great joy,” MacFarlane wrote.

“Your passion and energy, fierce curiosity, humor and kindness, animate every corner of this campus, and everywhere you go. Thank you for sharing your gifts with the adults in this community, and with me. As a long-time New Hampshire neighbor and the parent of two alumnae, my belief in Exeter preceded my tenure and lives on, enriched by the honor of serving as your principal instructor.”

Her resignation is effective at the end of the current school year.

In a letter accompanying MacFarlane’s resignation, John A. (Tony) Downer, president of the PEA Board of Trustees praised the departing principal and said an interim executive to serve for the 2018-19 academic year will soon be chosen.

A national search will then be undertaken for a permanent replacement.

“Lisa’s unfailing dedication to the development and well-being of our students, the passion and empathy she has brought to campus, and her enduring commitment to the values of the Academy will form the basis of her legacy,” Downer wrote.

“Lisa has tirelessly led our school through a challenging period in its history.”

MacFarlane has served during a turbulent time for the prep school that has endured many controversies over allegations of sexual harassment or assault by past or present staff and students.

Last spring, Arthur Peekel, the school’s former admissions officer, pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a 14-year-old student in 1973.

Peekel, 74, of Palatine, Ill., was given a one-year suspended jail term and was made to register as a sex offender for the next 10 years.

County prosecutors last year agreed to drop sex assault charges against a former student.

Chukwudi Ikpeazu was arrested in June 2016 after an ongoing investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct involving faculty and students and criticisms of the school’s handling of incidents, some from decades ago.

College officials said the school’s minister had met with Ikpeazu and urged him as an act of penance to bake bread for the teen victim for the rest of the school year. The victim said this only led to more trauma for her.

Downer credited MacFarlane with creating the new position of director of student well-being and working with the Preventions Innovations Research Center to come up with the first comprehensive sexual and relationship violence education and prevention program for secondary schools.

As for school construction during MacFarlane's time as principal, PEA opened a new field house and music hall and started construction on a center for theater and dance.

Reporter Mark Hayward contributed to this story.

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