Next fall, Brian Simmons P ’12, ’14 will replace Rodgin Cohen ’61 as President of the Board of Trustees. Mr. Cohen has served as a Trustee since 2006 and as President of the Board since 2014.
Per the Board’s bylaws, trustees may only serve 5 consecutive years before they are mandated to step down. After a minimum of 2 years, trustees may seek re-election.
This year, seven trustees, including Mr. Cohen, are stepping down from their positions. Mr. Cohen stated he would not seek re-election in the future, wanting to make room on the board for new trustees.
Mr. Simmons, a parent of two recent Deerfield graduates, is a Managing Partner at Shorehill Capital, a Chicago-based private equity firm. He is currently Chair of the Endowment Committee and also serves on the Finance Committee and Nominating and Governance Committee. As President of the Board, he will participate in all committee meetings, guiding the Academy’s broader long-term strategy.
The change in leadership comes on the heels of Head of School Margarita Curtis’ recent announcement that she will step down at the end of the 2018-2019 school year. Notably, Mr. Simmons is chairing the Head of School Search Committee.
“We’ve prioritized leadership and understanding of the secondary school environment. There’s a variety of ways that could have been acquired,” Mr. Simmons said, when asked about the ideal background experience they were looking for. The search is still in its early stages — the Committee has not yet seen a list of potential candidates.
He continued, “We’re looking for someone who understands the culture and the traditions at Deerfield, and the ways in which Deerfield is different from other schools.”
Both Mr. Simmons and Mr. Cohen had plenty of praise for Dr. Curtis’s accomplishments.
“If I had my choice, she would stay longer,” Mr. Cohen said.
“Dr. Curtis talks about people, program and place, and her efforts have been pretty substantial,” Simmons said.
Simmons will begin his term amid rising discourse on campus surrounding potential modifications to Deerfield’s Academic Dress, one of its long-standing traditions. Discussions were initially sparked by a letter Dr. Curtis wrote to female students in April, beseeching Deerfield girls to “carefully consider [their] clothing choices.” The issue has since escalated, and has evoked a wide range of strong opinions from students, faculty, alumni and parents.
Considering the voices of these students and faculty members, on May 2, the Board announced a comprehensive “study of the dress code,” aiming to reach a decision by January 2019. This marks an abrupt change from the atmosphere surrounding the issue last October, when prospects of changing Academic Dress were met with “considerable concern” by the Board.
“I don’t have a personal opinion at this point. Dress code has been an important part of Deerfield’s culture and tradition,” Simmons said on Trustee Weekend.
Mr. Cohen also stated, “The Board would not be fulfilling its duty unless it sought and took into account the views of every relevant constituency — students, faculty, administrators, alumni, parents … all of the groups.”
On May 9 and May 10, Dr. Curtis invited female students to meet with her and provide suggestions for changes to the girls’ dress code. In the invitation, she stated, “Until we have a clear outcome, I’d like to work with you to find the intersection between our standards for academic dress and what you’d feel good wearing.”
Entering his upcoming term as President of the Board, Mr. Simmons aims to continue Cohen’s work “considering a wide range of opinions” and “building support around a broad consensus on important issues.”
Besides the upcoming 2019 renovation of the Health and Wellness Center, Simmons also plans to explore Deerfield’s use of technology in the classroom.
“With AI, and personalized learning … I think there will be some exciting opportunities to make better use of technology,” he said.
Above all else, Mr. Simmons expressed the importance of student-centric policies, drawing from his experience as a parent. All of the Board’s trustees except one are either parents of Deerfield students or Deerfield alums.
“Deerfield, to me, seems to be a school that is deeply committed to students. … there’s a lot of student-centric discussions at the board level, and I’m one-hundred percent in favor of that,” Mr. Simmons said.