Faculty Representatives of the Head Search Committee Give Insight into Branson’s Ongoing Search

By Amanda Douglas:

Following Woody Price’s resignation from Branson’s headmaster position in October 2014, Damon Kerby stepped up to the interim head position for the rest of the 2014-2015 academic year. A head of school search committee has since formed. Henri de Marcellus, who is known as Atticus, and Margaret Cecchetti are the two faculty representatives who were elected by the faculty to the committee of 10 people. According to Atticus, the committee is composed of a variety of people, including trustees, faculty, and a member of the administration, Meredith Herrera, who is one of Branson’s college counselors. Some of these members are current or former parents, or alums themselves.

The search committee’s first job is to find a temporary headmaster for the 2015-2016 school year. Atticus explained, “When Mr. Kerby agreed to serve as interim head this year, he made it very clear that it was just for one year. . . We hope to be able to announce the interim head of school for next year by the end of April.” Branson’s situation is unique because at most schools, the head must give a year’s notice before resigning from the position, but with Price’s abrupt resignation, Branson had essentially no notice. In any event, Atticus believes that the committee is “basically on-track right now for getting a head of school that will start in July of 2016.” Cecchetti agreed: “We’ve had really productive meetings, and we have a really dedicated group of board members, faculty members, and parents who are really working hard to find us a good leader for the future of the school. . . I think it’s going slower than I would like, but I understand that we’ve stuck to a pretty traditional timeline.”

According to Atticus, a few weeks ago, a survey was sent to “various constituencies of the school,” not including students, with questions revolving around the school’s current state and the head search. This information will be used by the committee to form a position statement, which is essentially an “advertisement,” as Atticus described it, for the job that includes expectations for the head and tasks and challenges he or she will face initially. The position statement will mainly be used in the search for the permanent head, but will also be used to guide the interim head for next year. Atticus added, “[W]e don’t want an interim that will just wait, and sort of not do anything. We want the school to continue, so we’re excited about finding an interim that will move the school along.”

In order to find a head, Branson is working with Resource Group 175, a search firm. The main people the search committee will be corresponding with in that firm are Tom Hudnut, who was Branson’s head in the eighties, and Debbie Reed. Atticus described the role of the search firm: “[I]t’s really a national or even international search and those search firms spend all their time talking to people and knowing who’s around, so they have a lot of contacts. They have many more than any one person here. So I would say [potential candidates] either already are known by Tom and Debbie or will respond to where they placed the advertisement.”

The semi-finalists for the permanent head position will be selected by the summer, and three finalists will be picked out of this group during the fall, according to Atticus. The committee hopes to pick the head by November 2015. As most Branson students are aware, Price’s resignation sparked the interest of the media, quickly spreading through the news. Atticus described the benefit of this publicity: “[B]ecause of the news last October with the previous head of school, many people already know. . . about the situation and unsolicited have sent their resumes saying they would be interested in the position.”

While the search process may appear to be dominated by adult views with the search committee entirely composed of adults, Cecchetti believes firmly that the student voice is crucial in finding the right head for Branson: “I think that that student views are essential in the search. . . What Branson cares about is the student experience. That’s our focus and that’s our primary concern. So yes, kids need to have a role in [the search].” Certain students met with the search firm consultants, and some students, mainly members of the student senate, will meet with all the potential heads who come through Branson.

Finding a head for a high school is a difficult process full of many challenges. When asked what she thinks the biggest challenge is, Cecchetti responded, “I think that it’s challenging to include the entire community’s opinion in developing a description of the kind of head that we want. Because, depending on where you sit at the school, your perspective is different and your. . . needs are different, so because of that you want a different kind of head. And so our job is to find a head that will have something for all of the different groups.” From her own perspective, Cecchetti would like to see “a head with a real innovative educational vision that will excite faculty and students alike. She elaborated: “Education is changing a lot, and we need to be able to have a leader who can lead us in the discussions and help us grapple with how it’s changing.”

Every candidate has their strengths and weaknesses, and every member of the school wants a head with different qualities. Atticus explained: “[T]here’s no best head. There’s a best head for Branson. And so we’re trying to find someone who fits perfectly.”

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