Barzdukas assumes new role as Head of Upper School

David Lim

With a home adjacent to campus and two of his children enrolled at Harvard-Westlake, Head of Upper School Audrius Barzdukas is beginning his 10th year at the school with a new role.

When Barzdukas wakes up, he is only a short walk from his office. But this year, instead of overseeing  athletics from an office looking out on Slavin Field, he oversees the upper school from his desk in the middle of the upper school campus.

During his first summer on the new job, Barzdukas changed the administration’s role in Honor Board decisions, helped facilitate the construction of the new Olympic-sized pool, set out to improve cleanliness in the lunch area and visited China.

Barzdukas earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at the University of Virginia. He then  worked for 12 years at the U.S. Olympic Training Center and for the U.S. Olympic Committee before starting his job at Harvard-Westlake, where he worked his first eight years as Head of Athletics.

“I’ve spent my life working in sports, but as I’ve said, I think the program and leadership in that area is better than ever,” Barzdukas said. “I look forward to being an unofficial consultant and an official full-time supporter.”

Barzdukas’s new office is located in the quad near the deans’ offices, a change he said was intended to foster transparency and interaction with students. Two years ago, Barzdukas also met with 177 different teachers and observed 177 classes.

“It was a crazy project,” Barzdukas said. “I feel like this was my little picture of Harvard-Westlake kids. And also what Harvard-Westlake should try to be and do.”

He has developed a detailed philosophy, guiding his long-term goals for academics, arts and athletics, which Barzdukas described as a “triangle of achievement.”  The main principles, which he carries in a notebook, are centered on three cornerstones, “Aspiring to learn, bridging cultures and service.”

One way in which Barzdukas plans to improve learning is by utilizing new technology such as the iPad as a tool for education. The iPad and similar technology, he said while pointing to his iPod Nano wristwatch, will eventually allow teachers to deliver educational content more efficiently and thus create more time for personal student-teacher interactions.

“If it’s used in the right way, [the iPad] is actually a tool and you want to use the right tool for the job,” Barzdukas said. “You can’t build a house if you only have a screwdriver. It would be hard. We are building a human and if there are ways for us to use podcasts to help you fulfill your potential, that is the discussion we should have.”

Barzdukas’s second principle is bridging cultures within departments, campuses, the city of Los Angeles and the world.

“We have one place to live,” Barzdukas said. “We have to figure out how to live together.”

He said the Kutler Center’s new interdisciplinary classes exemplified this principle. Barzdukas visited Shanghai and Xiamen in China this summer and said he wants to strengthen Harvard-Westlake’s relationship with China through the World Leading Schools Association, which encourages the exchange of ideas about educational systems between countries

“That [program] is flourishing. Again, we’re going to ask and answer the question, ‘what does global education mean?’” Barzdukas said.

The final component of the philosophy is service, which Barzdukas defined as “making others better through leadership.”

“Each of us has the capacity to be a leader, and we should all aspire to lead in our own way,” Barzdukas said. “But that doesn’t mean that everyone has to be the President of the United States.”

He repeatedly emphasized the importance of making the honor code and character more prevalent in the daily conversation at Harvard-Westlake.

“The discussion is healthy in and of itself,” Barzdukas said. “By having it be a bigger part of daily life, the honor code lives a little more.”

Barzdukas said he aims to implement these elements of his philosophy into the classroom setting in the years to come through open discussion with students and teachers.

“We are in the human potential business,” Barzdukas said. “You all have different kinds of potential. How do we help you actualize that potential? That’s what we do, and we are recognized as being among the best in the world at doing that.”