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What We Look For in a Head of School
Board Editorial
April 19, 2018
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We are saddened to hear that Dr. Curtis will retire in June 2019 — she has added immeasurably to our community life at Deerfield through her warm presence, commitment to inclusion, and willingness to listen to student suggestions, just to name a few examples. We thank her for all her past and continuing hard work, and we will surely miss her dearly when she retires. As the Head of School Search Committee looks for someone to take Dr. Curtis’s place, we would like to offer what we value most in a Head of School.

The Head of School must have the vision and skill necessary to lead Deerfield, but should also be deeply involved in community life. We greatly appreciate Dr. Curtis’s efforts to get to know all of us students and interact with us daily.

She always brightens our day when she waves at us and calls us by our names, and by modeling caring behavior, she instills a culture of kindness and empathy in our community. When Dr. Curtis attends not only our athletic games, but also our music concerts, theater productions, and art exhibitions, the athletes and artists among us feel supported and motivated to achieve greater heights. As the leader of our community, it is crucial that the Head of School embody the values we hope our community to have.

By being involved in the Deerfield community, the Head of School not only fosters a better community, but also achieves a greater understanding of the student body. Since the Head of School is often responsible for making decisions that affect students, it is important for the Head of School to understand students’ concerns. Dr. Curtis has always been willing to talk to students about any issue, and we think it is important for our new Head of School to communicate often with students as well.

While we understand that the Head of School must be able to manage the financial operations of our school, which is crucial for ensuring Deerfield’s long-term sustainability as an institution, the Head of School must also understand that, at its core, Deerfield is a rich learning environment and not a business to be run. As such, we would like our Head of School to have a background in education, which would aid him or her in crafting school policy around educational concerns and also in understanding the concerns of faculty. Most preferably, the new Head of School would have experience in some type of boarding school environment. Unlike day schools and businesses, boarding schools are open 24/7 during the academic year, so it is not sufficient for a boarding school simply to provide an education; it must also build a sense of community that is conducive to both learning and moral development. Though some of our peer schools have chosen leaders with strictly corporate backgrounds, we believe that a Head of School with a background in education and an understanding of the boarding school environment would be better equipped to lead in such a unique environment.

Our new Head of School must commit to inclusion efforts, which are becoming ever more critical in our increasingly divisive political climate. Time and time again, events on Deerfield’s campus and in society at large remind us of the perils that come with a lack of empathy and cultural competency. Deerfield is a wonderfully diverse community, with students hailing from 38 states and 42 countries, and the Head of School must encourage compassion, understanding, and thoughtfulness in all students. This also means that the Head of School must be able to take decisive action against wrongdoings whenever they appear. For example, after the swastika incident, Dr. Curtis clearly condemned all forms of hate in our community, and our new Head of School must be able to take decisive stances as well.

We ask that the Search Committee update students and faculty frequently on its progress. We students are all deeply invested in the search and are eager to participate in any way we can.