School to start in August for 2009-2010 year

In July 2006, Thomas C. Hudnut traded in his Seaver office for a renovated house in the equivalent of the upper school campus’ backcountry, and Jeanne Huybrechts trekked over Coldwater to occupy the empty space. Ronnie Codrington-Cazeau packed up her extensive collection of stuffed Elmo dolls and moved down the hall of what was then the Middle School’s Administration Building to fill the void Huybrechts left behind.

The moves were a result of then-Headmaster Hudnut’s decision to divide his role at the time into two specialized positions. He would become the school’s first-ever President, tasked with overseeing the school’s fundraising and outreach responsibilities, and Huybrechts would make the switch from Head of Middle School to Head of School, in charge of student life, faculty, and the curriculum. Cazeau assumed Huybrechts’ old job at the Middle School.

In the two-and-a-half years since the administration overhaul, the school has weathered scandals and public scrutiny, as well as a modernization that cost more than $100 million, all while attempting to maintain a sense of normalcy on both campuses and continuing to rake in academic and athletic accolades.

Heading up the Middle School

Since she became the head of the Middle School, Cazeau has been faced with the expulsion of six middle school students for a drug-related incident, as well as the expansive renovation of the North Faring campus in a still-unfinished stretch that has spanned the entirety of her tenure in the position thus far.

The British-born, Boston-raised Cazeau, who had served as a seventh grade dean, English teacher, history teacher and admissions officer at the school since 1995, considers the past two years “a learning experience.”

“There are things I wish I could have done differently,” she said.

Cazeau’s “biggest challenge,” she said, was the adjustment from being one of a pair of deans to her current, solitary position.

“[The two-dean system] provides a built-in sounding board. There was also Dr. Huybrechts to pass upset parents or students on to,” Cazeau said. “Now, I am that person, and it is still tough beginning the day with an angry phone call or having to make tough judgment calls.”

The very fact that Cazeau rose to the role of head of the Middle School was, in itself, unexpected. She has previously referred to “frustrating years,” and that “10 years is a long time to be a dean.”

She even began to think, she told The Chronicle in April 2006, “What else is out there?”

In the summer of 2005, Hudnut, who knew Cazeau was interested in moving into a more administrative position, suggested that she apply to be the head of St. James School, an elementary school in Hancock Park. Cazeau was eventually one of the final three candidates for the job, but was passed over.

“I am very glad that I stuck it out, but I’m also happy that I applied for that job,” Cazeau said. “It taught me the skills I needed to work on in order to better run a school.”

Those skills were quickly put to use, with the modernization limiting facilities and significantly inconveniencing teachers and students.

A new academic building, library, and auditorium have been built, and the physical and logistical challenges of such an extensive construction job have, Cazeau admitted, taken their toll.

Phase 1-A of the project, which was completed in August, “was not an easy time,” she said. Phase 1-B, which includes the construction of a new field, is currently underway.

“When the field is finished I will feel as if the project is finally done,” Cazeau said.

The months of renovation put a premium on faculty morale: parking was significantly reduced, and teachers and staff were forced to carpool or take shuttles to school from various assembly points.

Cazeau’s primary goal throughout the project has been appeasing the faculty and meeting their needs.

“I tried really hard to let people know how much I appreciated what they were going through,” she said. “They weathered the storm.”

Despite her administrative responsibilities, Cazeau still teaches a section of a history class, a task that she said keeps her “in touch with students.”

“I love the fact that I still get to teach, and my class is a joy, especially on tougher days,” she said.

Tag team

As Cazeau tackled problems at the Middle School, Hudnut and Huybrechts adjusted to their newly conceived posts at the Upper School. In order for the school to continue to operate efficiently, the bifurcation of what was previously the office of the headmaster was vital, Hudnut said.

“A school with 1600 students, two campuses, an over-$50 million budget, 200 teachers, and nearly 500 employees, with its funding needs and the necessity to be part of the broader world, it’s just too big for one person to try to manage all aspects of it,” he said.

“I had been doing it for 20 years, and recognized that things were not happening as smoothly as they should.”

As president, Hudnut focuses primarily on fundraising and the school’s role in the city and the world at large.

He is, in essence, “the Chief Executive Officer” of Harvard-Westlake, in charge of the school’s business and community affairs, he said.

“I run Harvard-Westlake, Inc.,” he said.

As such, a great deal of Hudnut’s job involves meeting with potential donors and garnering money for the school. It’s a task, he said, that never ends.

“There isn’t anything I do – I think this is literally true – that’s not somehow related to the school,” he said. “Even when I go someplace as a private citizen, I’m seen as the president of Harvard-Westlake, and that factors into people’s perception of who I am and what I do.

“I can never escape, but that’s been my life for a long time. I don’t choose to escape,” he said.

Head of Upper School Harry Salamandra said that Hudnut’s fundraising prowess makes his current duties a natural fit.

“He’s such a people person, so he’s able to do what he does very well, even better than before,” Salamandra said. “It has benefited the school. Before, he was doing two jobs, so he was only able to do so much with each job.”

The other half of the headmaster’s former duties have been allocated to Huybrechts, who is now in charge of academics and the day-to-day operation of the school.

Hudnut said that his role in academic and curricular decisions is practically non-existent, although he is briefed on the school’s affairs in weekly meetings with Huybrechts.

“Sometimes I’m called upon because of my experience for some assistance, but I really try not to be involved,” he said. “[Huybrechts] keeps me abreast of what’s going on, but they’re broad brush strokes.”

This division of labor, Huybrechts said, “is as it should be. That was [Hudnut’s] conception and his vision of how the school should be led and managed.

“There’s not a distinct dividing line between what he does and what I do, although on most of the work I do, I don’t even consult with him.”

A priority of Huybrechts has been the establishment of school-wide initiatives focusing on character development and sustainable living.

“I think that’s probably new for the school, to have overt school-wide initiatives every year, and that was the point,” she said. “Having somebody who had the time to look at these things and kind of think outside the box and ask people around here what needs to be done, that’s really important.”

This attention to detail and student life is a trait Hudnut was looking for in a head of school, he said, and one that he thought Huybrechts could apply to a more substantial degree than he was able to as headmaster based on her teaching experience.

“She has established more curricular initiatives than I did, because she is more knowledgeable of the curriculum and more involved in its articulation than I was,” Hudnut said. “[Director of Studies] Deb Dowling and Dr. Huybrechts spend more time stirring the pot and making things happen than I did.”

Although Hudnut deliberately moved his office farther away from the center of campus to avoid the potential of faculty and staff superseding Huybrechts’ authority by directing concerns within her jurisdiction to him, neither has seen any instance of this happening.

“It was a valid concern,” Huybrechts said. “I’ve never felt that people chose to go see him when it was appropriate to come and see me. People know what my role at this school is.”

Hudnut expressed a similar view.

“No employee I can think of has tried to run around her to try to get a raise or some kind of benefit or something,” he said.

‘Bit of standoffishness’

While Huybrechts may have been fully backed by her new upper school colleagues, she felt less than welcomed by students.

“Looking back, the senior class that year didn’t know quite what to make of me,” she said. “[They] hadn’t seen me in two years and they had been used to Mr. Hudnut. It’s not that they weren’t accepting, but when people don’t know each other that well there’s a bit of standoffishness. It wasn’t so warm and fuzzy.

“I wouldn’t say it was a particular hurdle, but it consumed a great deal of my time just learning about the culture at the Upper School,” she said.

The working partnership she developed with Salamandra, whose position was not affected by the administration overhaul, aided the adjustment from the community atmosphere of the North Faring campus to the admittedly harsher environment on Coldwater.

“I’d forgotten what it’s like to work with older kids, and the Upper School is significantly more complex than the Middle School,” she said. “There’s a greater number of people, many more courses offered, many more teams, many more coaches, just a much more complex program that requires the attention of several people to make sure it runs smoothly, and Mr. Salamandra does a lot of things at the Upper School that I used to do at the Middle School.

“It was a reasonable job for me to be overseeing the Middle School more or less by myself, but now I’m working much more closely with Mr. Salamandra,” she said.

Huybrechts had never been involved with an Honor Board case prior to becoming head of school, and found that working with the newly-established Prefect Council was “a learning curve for me. I actually found that somewhat challenging because I’d always overseen disciplinary actions myself or in conjunction with deans,” she said.

“I felt a little bit like I had walked into something that was controversial that I didn’t understand completely, and so in those situations the best thing is just to listen before doing anything, which is what I did.”

A global future?

Nearly 30 months after the revamp, those involved consider it a success, despite the challenges within the school community and with the school’s public image following last year’s cheating scandal and the hammer attack in May 2007.

“I think it has worked out splendidly,” Hudnut said. “I think that the curriculum and faculty get more high-level attention now than they did previously, and that can only be good. And I think that the school’s national and international involvements get more attention now than they ever did previously, and that’s good, too.”

Huybrechts plans to emphasize those global connections in the coming years.

“I wonder if we, as a school, could maybe be even a bigger presence in the world. That’s the way business is going now, so why shouldn’t a school of our stature be going in that direction?

“I think that all of our students would be better served if we were thinking more globally. For our kids to be able to see it firsthand or to have a realization that ‘we’re the big fish in this pond, but the pond is huge.’ Next year you could look for something like that,” Huybrechts said.

Hudnut is hesitant.

“I have been besot by educators in Asia — can we put our seal of approval on those schools, or regard them almost as franchise opportunities, which thus far we have not wanted to do,” he said. “I see practical obstacles to a lot of it, so I’m not particularly interested in an expansive exchange program.”

At least domestically, Huybrechts’ plans to continue her focus on curricular initiatives and to develop her role as head of school.

“I could crown myself queen,” she joked.

For Hudnut, the outlook is more of the same — daily fundraising lunches, meeting with donors, and serving as the public face of Harvard-Westlake.

“Besides, I get to sit up here and listen to opera as I work,” he said. “I wonder how I got along all of those years in Seaver without music.”