At Valley Forge, thumbs up for first female president

Stacey R. Sauchuk, a veteran area educator, said she's "100 percent committed to the military model." The chairman of trustees predicted "the start of an exciting new era."
Stacey R. Sauchuk, a veteran area educator, said she's "100 percent committed to the military model." The chairman of trustees predicted "the start of an exciting new era." (CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 12, 2013

Valley Forge Military Academy and College announced Wednesday that a woman with extensive experience at area universities and educational programs will become its first female president June 1.

Stacey R. Sauchuk, 53, also will become the first female civilian head of any private military academy and college in the country, Valley Forge said.

Although Sauchuk has no personal military experience, she said she can't wait to begin at a school with such a rich history and plans to be on campus before her official start date to meet with staff.

"This is a very special place, and I'm excited to come in and take something like this to the next level," she said in an interview.

William R. Floyd Jr., chairman of Valley Forge's trustees, said the board unanimously approved Sauchuk's appointment Tuesday after a national search that drew more than 50 applicants.

He said she was among three finalists, including one with a military background, who made presentations to the board last week.

"She has a great mix of educational management experience, business savvy, and vibrant leadership skills, and we're confident this is the start of an exciting new era for this great institution," he said.

He said trustees were especially impressed by Sauchuk's experience in program development, marketing, student recruitment and retention, and financial management. He declined to reveal her salary.

Sauchuk will replace Retired Col. David R. Gray, a former West Point administrator, who cited "personal reasons" when he announced his retirement last August.

Col. James J. Doyle, a retired Marine who has served Valley Forge in several capacities, has been interim president.

Floyd stressed that Valley Forge - whose graduates include the late Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, who commanded Operation Desert Storm - would retain its military model with a strong commandant.

Sauchuk agreed, noting that Valley Forge's distinction as a military academy and college defined its educational niche.

"I'm 100 percent committed to the military model," Sauchuk said.

Although she has no personal experience with the military, her father served in the Army, her grandfather had a military career, and two members of her extended family graduated from West Point.

On Wednesday, Valley Forge cadets assembled on the parade grounds at 4 p.m. to meet their new president.

Sauchuk was escorted to the front of the parade grounds by Col. Doyle. She paused to put down her purse and notebook on a nearby brick ledge before taking her place in front of the student corps.

After an introduction, students moved in formation for a "pass and review," saluting Sauchuk and Doyle as they marched past.

"It was very inspiring," Sauchuk said after the procession. Military rituals are new to her, she said, but she added, "I think that's part of what makes this place special."

Floyd, who graduated from Valley Forge in 1963, said staff, faculty, and officers from the alumni association gave Sauchuk a standing ovation on campus earlier.

"That was something they did spontaneously," Floyd said, who noted that staff and alumni were involved in the search process and had met the finalists. "They felt they had ownership in this. . . . I believe they are very excited - as is the board."

Founded in 1928, the private boarding and day school offers grades seven to 12 at the academy and postgraduate education in the college. The academy has 264 male students. An additional 192 - including 19 women - are enrolled in the two-year college.

Cadets were surprised but welcoming when they learned of Sauchuk's appointment.

"I think it'll be interesting for her to interact with a military academy, learning the customs and traditions that we have here while also implementing her own, coming from the business world," said Shenika Walker, 19, of Philadelphia.

Walker, who serves as the student body's regimental adjutant and hopes to study criminal justice and psychology next year at Ball State University in Indiana, said having a female president could help with one of the school's goals - to "get more female cadets here, and just more cadets in general."

Justin Schaller, 18, of Perkasie, said: "It helps on the corps side if they understand the military model."

But he noted that the president's job is mostly financial, and "any university is a business."

Sauchuk has spent most of the last two decades in education, including serving as a president and chief executive officer of the Art Institute of Philadelphia from 1996 to 2000 and holding several positions at Education Management Corp., the Art Institute's Pittsburgh-based parent company.

Most recently she has been the chief operating officer at ESF Summer Camps Inc., a company in Bryn Mawr that operates educational, specialty, and sports camps throughout the region.

Sauchuk learned about Valley Forge while she was chair of the board of trustees at nearby Eastern University in St. Davids from 2005 to 2012.

"I always thought it was an intriguing place with a special mission," she said. When I saw the [job] posting, it immediately caught my attention."

Sauchuk, who grew up outside Baltimore, came to the area to attend Eastern. She graduated in 1981 with a bachelor's degree in social work. She has master's and doctoral degrees in school psychology from Temple University and is a certified school psychologist.

She and her husband, Sergio, will move from Gladwyne to the president's house on campus.


Contact Martha Woodall

at 215-854-2789 or martha.woodall@phillynews.com.

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