English teacher Brooke Wells will replace current head of high school Sue Nellis next year starting on July 1.
On Jan. 27 Wells stood up in front of the student body during morning meeting to announce that he was “honored and humbled” by the students’ and faculty’s support.
According to Student Council president Maddy Mahla, who participated on the student committee, the selection process was much more open than she thought it would be.
“I thought it was supposed to be underground,” she said. “I liked how it was open and we weren’t forbidden to talk about it. I could talk to kids outside of the committee to see what they wanted from the candidates.”
“The only time we weren’t supposed to talk to anyone was when we were told that Mr. Wells won.”
But Mahla and many other students said that the timing was off since the interviews of the five candidates were held the week before finals, making it difficult for both students and faculty.
“I felt bad that we put it on people like that,” headmaster Stephen Repsher said. “But we had to work quickly. I wanted to make sure we didn’t lose any candidates.
“Ultimately I wanted to make sure that we had a broad perspective of the community to help inform the decision-making process. It went well. It was efficient and compact.”
After sorting through 300 to 400 forms that every committee member filled out for each candidate, Repsher said he found a lot of useful information on which to base his decision.
“Wells was the preferred choice,” he said.
“Mr. Wells has a lot of strengths, and he obviously has the confidence of the students, the faculty and the parents,” she said.
Because Wells has worked at the school for 10 years, he had a slight advantage over some of the other candidates, according to Repsher.
However many students said they were skeptical about the decision-making process and concerned that the choice was pre-determined.
“I think (the committee) was a cool idea and it made me feel special, but I do think it was just for show and that the decision was already made,” a senior said. “I feel like even if all the students said Mr. Wells wasn’t the right person, they would still pick him.”
A junior agreed.
“I turned in my form the day before the decision was made, like a lot of other people, because of finals and I just don’t feel that they could have made the decision that quickly,” the junior said.
“The committee seemed to be used to give the impression that (the school) was surveying all the choices, but really the choice was already made.”
But Repsher refuted that hypothesis.
“(Wells) was a candidate as any other,” he said. “However, he had to compete for the position and there were several very strong candidates. No one had a clear sense of whom we would choose before the last candidate was interviewed.”
Even though some people weren’t absolutely sure that Wells would win, many, including Nellis, are happy with the decision.
“I won’t have to explain what Ancil Hoffman picnic is or what graduation is like,” Nellis said with a laugh.
And Wells said that he doesn’t have any plans for the high school now except to listen very carefully to the students and faculty.
“I want people to come talk to me,” he said. “I want students to tell me what they think. We need an open, honest dialogue.”
Yet he added that becoming head of high school has some pitfalls.
“It’s going to change my relationship with the students,” Wells said. “My fear is that the connection with the students will be different, in a negative way. Obviously it will be different, but I want it to be positive.”
Known for his guitar playing in classes, Wells hopes that he can still have fun with the students and possibly teach one class when he replaces Nellis.
Currently the English department teaching schedule is not set in stone, Repsher said.
However the plan is to have Jane Bauman teaching freshmen, Patricia Fels teaching sophomores and junior AP English, and Ron Bell teaching non-AP juniors and senior English, according to Repsher.
Repsher is also currently looking at applications for a new sixth-grade English teacher. “These changes are going to have a ripple effect in grades 6- 12,” he said.
At the same time, Nellis is starting to prepare for the freshman history class she will be teaching next year when she replaces Daniel Neukom, who is retiring after teaching freshman Ancient History for 41 years.
As part of her preparation, Nellis is planning on making some changes to the curriculum.
“I want to see if there are any holes that I can fill by integrating topics into the ninth grade. I have the opportunity to do something different,” she said.
Nellis said she is working with World Cultures teacher Bruce Baird to make the transition between the freshman and sophomore years easier.
In addition, she is reworking her AP U.S. History class for the new AP test the College Board is reconfiguring.
Yet Nellis is still going to miss some of the aspects of being the head of high school.
“I’m not going to have nearly the contact with all the students,” she said. “And I’m going to miss the teachers as well.”
Shara Reeves, assistant to the head of high school, will also miss Nellis.
“She has a gentleness about her, but she also has that confidence about her. She’s a very structured person,” Reeves said. “I’m thankful for Ms. Nellis.”
As Reeves shares Nellis’s office, she gets a glimpse of everything the head of high school must do and said that the job is very involving.
“Everything (can be) catapulted onto (head of HS), and it takes a special person to deal with that, to handle that. It can be very stressful,” she said. “(Wells) is acquiring a bit more knowledge as he goes along.”
“I’m going to hand over to him a lot of nitty gritty kinds of stuff, a lot of things he hasn’t dealt with yet, and I’ll be working with him along the way,” she said.
But Nellis also says that she is going to give Wells room to grow.
“You have to deal with things that walk into the door,” she said. “The high school is moving and active every day, so you have to be flexible.”
Since the decision, Repsher has spent a lot of time going over duties with Wells as well as discussing what a good leader needs to achieve to ensure a good transition.
“A good leader always listens and listens for a period of time to the community,” he said. “(Wells) still would be well advised to listen carefully to what people say. You want to include as many voices as possible, and he is good at that.”