Westlake School for girls in Holmby Hills and Harvard School for boys in North Hollywood, widely considered among the most prestigious private schools in Los Angeles, have decided to merge, the schools announced this week.
Harvard, which has 800 students, and Westlake, which has an enrollment of about 680, send virtually all graduates to four-year colleges, many to such prestigious schools as Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Harvard. Westlake was founded in 1904, Harvard in 1900.
The boards of trustees of the two schools agreed to the merger Monday after several months of private discussion and announced it to the schools' faculties, students and parents Tuesday.
The merged coeducational institution will be known as Harvard-Westlake School and will operate on both campuses, with grades seven through nine attending classes at the Westlake campus, just west of Beverly Hills, and the upper grades going to school at the Harvard campus.
Although the merger will not be complete until the fall of 1991, the two institutions will be governed by a single board of trustees as soon as an agreement is worked out and voted on by both boards.
The chief executive of the merged schools will be Harvard headmaster Thomas C. Hudnut, and its provost and instructional chief will be Nathan O. Reynolds, headmaster at Westlake.
Harvard students were enthusiastic about the decision. "So many guys say, right away, 'Oh no! We missed out!' " said Brian Langsbard, a senior. "My personal view is that it's going to be good for the guys, and it's going to be healthy."
Joined, the two institutions "will be stronger, and better, than either of the institutions by itself," Reynolds said.
"We hope to create a genuinely coeducational, . . . genuinely ecumenical school, in spirit and style," Reynolds said. "If we can do that, there won't be another school anywhere around that can touch us."
Had the two schools been merged this year, the combined student body would have had the most National Merit Scholar competition semifinalists in the state and would have been among the top in the country by that measure.
The schools also have strong and widely recognized programs in music, theater, science and athletics and turn away more students than they are able to accept.
Reynolds and Hudnut said the schools are debt-free and their combined endowment would be about $7.5 million. Westlake's 11-acre campus in the Holmby Hills and Harvard's sprawling hillside campus on Coldwater Canyon Avenue are worth tens of millions of dollars.
In becoming coeducational, Westlake and Harvard are following an accelerating trend among private, independent schools. The decline of single-sex schools has paralleled a similar drop in the number of single-sex colleges.
The National Assn. of Independent Schools reported this spring that enrollment in single-sex educational institutions dropped by 5.2% in the past two years, with 10 single-sex schools going coeducational since the 1987-1988 school year. The drop was the most dramatic since 1981.
"Some of the reasons for single-sex institutions . . . have disappeared in the 1980s as girls and women have become more equal and access to positions of leadership and athletics have been there for them," said Mimi Baer, executive director of the California Assn. of Independent Schools.
Reynolds and Hudnut said they would spend time in the next two years working with students and faculty to prepare them for a smooth merger.
"Our intention is to create a school that is fully coeducational, a school that respects the traditions of both Westlake and Harvard, a school where boys and girls will become men and women who are well educated, sensitive to the needs and feelings of those around them and able to relate to one another in ways not always possible coming from single-sex schools," Hudnut said.
Hudnut and Reynolds also acknowledged that long traditions at both schools will be sacrificed. But they said that they expect the change to make both institutions more attractive to potential students.
"Clearly one of the big issues" in Westlake's future, Reynolds said, "was the viability of an all-girls school in an increasingly competitive environment and the need to consider coeducation . . . as the next logical step in the development of a really first-rate school."
Details to Work Out
Many details of the merger have to be worked out. For example, students at Harvard, which is affiliated with the Los Angeles Diocese of the Episcopal Church, are required to take religious studies, and Westlake is not affiliated with any religion. Hudnut said the religion requirement would probably be dropped.
Westlake charges $8,350 for tuition, and Harvard charges $7,750. Hudnut said he expects tuition at the two schools eventually to be the same.
Westlake students are required to wear uniforms, but most Harvard students dress in shorts and T-shirts. Parking is expected to pose a problem at the Harvard campus. Teachers will be allowed to choose whether to stay at their present campus, administrators say, although it is not clear whether all such choices can be honored.