Hallmark school to close in October, state says


Recorder Staff

Published: 08-17-2016 10:34 AM

TURNERS FALLS — There won’t be as many student photographers looking for photo opportunities throughout Franklin County after October, when Hallmark Institute of Photography says goodbye to graduates for the last time.

On Tuesday, the state confirmed that the long-time photography school on Millers Falls Road will close later this year.

Chris Goetcheus, spokesman for the Office of Consumer Affairs, said Hallmark notified the Office of Private Occupational School Education, which oversees licensure for occupational schools in the state, of its intentions to close come October. The notification was given last month in July.

At the school administrative offices, weeds grow around the sign out front and paint peels on a sign welcoming “future Hallmark students.”

Just down the road near the airport, the halls of the education center are abandoned, and only a few cars sit in the large parking lot outside — the only sign of life on campus.

The glass doors of the education center are locked, with a small sign directing visitors back to the administrative offices. A knock on the door received no answer — a reiteration of the school’s tight-lipped response to inquiries so far.

Earlier in the day, calls to Hallmark were directed to Premier Education Group, the private, for-profit school’s parent company, which declined to provide any information. Jessica Mastrogiovanni, vice president and general counsel at Premier Education Group, said the school doesn’t have an official comment on the scheduled closing.

On Google, search results list the school as “permanently closed” — a loss that hits the town of Montague hard.

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“Any time a business decides to leave, it’s a big loss,” said Town Administrator Frank Abbondanzio. “Some very creative people are associated with the school, and they’ve made a major contribution to the town.”

In particular, Abbondanzio said, Hallmark had a big impact on the revitalization of downtown. According to town records, the school property is worth more than $1.8 million, and paid about $55,000 in taxes to the town during 2016.

According to the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, which the school is accredited by, Hallmark offers a 1,400 hour certificate program. The school’s website advertises the program as a 10-month-long intensive in professional photography.

For many years since it was started in 1975, Hallmark was touted as a national leader in photography education. Past guest speakers at the school include Life Magazine photographers Mary Ellen Mark, Douglas Kirkland and National Geographic Society photographer Joe McNally.

But scandal smeared the school’s name in 2014 when former president and then owner of the school, George J. Rosa III, pleaded guilty to related charges of bank fraud and tax evasion. According to the Department of Justice, the former owner spent $2.6 million of company funds on personal purchases.

Despite that, former students of the school expressed sadness and dissapointment at the loss of the school, which was for many a good educational experience.

“I’m heartbroken to hear it’s closing,” Michelle McGrady, a Hallmark alumni, said in an email. “It’s upsetting that no one else will experience its top-notch photography courses or be part of the Hallmark ‘family’ anymore.”

As far as students who are currently in the program, Goetcheus said they will graduate and receive certificates before the school closes.

“They’ve informed us that they’ll be working with current students so they can finish,” he said, adding that currently there are about 10 students enrolled in the school.

The final graduation is set for October, before the school closes for good.

You can reach Andy Castillo at: acastillo@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 263

On Twitter: @AndyCCastillo