Huybrechts to retire after 28 years


Huybrechts delivers her last convocation speech. Credit: Aaron Park/Chronicle

Jesse Nadel

After 28 years at the school, Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts will be retiring at the end of this year, Chair of the Board of Trustees Philip Holthouse and President Rick Commons announced in an email Friday.

“Jeanne made this plan some time ago, carefully considering other transitions taking place at the school and timing her own farewell with the best interests of Harvard-Westlake in her mind and heart,” Holthouse and Commons said in the email.

Starting July 1, 2017, interim Head of the Upper School Liz Resnick will become associate head of school, and Commons will add the position Head of School to his title as President.

Huybrechts started her time at the school as a science teacher at Westlake in 1989, five weeks before the merger was announced. For the fifteen years following the merger, Huybrechts also held the positions of Assistant Ninth Grade Dean, Assistant Head of Schools for Faculty Affairs and Head of Middle School, all while teaching at least one class each year.

In 2006, Headmaster Thomas C. Hudnut decided to split his position into two parts, president and head of school. At this point, Hudnut assumed the title of president to focus on raising capital for the middle school renovation, and Huybrechts was named the first-ever Head of School.

“In the first years of this position, I was very focused on day to day operations at the school,” Huybrechts said. “The middle school head, the upper school head, the head of athletics and the director of studies all reported to me. That was my team, and I just organized and led all of that work. I was the hub of all hiring decisions for faculty and I managed the school.”

After several years of focusing on internal operations, Huybrechts then began to work on external relations as well.

“Over time I began to take on some pet projects that potentially need funding,” Huybrechts said. “I went to all the alumni and advancement events and pretty soon I was working with the advancement team to help them, and piloting projects so that I was not just the internal person, but Tom Hudnut and I were both external and internal.”

When Hudnut retired from his position in 2013, Huybrechts mapped out when she too would leave the school.

“I knew that I wanted to help the new president in learning the ropes and we all wanted to be part of that transition, helping him,” Huybrechts said. “So, three or four years until my retirement seemed about right and this is the fourth year. It just seemed, for all sorts of reasons, that this is a good time to end.”

Huybrechts considers her work forming the Kutler Center for Interdisciplinary Studies and starting the school’s debate team as it now exists as some of the greatest accomplishments of her tenure, along with her focus on STEM curriculum.

She also said she is particularly proud of the “strong girls” that the school has educated.

“Everywhere I go I talk to audiences about the strong girls we have in our school,” Huybrechts said. “The unafraid, confident girls we have at our school and how well they do. I think Harvard-Westlake is a great school for girls even if it’s not a girls school.”

Huybrechts’ colleagues said that while they are said she is leaving, they are thankful for the work she has done at the school.

“I haven’t really known this place without her as Head and I’ve so appreciated the ways in which she has both supported the deans but also allowed us to work independently,” Upper School Dean Beth Slattery said. “That has been very much her style – support with also encouragement and autonomy for academic departments, for the deans. In particular, I’ve also appreciated that she’s been very supportive of female teachers and female deans and women’s leadership and encouraging many of the women who work here because in some ways, in the time she was coming up, there weren’t as many opportunities.”

Resnick said that she is grateful for the changes that Huybrechts has made to the school and is excited to carry on her legacy.

“She has literally been at Harvard-Westlake the whole time that Harvard-Westlake School has been in existence in leadership positions defining who we are today, so it’s just a terrific honor to be entrusted with those responsibilities, and she is just such a thoughtful, meticulous, warm, collegial leader,” Resnick said. “Every fiber of her being cares deeply about the school, about the students, about the adults who work here in every role. It’s quite the yardstick to be measured by. I will do my best to live up to the example she sets.”

In the upcoming years, Huybrechts is planning on continuing to work in some capacity, although she is not yet sure what that work will be.

“It is impossible for me to go from a hundred miles per hour to zero without a slow deceleration,” Huybrechts said. “I will do something different next year, but I have no concrete plan. I just know that I will work next year, but I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Huybrechts said that she will miss every aspect of the school in her retirement.

“What will I miss most? Where do I begin?” Huybrechts said. “I can’t tell you that there’s a most. I’ll miss it all, students, teachers, the great many friendships that I have here, the great many friendships that I engendered among parents and people who have graduated from the school. I’ll miss the people a lot. I’ll miss being this closely connected to Harvard-Westlake. Harvard-Westlake is an amazing institution and not having that everyday connection, that everyday touch with this place, I’ll miss that very much.”