Huybrechts reflects on first year

This year, for the first time, life at 3700 Coldwater Canyon was supposed to be guided by one unifying theme: the hard right vs. the easy wrong. The theme was the brainchild of new Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts and was one of the few things Huybrechts cited as a major change in school life as run by her.

In January 2006, the Board of Trustees approved an administrative structural change that split then-Headmaster Thomas C. Hudnut’s position into two: the office of President, which Hudnut officially took on July 1, and that of Head of School, which went to Huybrechts, who had previously been Head of Middle School. The main reason Hudnut cited for the change in the administration was his lack of time to successfully cover all components of his job, which included both managing the school on the inside and constantly dealing with the outside world. He now stays out of most internal matters.

“I see my role as essentially being Mr. Outside, with a capital O,” he said. He focuses on fundraising, building and speaking to the media. Huybrechts, on the other hand, has taken over the administrative portion of Hudnut’s former job, running the day-to-day operation and discipline issues.

“I don’t even know about some [disciplinary issues],” Hudnut said. “I learn about some from the Chronicle.”

Because she has only half of Hudnut’s former job, Huybrechts has more time to spend watching over life at the Upper School.

“I actually have more time than Mr. Hudnut had to spend overseeing the day-to-day operation of the school, so perhaps I’m perceived as more hands-on,” Huybrechts said, “but the fact is I simply have more time than he did to meet one-on-one with faculty, to be involved in the day-to-day operation of the school.”

Hudnut is aware of Huybrechts’ reputation as a more involved head of school and, in fact, that is what he was looking for in a successor.

“I was very much hoping that she would be more hands on,” he said. “Students and faculty benefit from hands-on leadership. I believe that students, faculty and parents all traded up when Dr. Huybrechts move into the head office because of her ability to focus on each of those groups and its needs.”
In “Spiderman,” Peter Parker’s uncle tells his nephew that “with great power comes great responsibility.” With Huybrechts’ new job, too, came many new responsibilities.
“The scope of the [new] job is so much bigger,” Huybrechts said.

One major change for Huybrechts is her new task of working with the Honor Board, which arbitrates cases of Honor Code violations only at the Upper School.

“At least on one occasion, my decision was counter to the Honor Board’s decision,” Huybrechts said.

“I have great respect for that institution, but I just did not see their recommendation as being warranted, given the circumstances. I think that there’s mutual respect there. They respect me; I respect them.”

Hudnut, too, made decisions that differed from the Board’s when he was headmaster.

“She and I have remarkably congruent approaches to students,” Hudnut agreed. Hudnut called Huybrechts’ work with Honor Board recommendations “conspicuously good.”

Upon returning to school in September 2006, students were greeted with 8.5” x 11” signs hung in classrooms around campus that read, in diagonal WordArt, “THE HARD RIGHT VS. THE EASY WRONG.”

“Early in the year, I asked faculty to use the theme as an everyday motto and to try to explain something that happened,” Huybrechts said.

The theme came into play in more major ways when the school community faced larger issues together. In November, three students were asked to leave school for violating “clearly stated prohibitions against drug use,” Huybrechts said. “In this situation, expelling all three students without giving them any opportunity for redemption would have been an ‘easy wrong,’” she said. “‘Easy,’ because by severing our relationship with these kids, there would have been no need for follow-up or monitoring.  The choice we made to allow the students to return if they met certain stringent conditions was more work for teachers but the right thing to do — a ‘hard right.’”

“Sometimes it’s difficult to know exactly what the right decision is, and sometimes making the right decision is a difficult thing to do because it sort of goes against the flow of what other people want,” Huybrechts said, “so that was what I was trying to point out by choosing that theme.”

After the May 14 attack on a senior girl, Huybrechts, Hudnut and Salamandra collaborated on e-mails sent to students and parents and the plan for the May 15 all-school assembly, but they then split the responsibility of dealing with the aftermath into three separate roles.

“There were police on campus almost all day long, and the police were in my office,” Huybrechts said, “so somebody had to be here at the school to make sure that the campus was secure and to make sure that the questions of the police were answered. I felt like I had to stay in my office all day long, and that’s exactly what I did.”

Salamandra, meanwhile, went to the hospital and took many more parent calls than Huybrechts did. Hudnut remained in his usual role of “Mr. Outside,” acting as the school’s -voice for the press, he said.

“I am the school’s designated spokesman, and that has not changed,” he said.

Although Huybrechts came into her current job with years of experience as a Harvard-Westlake administrator, she said she considers this year to have been a learning year.

“Because I’ve now experienced one full year, I feel like I’m going to be in a much better position to facilitate some changes for next year,” she said. “I’m going to spend the summer kind of reflecting on this year and visiting a number of schools and thinking about some new programs for the school. This year was definitely a learning experience for me.”

As part of her learning the ropes of Head of School, Huybrechts met with Hudnut officially once per week to discuss the position.

“We talk about issues that are both mundane and important,” Huybrechts said.
Huybrechts, a self-proclaimed “copious note-taker” who in college took notes for a blind student, also kept a book of notes that she took throughout the year.

“One of the things that I’ve always done in every job I’ve ever had is mentally debrief and mentally reflect on what I’ve done,” she said. “I don’t like to ever make the same mistake twice.”

Huybrechts did say there were little things that she may have done differently had she been more experienced, but she has no major regrets in looking back at the past year.

Huybrechts does have a theme in mind for next year but declined to reveal it yet.