Update: To find out who was selected, please click here.
The search is on for a new head of high school. The candidates come from all over the map, including Baltimore, Los Angeles and St. Louis, headmaster Stephen Repsher said.
“We’re looking for someone who understands and wants to be part of this school,” he said.
Sue Nellis, current head of high school, recently announced that she is stepping down from the position and returning full time to the classroom next year.
Consequently, the school is conducting a nationwide search.
A little closer to home, Brooke Wells (assistant head of high school and teacher) and Adolfo Mercado (Breakthrough Sacramento director) have also applied for the position.
Wells said that he thinks assuming this position would be a nice way to interact with more students and faculty members outside the classroom.
“It’s an opportunity to not just be a teacher in one room at one time,” he said.
“My classroom would no longer be Room 1. (It) would be the whole high school.”
He said it would allow him to think about how the school can improve and to focus on the kinds of things he likes to do, such as Thanksgiving lunches and back-to-school events.
One reason Mercado is interested in the position is his love for the school.
“In the nine years I’ve been at Country Day, I’ve really fallen in love with Country Day,” he said.
Through working at Breakthrough, he said he has been able to chat with many Sacramento business leaders.
“I’m amazed at the high level of misinformation about SCDS. I want to do more public education on what we do at Country Day.”
While working at Breakthrough, Mercado has been able to work with colleagues for at most two years, so he said he is excited at the prospect of working with the same people for many years.
“(Nellis) is so present and involved in the high school, and I want that for myself,” he said.
In December, Repsher conducted phone interviews with several outside candidates to see if they demonstrated a level of interest that was more than cursory.
“I can tell in a conversation with someone if they would be a good fit,” he said.
Repsher said he discussed hypothetical and real situations and issues similar to those in which the candidates would be involved, if given the position.
“Though they might not always agree on the best course of action,” he said, “a good divisional head (will) bring in diverse opinions and come to a fair and just consensus in resolving issues.”
Three out-of-state candidates were invited to the school: Tucker Foehl (Baltimore), Terry Murray (St. Louis), and Mark Novom (Los Angeles) so that they could be further interviewed and see the city of Sacramento.
Repsher said that it is important for the candidates to see if Sacramento is a community they would like to be part of, especially since, in many cases, they have young children. Therefore, they might even bring a spouse with them since assuming the position would mean relocation.
Each candidate, including Mercado and Wells, was on campus all day on an assigned date, meeting with parents, students, faculty and administration.
The first candidate, Mercado, interviewed on Jan. 8. The last candidate, Foehl, visited on Jan. 17.
Repsher said he plans to make a decision by the week of Jan. 21, barring conflicts or unforeseen circumstances.
As part of the interviewing process, Repsher and Nellis assembled committees of faculty and administration and students and parents who are “most active in the life of the school,” Repsher said.
Nellis chose the students, based on teachers’ recommendations, while Repsher nominated the parents.
Each committee met separately to evaluate each candidate.
Committee members asked questions to assess each candidate’s skill sets and qualifications for the position, using an evaluation form. They gave each candidate a ranking from 1-5 in different categories: leadership skills, knowledge of curriculum, intelligence, breadth of knowledge, organizational skills, speaking skills, listening skills, respect and sensitivity, collegiality, sense of humor, and enthusiasm and energy.
Members were also asked to rank the candidate’s overall suitability for the school.
While candidates may be well suited for the position, they may have different ideas for the school’s future.
Repsher emphasizes that the person coming should be a “collegial leader” who would carefully listen to all sides before making any changes.
“Any changes that are made should be in harmony with the goals of the community and consistent with the core missionof the school,” he said. “Change should not be something that is imposed from above, (but) something that is developed through collaborative effort.”
There are many qualifications that the school is looking for in a candidate.
“First and foremost, that individual will be someone who enjoys our students (and) our faculty,” Repsher said.
Repsher also said that candidates must have a thorough understanding of and experience with independent-school education. They must be well versed and experienced in leadership as well.
Repsher also wants the candidates to have the highest academic standards.
“It’s a tough position to fill because it’s so important in the life of the school,” Repsher said. “The identity has such an impact on the operations of grades 9-12.”
When looking at a candidate, “patience and organization are key,” senior Maddy Mahla, Student Council president, said.
“(Nellis) never procrastinates and does a really good job at always keeping the goal in mind,” she said.
Senior Sydney Jackson, editor-in-chief of The Medallion, agrees that organization is important.
“(Nellis) makes the most efficient use of her time. She puts so much into her work and just gives so much of herself to the school,” Jackson said.
“I would like to see someone who is willing to hear new ideas and is okay with a possible deviation from what they first planned,” senior Kamira Patel, editor-in-chief of the Octagon, said.
She added that it is important to make sure that all the students get to know the head of high school well.
Talking with Nellis, Patel said, is not like talking to an official in a foreign country.
“(Nellis) knows me,” she said.
As editor-in-chief, Patel said that it is nice to have someone who is willing to take the time to talk with students and explain the reasoning behind a decision, “someone who is okay with the Octagon telling the truth about the high school.”
Wells said that knowing and respecting the culture of Country Day is critical.
“The way we let (students) decide to think independently and powerfully is really important to me,” he said.
“The most important quality is leadership,” Mercado said. “For me, leadership is having a vision, conveying the vision and having folks support (it).”
He also said he thinks that experience and attention to community development are important.
Nellis would like the candidates to be intelligent, well educated, compassionate, diplomatic, able to multitask, hardworking and willing to work. (“It does take time,” she said.)
“I want somebody who is also intellectually curious and someone who considers himself to be a lifelong student,” she said.
“Being in education is always being a student.”