A “Bittersweet” End: Phil’s Time at Branson

It was an ideal March morning at Branson. The air was brisk, the sky a pure blue, and and the grass green from a rainy winter. Phil Gutierrez, the Director of Development, ambled down the brick steps and approached the Commons, taking in the beauty of the campus he has called home for the last 23 years—exactly half his life. Not all students may know exactly who Gutierrez is or what he does, but he has been an integral part of the Branson community since he graduated college.

Although currently one of the administrators up in Crossways, I met Gutierrez last year in the English seminar British Literature II. He runs an open class, challenging students to drive the conversation with their questions and ideas while filling in the silence with humor. Gutierrez’s love for words, books, and ideas shines through as he teaches his students to read a text and find their meaning in it. Although he has kept a foot in the English Department over the past few years, Gutierrez has moved between different positions to help Branson grow and develop as a school since he started.

Gutierrez started at Branson in 1994 as an English teacher. When asked about his decision to accept Branson’s offer, he said jokingly, “Why I did I start working? I can’t say—it was a job.” In 2000, he began his tenure as a class dean, which he continued held for the next seven years. From there he moved on to Director of Admissions, a position he held until 2010. For the past seven years Phil has acted as Assistant Head of School for Advancement.

Gutierrez has had a unique experience at Branson, working with the community from a number of different positions and perspectives. When asked about his favorite role, he commented, “I’ve taken a lot of joy from every position. I liked [being a] dean a lot and helping eighty kids a year navigate their way through high school. Building classes in admissions was challenging because there were a lot of great kids and you can’t take them all, but I still remember the classes that I admitted. I’ve [also] enjoyed raising funds for the school that have helped make us better. But the single most enjoyable job that I ever had has definitely been in the classroom. Branson kids are really bright and fun to be around, and when I get to teach great works of literature with really bright, engaged students, I don’t feel I even need to be paid to do that.”

Gutierrez particularly enjoyed teaching English II because “sophomores are just a fun group of kids. They’re still young enough and malleable enough that you can kind of shift focus and ideas and what they uphold as truths.” His favorite books to teach were Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Tony Morrison’s Beloved, but, Gutierrez noted, “I can teach McEwan’s Atonement every day for the rest of my life and gain something new and beautiful from it [each time].”

Gutierrez has watched Branson evolve as a school for the past two decades. One change he has noticed is that “[I]n 1994, Branson seemed to be a much more exclusive place. And while Branson still has a way to go to be more inclusive, you do see more diversity of people and experiences here, and that’s been great.” Gutierrez has also watched the college process become a more prevalent part of the Branson experience. He explained, “Kids might feel more pressure now than I remember them feeling back in the mid-90s. After junior year kids are really focused on the next step, and I totally get that. So expectations seem to be more ramped-up college-wise.” On a similar note, Gutierrez has noticed a shift in parenting. He feels as though “parents seem to be more involved in the lives of the students in the school,” and although he understands that impulse, he “wish[es] kids had more freedom from adults in their lives just to be kids, to have the time to follow their passions…[and] to do what they want to do and not to do just what they have to do.”

Gutierrez will leave Branson at the end of this year. Starting in the coming fall he will be the head of Mid-Peninsula High School, an independent school in Menlo Park. Right down the road from Facebook’s headquarters and Stanford, Gutierrez is excited to lead a school “in such an interesting part of the world with tons of innovation and a lot of entrepreneurship.”

Although Gutierrez is looking forward to this next chapter of his life, leaving Branson is “definitely bittersweet.” Branson has been his home, and he knows that it’s going to be hard to leave his co-workers, some of whom are his best friends, as well as “many, many great kids.” Gutierrez said, “I’m very excited to run a school and make an impact on another community, but I also realize that Branson’s given me much, much more than I’ve given Branson. I’ll never forget it.” Although he won’t be on campus everyday, Gutierrez’s daughter will be a sophomore next year, so he’ll still remain a part of the Branson community.