[STAFF EDITORIAL] Students need time with Head of School candidates

100% staff consensus

The 2021-22 school year marks Head of School Bryn Roberts’ sixteenth and final year leading St. Paul Academy and Summit School. During his tenure, Roberts is known for the construction of the Huss Center for the Performing Arts, the upper school renovation and the Schilling Center, an increase in administration at all levels, and has started conversations about strategic building of athletic and academic initiatives. There is no question that the head of School shapes the direction of the school community with their priorities and vision.

The search for the new Head of School is led by a nine-member Search Committee, “appointed by and drawn from the school’s Board of Trustees.” Board President Tim Welsh and Trustee Tim O’Brien, co-chair this Search Committee. Carney, Sandoe & Associates, an outside educational search firm that recruits teachers and administrators for placement in private, independent schools, will work with the Search Committee throughout the process. Although many qualified professionals are involved, students have almost no involvement or input in the search. In order for a decision to be made that benefits the school as a whole, this search must have significantly more student input, especially from those in the upper school. This involvement should include opportunities for the 9-12 student body to ask questions and provide feedback on each candidate as they visit campus.

Welsh and O’Brien co-signed the following statement: “We intend this process to be as inclusive as possible, and our goal is to offer our entire community opportunities to share thoughts and aspirations along the way.” But during the first of four prospective candidates’ visits to SPA this month, candidates are scheduled to spend one 35 minute lunch with 10 students in grades 6-12 and one 30 minute lunch with a group of fifth graders.

Whoever the new head of school may be, students will not be involved with 100% of their responsibilities. And accordingly, students are not asking for 100% of the time or power involved with this decision.

The time allotted to students to get to know and assess this perspective head of school is simply not enough. Neither is it reasonable to believe that five upper school students can represent the interests of 400 students 9-12.

Although student involvement is critical, there are some responsibilities of the head of school that do not involve or impact students. For example, the “strong understanding of the business and operations dimensions of an independent school, including finance, admissions, communications, and development.”

However, there are just as many responsibilities that do directly involve students, like the “personal and professional commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion and the requisite skillfulness to support student and faculty growth in this area and to facilitate critical conversations in the design of more inclusive curricula and programs.” The way in which the new head of school approaches DEI will impact the everyday lives of students.

Whoever the new head of school may be, students will not be involved with 100% of their responsibilities. And accordingly, students are not asking for 100% of the time or power involved with this decision. However, the time given to students should at least be proportionate to the involvement that the head of school has in their everyday lives. As candidates come to campus, student forums, similar to the parent and faculty forums, should be added so students can attend an hour-long session, engage in conversation and pose questions to prospective heads.

If the current administration does not make time in the schedule, students who have questions should ask them: by posing them on the Opinion Board, submitting them to administrators, or engaging with candidates when they see them in the building.

If family forums provide a voice, talk with family who plan to attend and make student priorities and questions known to them as they provide feedback.

Sixteen years was enough time for Roberts to leave a legacy that will substantially change SPA forever; the next person has the opportunity to do the same or more.