Search for upper school head narrows

Sammi Handler

A team of administrators, deans and faculty narrowed the search for a new head of the Upper School to eight candidates and expects to make an appointment at least before Thanksgiving.

Two of the eight semifinalists are current faculty members and the other six come from California, Texas, Ohio and New Hampshire.

The names of the faculty members who are up for consideration are confidential as it is an ongoing hiring process.

Those who are not internal candidates will visit classes to get a better sense of the school and community as the interview process continues through early October.

“I’m really proud to say in the context of our diversity and inclusion initiatives that of those eight semifinalists, four of them are people of color,” President Rick Commons, who is a member of the search committee, said. “I’m proud of that and pleased with it. All four of them are extraordinarily qualified. It was very important to have a diverse pool.”

Since the spring, Commons, Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts, Interim Head of Upper School Liz Resnick, Head of Middle School Jon Wimbish, Head of Athletics Terry Barnum, Upper School Dean Beth Slattery and English Department Head Larry Weber reviewed 70 applications for the new position.

“They were all really impressive applications,” Commons said. “In our advertisement we stipulated the kind of experience we were looking for so we didn’t get applications from people who were really under qualified. We had 70 really good applications.”

The school also released an advertisement on the school’s website describing the ideal candidate for the position.

The committee conducted phone and in person interviews with 15 candidates before deciding on the semifinalists.

Commons hopes to name a new head of the Upper School before Halloween, but if one candidate does not stand “head and shoulders above the rest” he said the committee will choose two or three finalists.

Those finalists will then spend a full day at the school, if he or she is not a current faculty member, to meet with students and faculty and visit more classes at the Upper School so the committee can get a community reaction.

The committee hopes to find someone who can work well with all aspects of the school, from the arts department to the athletic department, Commons said.

“We certainly need to find somebody who can embrace our school’s almost unique devotion to excellence in the academic arena, the athletic arena, the artistic arena, the journalistic arena, the forensic arena – one of the things that is really distinct about Harvard-Westlake is, what I call, centers of excellence in so many areas,” Commons said. “Most schools like ours have one center of excellence, maybe two, and we have multiple. We need to find somebody who can embrace that approach to education.”

After former Head of Upper School Audrius Barzdukas announced in April that he would become the head of a private day school in New York, Resnick volunteered to temporarily fill the administrative vacancy.

She will remain in her position throughout the year.

“Even if we name somebody, ideally on Oct. 25, that person wouldn’t begin until July 1, 2017,” Commons said. “We’ve got this really powerful group of eight semifinalists, so I’m excited about that work. The hard part is going to be choosing.”