Thoughts on Headmaster/Rector Changes...

<p>With a few of the New England schools set to get new leadership in the coming year (to wit, Choate and SPS), I was wondering how current/prospective parents (and any students who check in on this section) feel about this sort of thing.</p>

<p>Like my "dealbreaker" question, I am asking this question more in a conceptual way as opposed to a specific commentary on the two schools I mentioned above. Does who the head of school is matter to you? How much? And why?</p>

<p>I believe that applicants underestimate the importance of a leadership change at Boarding School. Yes, there is institutional integrity and momentum that are greater than any one individual. But the headmaster in a boarding school remains infinitely more important to guiding the school's culture than a college environment. The choice of a new head is very difficult. Especially in the case of SPS, the selection is critical. IMO, SPS is the largest of the historically blue blood boarding schools. It needs a Head who is unafraid to be a counterweight to "clubby" alumni, someone who stands for quality and goodwill wherever it can be found.</p>

<p>A change in Head is a definite risk factor no matter which way you cut it. Having said all this, a great choice by SPS or Choate will invigorate those Schools like nothing else.</p>

<p>I worry about where a school stands and how a new headmaster will influence the direction of the school. In Andover's case, I looked up where current headmaster Barbara Landis Chase came from prior to taking the helm at Andover. She came from a small private girls school (K - 12) in Baltimore, Bryn Mawr where she served as headmistress for 14 years. So taking on Andover was definitely a step up. True, she had lots of experience and good credentials. Chase holds an A.B. in history from Brown University and a M.L.A. from Johns Hopkins University. But it seems like it was a big leap. One could argue, all turned out well. </p>

<p>In the case of Choate, Dr. Alex Curtis is coming from Morristown-Beard, also seems like a step-up for him, and he has good credentials. I believe this is the type of candidate who would assume these jobs, someone who is looking to climb the ladder. I don't think I would want someone from a university who sees this as a step down or resting place and end of career seat for themselves. </p>

<p>Still, whomever takes these headmaster positions need to have some experience with raising capital, and maintaining and growing the programs (Science/Math) etc to the level top colleges expect even if its not their own bailiwick or interest. That gives me a little pause, but hopefully those candidates selected bring a depth and breadth of experience. In the end, the search is time-limited. Often the current headmaster has given his/her notice and my guess is a wide net is cast and in the end those on the selection committee find the best they can. I suppose if the selectee doesn't produce, like in most high level positions, they're tenure is time-limited.</p>

<p>I think most people crave stability so whenever leadership is in flux, I think it produces anxiety for parents and students. These elite schools however have managed to withstand the test of time, and I'm sure they will continue to flourish in the longrun. Too many distinguished alumni are watching and I'm sure not willing to let their alma maters go down the tubes.</p>

<p>@RBGG: I am definitely one of those parents who craves stability. For some reason, I had no idea that Mr. Shanahan was retiring. It was not mentioned on our visit and tour over the summer, though I gather he announced his plan last winter. Sounds like a big step up for the incoming head.</p>

<p>Again, for whatever reasons (either my own research or some staff/student disclosure on our visits), I was aware of the Rector search at SPS much earlier in our search process. It will be interesting to see who from the two remaining candidates they select. </p>

<p>It would be very interesting (and I mean that in the most positive and excited way) if the female candidate was selected. I had Drew Faust (now president of Harvard) as a professor back in the day and was so excited when she got that job. IMO, always good for our daughters to have strong women role models helming their school.</p>

<p>I agree - stability is key. And yes - leadership matters to me.</p>

<p>Sometimes change can be positive. When the headmaster changed at my oldest daughter's school (local/private day school) it was a welcome breath of relief. My concerns (read complaints) about the lack of adequate college prep curriculum were addressed and the graduation requirements were revised. She was more proactive about reaching out to parents versus her predecessor who focused on pleasing wealthy (and often ill informed) alum who liked the status quo. But we had gone through most of our years under the previous headmistress and the experience was so frustrating (no discipline of staff, dodging parent concerns) that we're tempted to tape a penny to the donation form so they won't think we "forgot" to donate - sigh.</p>

<p>We're having a completely different experience with daughter #2 who refused to even consider the school mentioned above as an option. At Taft there have only been 5 headmasters since 1890. The current one is young enough for me to belief he's going to be around for a while. There's a camaraderie that is palpable on campus and during a recent trip, he held an extensive workshop on the school's financial status, endowment level, and the goal he is trying to reach by the time he retires. There has also been a significant investment in student resources and facilities despite the fact that the endowment is a fraction of it's more well-known peers. The process helped my husband feel a bit more connected to the process. Several weeks later I hear he gave the same presentation at Parent's Day and the auditorium erupted in cheers. His connection to the extended Taft "community" may be a factor that the parents out raise Exeter and SPS in donations each year by a wide margin (both in dollars and % participation). </p>

<p>I think stability is about growing a "sustainable community network" then tapping that network for financial and educational resources. So far I'm satisfied.</p>

<p>But if there were going to be a transition I would be checking the background of the incoming person. And trying to determine how the process was played out in picking the successor and what they accomplished in their previous assignments. Personality and skill go a long way in setting the tone and demeanor on campus.</p>

<p>(btw -- does SPS WANT to change their clubby alumni blue-blood persona? My impression from visiting and from talking with friends who are alum is that they are happy the way they are.)</p>

<p>Exie, Can you share the amount raised and the % of parent participation for Taft?</p>

<p>I'm surprised at all the concern on the head of school. Don't they serve at the discretion of the trustees? If they stray too far from the trustee's visions, they are removed. For the most part, they are following the trustee's or some form of oversight board's directions.</p>

<p>The vetting process for these positions is extremely thorough. The heads of schools are paid generously, and they deserve it. So let's view it the other way: are they any recent or current head of a 'Tier 1' boarding school that has had a negative influence on their school?</p>

<p>Exie - I respect your enthusiasm for your child's school but I think your facts are wrong regarding the parents' fund giving at SPS vs. Taft. Taft parents do not out donate SPS parents by a wide margin - at least not in 2009-10. </p>

<p>From the Taft website: Last year, 93 percent of Taft parents joined in raising $1,561,630!</p>

<p>SPS figures are 87% participation with $1.57 million raised. </p>

<p>So, yes, a somewhat larger percentage of Taft parents contributed but SPS raised just slightly more money, which is impressive since the SPS student body is about 60 students smaller than Taft's student body. </p>

<p>So, who has figures for Exeter? </p>

<p>As for your "clubby blue blood persona" comment about SPS, in my opinion, SPS is well past that dated reputation, thanks in large part to the current rector, Bill Matthews. Hopefully, the new rector will follow in his footsteps. I think there is enough support among parents, alumni and the trustees to insure that will be the case.</p>

<p>I am surprised at both of those numbers. Groton, which is 20 - 25% smaller than either Taft or SPS raised over 2.7 million in their annual fund with 95% parent participation. The goal this year is 2.85 million.</p>

<p>This has taken the thread in a new direction, but I think a very interesting direction. I would never make a decision based entirely on parent participation in annual fund and amount raised, but I do think it is another way to gain insight into a school. </p>

<p>I'll look for Exeter..... 2009 - 2010's annual fund raised 7.8 million, but there was no parent participation figure that I could see. The website has gobs of information about PEA's finances under the giving tab.</p>

<p>I'm more interested in the person at the helm than just dollars, though that's important too, their ability to raise capital. Thomas Hassan, it looks like from Exeter's website, has been there a long time. He reportedly became Exeter’s 14th principal in 2009and had served as Exeter's assistant principal for 8 years, including as acting principal fom August 2005 – March 2006. </p>

<p>He had also been director of college counseling, dean of admissions in 1994 and had also taught Math and was a student advisor. Reportedly, he spearheaded "Universal Access," which has made the campus accessible to all members of the Exeter community, and Exeter’s sustainability program. He also apparently helped raise $305 million thru the Exeter Initiatives campaign and is active in the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) conference.</p>

<p>It seems you have to be in touch with students, be able to raise money and be a known figure in NAIS. If you have at least those three things, you may be a great candidate for headmaster. I would also want someone who has some known connection to top colleges. However, it seems that's less important in the backgrounds of these accomplished, successful headmasters.</p>

<p>@alextwofour: I'd hardly call the responses of a handful of people "all the concern". And while a new head might not significantly affect a school in a "negative" way, any change in head will certainly bring some change...</p>

<p>I was witness to this at my own private high school when we got a new headmaster and head of upper school. And at a local day school, a change in head was followed by a small exodus of teachers (many, like the head, retiring).</p>

<p>And regardless of who the new person is, there is always the curve that happens in a "getting to know you" period.</p>

<p>All in all, I am not of the opinion that a change in head is a "dealbreaker"...I was just trying to gauge parent POV on this topic.</p>

<p>It's important when quoting annual fund numbers to compare apples to apples. The figures I quoted for Taft and SPS are for the parental contributions to the annual fund ONLY. </p>

<p>Neato - the figure of $2.7 million you quoted for Groton is for the entire annual fund including alumni, faculty and friends of the school. I believe the Exeter figure also represents the entire annual fund, not just the parent portion. In contrast, for SPS the total amount raised for the annual fund in 2010 was $4.6 million when including all giving groups. That said, Groton's 95% parental participation rate is impressive.</p>

<p>Thank you for correcting me, Creative1. What you say makes sense out of somewhat discongruous numbers. Yes, the Exeter number is the entire annual fund. The website lists participation by class, but not parental contributions.</p>

<p>These numbers are just the annual funds, not contributions to the endowment or capital projects. That is a seperate category, correct?</p>

...always good for our daughters to have strong women role models helming their school.


Always good for our sons to see that women can be strong, excellent leaders too.</p>

<p>Now thats an interesting thought. How many female headmasters are there at well known BS? I know of Loomis and Andover. Where else? Just for curiosity</p>

<p>Head of School at DA is a woman - Margarita Curtis</p>

<p>ok good. Did not know that.
So we have:
Any other BS w/ female headmaster?</p>

<p>I don’t have a comparative analysis of how George School’s annual fund trends measure against other BS. I did, however, receive a very nice thank you letter from the Head of School for my gift. What caught my attention was the kind note she wrote at the bottom of the letter. She recalled something very specific about my son which clearly indicated that she is well aware of who is as a student and his progression during his time on campus. It left me wondering, did she write a kind blurb about a student on each parents’ thank you note? How does one manage to know 550 students so well while maintaining what is probably the mother-of-all to-do lists? </p>

<p>So I echo Mainer’s sentiments that it is good for all students to see that women can be strong, excellent leaders and will also add compassionate and insightful to that skill set. I don’t know about other GS families but I am sold. Sign me up again for this year’s drive! Organizational culture emanates from the top down and boarding schools are no exception.</p>

<p>Middlesex has Kathleen Carroll Giles as the head of school.</p>

<p>Wow I`m surprised IzzieB didn't post that one.
So we have: