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Nilsson Appointed King’s Head of School
Sarah Jung '20 Associate Editor
March 7, 2019
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Peter Nilsson was appointed as the third Head of School for King’s Academy in Jordan. He was previously an English teacher and Director of Research, Innovation, and Outreach at Deerfield and is currently on sabbatical. This appointment was officially announced on January 31, 2019. He will succeed Dr. John Austin, who is returning to the United States to serve as the new Head of School at Deerfield Academy.

Courtesy of David Thiel

Mr. Nilsson arrived at Deerfield in 2000 to teach English but took a four year hiatus in order to pursue music in New York City. He has taught courses on Paradise Lost, intersections of literature and science, New England poetry, digital humanities, and how form shapes content in literature.

Outside of the classroom, Mr. Nilsson manages the “Educator’s Notebook,” a site that collects and shares news related to education from around the world. He also is the Founder and Executive Director of the Athena Project, a nonprofit dedicated to resource sharing, collaboration, and professional development.

King’s Academy’s trustees sought to find a visionary leader for their school and said, “We wanted an energetic thought- leader … as eager to keep learning as to take action.”

The search process for this position, which began in late August of last year, was conducted by King’s trustees and Carney Sandoe and Associates, an appointed educational consulting firm.

Referring to the potential of Deerfield having had a role in King’s search process, Head of School Margarita Curtis stated, “Deerfield does not play a role in selecting leadership for any other school, nor was I involved personally in the selection process, but if one of our employees applies for a position, we do provide references, upon request.”

Mr. Nilsson was taken by surprise when he first received an email from Carney Sandoe, which informed him that he had been recommended as a candidate for the position.

“I hadn’t been actively engaged in a search—my time on sabbatical had been focused on developing Athena, an education nonprofit, and when I received the email, I read it out loud to my wife in shock,” he said.

He ultimately applied for the job because he realized, “This is a unique opportunity, and opportunity sometimes only knocks once.”

After he had submitted his application, he was informed that he was a semifinalist, and then completed a Skype interview with King’s full search committee. Then, when he heard back that he was a finalist, he flew to King’s for a week in December. He heard the outcome in January.

Mr. Nilsson had many factors to consider before he made the decision to accept the position.

He said, “I thought about what it would mean for family and for our careers. … I found an inspiring group of deeply committed people and an opportunity to apply myself in schools in a new way.”

As he researched, Mr. Nilsson also mentioned how he began to realize geopolitically how important and admirable Jordan is as a country. He elaborated, “Jordan is an extraordinary nation, a bastion of stability in a destabilized region, and my few direct experiences in Jordan are filled with generous and caring people.”

Despite the historical and cultural bonds between Deerfield and King’s Academy, Dr. Curtis clarified that Deerfield and King’s do not have any formal affiliation. Nonetheless, HRM King Abdullah II did ask Dr. Curtis’ predecessor Eric Widmer ’57 to serve as King’s first head of school, and Mr. Nilsson’s appointment further enhances this relationship.

Dr. Curtis added that Deerfield and King’s have additionally exchanged several students, faculty, and even chefs.

While Deerfield and King’s share a connection, the community at King’s is different and unique. Aside from the sit-down meals and circular teaching tables, many traditions at King’s diverge from traditions at Deerfield.

“While King’s was inspired by experiences at Deerfield and shares many traits, it’s important to remember that it lives in a different context, with a different student body composition, a different faculty, and many different traditions,” said Mr. Nilsson. “My role is not to further bring Deerfield to King’s, but to listen and to learn from the people who have been living and breathing King’s particular mission.”

Dr. Curtis advised, “Deerfield is over 200 years old, whereas King’s has just celebrated its tenth anniversary. The difference in age between the two schools—and the vastly divergent cultural contexts in which each operates—are just two major factors that would influence the attributes required for effective leadership.”

However, Dr. Curtis had full faith in Mr. Nilsson’s capabilities, saying, “Mr. Nilsson is a talented, dedicated educator and has an innovative, entrepreneurial mindset that’s well suited to a new school dedicated to excellence.”

“Being a Head of School isn’t easy,” she said, “But Mr. Nilsson’s skillset—and his positive, optimistic disposition—will serve him well!”

“This appointment is humbling,” said Mr. Nilsson. “The more one reads about Jordan’s role in the region, and about King’s Academy’s role in Jordan, the more clear and profound the responsibility of the Head of School. Taking on this role— and moving one’s family and life, especially from a place and a community that we love—was not an easy decision, but one that was made easier by the singular and inspired vision for the school ahead.”