Wimbish to serve as Head of Middle School

By Eli Haims

Upper School Dean Jon Wimbish will replace Ronnie Codrington-Cazeau as Head of Middle School next year, Head of School Jeanne Huybrechts announced in an email to all faculty members Nov. 29. Cazeau will move to Seattle to serve as the head of the Evergreen School. Wimbish said his main responsibilities for this year will still be helping the students in his dean group. Any work involving the Middle School will be additional, he said.

“At the end of the day, he had the most to contribute to the position,” Huybrechts said. “He brings [his teaching experience and being a dean on both campuses] to the position, and no one else had that experience.”

The school will immediately begin looking for a replacement for him. Wimbish said one of the advantages to the announcement being early in the year is that he can work with the new dean for the remainder of the year.

Just two years out of college, Wimbish was hired as a Middle School English and public speaking teacher for the 1998-1999 school year.

“I was thinking ‘Okay, middle school English,’” he said. “‘What do I remember from middle school English?’ We had spelling tests, we had vocabulary tests. Those aren’t the exciting parts of English for me.”

However, Wimbish said he soon realized that Harvard-Westlake was not a typical middle school.

“Here we are discussing literature and reading Shakespeare and Cyrano de Bergerac,” he said. “I don’t think you get to do that at a lot of middle schools.”

After just four years of teaching, Wimbish was offered a position as a middle school dean.

“I was 26 years old and I think there was a little risk that the school was taking and I knew I had to prove myself,” he said.

One of the most important things Wimbish said he gained from his time at the Middle School was learning from the teamwork that is an important part of the school’s foundation.

For the 2007-2008 school year, Wimbish transferred to the Upper School to replace Upper School Dean Sharon Cuseo, who had gone on maternity leave. Wimbish said it was the way the dean team worked that made him choose to make the transition.

“When I saw this team work, where I can go to a meeting and ask a dumb question and no one is going to judge me and I would get great advice, I was like ‘This is great,’” he said.

He said one of the best examples of teamwork that he has seen was the Honor Board case in 2008 that dealt with the midterm cheating scandal, during which students stole history and foreign language midterms and distributed them before the test. Wimbish said deans, faculty, students and administrators all came together, not just to decide the punishments but also to discuss “what this school stands for, about what it should stand for, about community and what it means to violate the trust of that community.”

“I shudder to think of being handed that and being told, ‘You decide. You’re in charge,’” he said. “There’s no way [I could have done this] without all of those constituents having a voice and coming up with conclusions that made sense and were fair. That’s one thing I look back to that is a great example of teamwork.”

One way that Wimbish said he hopes to instill a sense of teamwork in students is to encourage interaction between the different Middle School grades, similar to how they interact at the Upper School.

Wimbish said he is very excited to work on creating the foundations for a successful student when he makes the move to Head of Middle School over the summer.

“Creating all those parts into a cohesive unit, that’s what’s exciting to me — laying the foundation not only of what happens in the classroom, but of ethics, morality and community,” he said.

Working at both the Middle School and the Upper School has allowed Wimbish to see the whole spectrum of development, he said.

Although Wimbish’s new position will not allow him to work with students as closely as he currently does, he said it is very important to him to continue to interact with them.

“I understand this job is about working with adults, faculty members and parents, as much as about working with students, but I can’t imagine working in an educational environment and not having my first priority be to the students,” he said.