Search for new head of school underway with Board at the helm and experienced search consultant on board

Summer vacation is usually a time when people unwind. However, since headmaster Stephen Repsher announced his retirement over a month ago, the Board of Trustees and the search committee have been working steadily to find a new head of school.

The Board will make the final decision for the head.

The search committee, made up of trustees, faculty and staff, will investigate and evaluate candidates and make recommendations to the Board about the final candidates. Board president Kelley Taber chose the search committee chair, Lindsey Sackheim, and every member.


Headmaster Box

The Board has recently hired Clay Stites, president of the executive search firm Resource Group 175 (RG175), to assist the Board in the search.

The executive committee of the Board hired Stites. They interviewed and selected proposals from four nationwide search firms, and also checked those firms’ references, Taber said.

According to Stites’s profile on RG175’s website, Stites has completed over 100 head searches in the past 18 years.

After graduating from Haverford College and getting an MFA from the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU, Stites taught at the Rhode Island School of Design. He is also the former Chair of the NAIS Elementary and Middle Schools Committee.

Stites was head of school at Friends Academy in Massachusetts for 15 years and the Curtis School in Los Angeles for five years, and has served as a board member of three independent schools and the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

“(Stites) is absolutely top notch, and he is very knowledgeable and well connected in the independent school community,” Taber said.

“He goes out knowing what a school needs, and reaches out to prospective candidates to solicit their interest in potentially applying.”

Stites has already begun the process of learning about Country Day by reviewing the school website and reading the last issue of the Octagon.

Also, Stites was on campus for two days at the end of June. During his visit, Stites met with Repsher, Board members, search committee members, admissions director Lonna Bloedau, director of breakthrough Adolfo Mercado, around 25 teachers and almost all of the senior administration.

“I spoke with pretty much everyone who was available,” Stites said.

He also had lunch with seniors Jake Sands, Jag Lally and Serajh Esmail, all of whom are members of Student Council.

“I asked them a bunch of questions about the school, and they were just terrific,” Stites said with a laugh.

“I was impressed with how bright they were, how much they like (Country Day) and how articulate they were. They were also really funny.”

Stites has also reviewed documents Sackheim gave him, including school handbooks, handouts that a new family would get when coming to Country Day, a curriculum guide, financial statements and other documents.

However, Stites said he was already familiar with Country Day.

When he was the head at Curtis School, Stites knew former headmaster Dan White and met Repsher when he became headmaster.

For these reasons, Stites feels that he has “a good handle on the (school’s atmosphere),” he said.

When it comes to gathering potential candidates, Stites has three main ways.

The first is posting an advertisement for the position on websites that can be accessed only by subscribers, like the Blue Sheet website, the California Association of Independent Schools’ website and the National Association of Independent Schools’ (NAIS) website.

Using this tactic, Stites has already gathered some “solid” candidates for the head position, he said.

However, this is what Stites calls “passive recruiting,” which he said he doesn’t rely on.

“The most important part of my work is recruiting, which means that I get on the phone or email, or both, and reach out to people that I already know who I think should be or might be interested,” he said.

Stites is currently working on the final way to gather potential candidates by creating a “position statement” about the school, which is “like a long advertisement for the school and the job, and it will run at probably 6 or 7 pages,” he said.

RG175 will send that to all heads of around 1600 schools who are members of the NAIS.

The statement will be sent out by blast email in around the next 10 days, Stites said.

While conducting the interviews, Stites will also “reach out to the people and give them interesting stuff to read about Sacramento, like some of the amenities,” he said.

“I’m not just trying to sell them on the school, but also the life in the region. I also want to make sure that everything is a good fit for them.”

Stites conducts every initial interview of the candidates. If the candidate is especially promising or Stites doesn’t know them as well as the other candidates, he could interview the candidate up to three times, he said.

Since flying around the country isn’t convenient, Stites will conduct some interviews on Skype.

After the initial cut, the approximately 15 candidates’ information will be sent to the search committee, which independently reviews the candidates and identifies a subset (typically eight) to invite to the school for interviews and evaluations, Taber said.

Then those candidates go through what Stites calls “speed dating,” Taber said, meaning that they will come to campus for two to three days with their spouses or partners, and each will be interviewed by many representatives of the school.

“This allows both the school and the candidates to decide if they are a good fit for each other,” Taber said.

These candidates are expected to visit the campus in September or October, Stites said.

The committee will decide which of these candidates should be finalists, Taber said.

The Board is expected to make the final decision in early November, Stites said.

This is when the transition process begins. During this time, Stites will advise the transition committee, which will be set up in the future.

“I will advise the candidate, who we would call the ‘head elect’ at that point, on how to interface with the school,” he said.

“There is a risk of that person being too visible. Everybody will want to get a look at the new head of school, and if too much of that goes on, Repsher’s job will get harder. He’ll be still running the school for that year, not the new person.”

Once the new head takes over on June 30, Stites will answer questions about the position, he said.

“In my experience, I have had new heads who are very experienced and who don’t really need my advice, and then I’ve had brand-new, inexperienced heads who need a lot of advice and have a lot of questions,” Stites said.

“It really just depends on the person.”

However, Taber said that because the head will have been to the school several times before he or she is chosen, “they will hit the ground running when they assume their position because they will have already seen and met the school and will understand the community.”

Although the whole process was initially a little behind schedule, Taber said that it is now a little ahead because of the “incredible organization of Sackheim and the hard work of the executive committee.”

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