A year in the life of a New England boarding school on the brink of dissolution.
This book begins on graduation day for Miss Oliver's, an independent boarding school for girls, and it's also the last day for Marjorie Boyd, the headmistress for the last 35 years. When she is replaced by Fred Kindler, a chaotic year ensues. It was the board's decision to fire Marjorie and hire Fred, and the staff is divided on their feelings about the new headmaster's presence. The change is most traumatic for Francis and Peggy Plummer, a married couple who have devoted their lives to the school—he as a math and English teacher, she as librarian. Partly to avoid being confronted by this change and partly as a personal journey of discovery, Francis leaves for the summer on an archaeological dig—and this, coupled with Francis' disdain for the new headmaster, may mean the end of his marriage. It comes to light that Fred was brought aboard because the school is in danger of shutting down; enrollment has drastically declined, and the budget appears irreparable. The question of how to solve this problem and save the school is the thrust of the entire novel. At its center is a debate about whether boys should be allowed to attend—for some people, going coed is the obvious solution, while others would rather see the school shut down than witness such a horror. Most of the drama comes from unnecessary misunderstandings between people who fail to effectively express themselves and from unexplained—but convenient—disasters, such as the library burning down. There are moments here that indicate that Davenport, who, as his bio notes, "had a long career in education," was probably an excellent teacher, like a scene in which Francis explicates a Robert Frost poem with his class, and there are some wonderful students, like the head of the school newspaper who is conducting research about the sex lives of students. But those attributes are overshadowed by the book's focus on bureaucracy and the boardroom, and the narrative suffers for it.
A book for anyone who's wondered about the inner workings and worries of a school administration.