Three prospective school heads have visited the school to be interviewed by a lineup of administrators and committees over the past two weeks. Each candidate came prepared with a vision of a “perfect school” and plans to improve SCDS.
Candidate Adrianne Odell, assistant head at Shorecrest Preparatory School in St. Petersburg, Florida, said that she wants the job because the school aligns with the standards and priorities she’s looking for.
“I realized that a lot of the things the school is looking for in its next head are areas that I’m very comfortable with,” she said. “I felt that it’d be a really good fit between what the school needs and my own expertise.”
Odell’s plan is to improve the school externally first – then internally. Her top priority, she said, is developing the school’s public image in the community.
“The key is shining a light on the great things that are happening here,” she said. “I keep hearing people say that Country Day is the best-kept secret. Why? Why should it be such a big secret?
“When the Sacramento community hears ‘Country Day,’ they should know what this school is all about, what it stands for and why it’s such an excellent school.”
Odell’s second priority is expanding the high school. Increasing the student body would, according to her, open up a number of opportunities, including increased social variety and more elective options. However, she added that the school’s conditional use permit must be amended before the population can grow.
Despite her goals for expansion, Odell said she wants to keep the population at a level that maintains the current sense of community.
“We don’t want the school to be so large that we lose those close relationships with peers and teachers,” she said.
Another priority is renovating old buildings in the middle school and constructing a Fine Arts building, which has been a long-standing school objective.
Candidate Tucker Foehl, SCDS’s assistant head of school, said discussing changes in teaching style, reintroducing a student counseling program and improving the high-school schedule are his main priorities.
“I want to have a different, richer conversation about teaching and learning at Country Day,” Foehl said. “I’m really invested in how our evaluation system works and the conversations we have about teaching and administrating – we as a community want to look at different ways we can do those things. And that would include myself as head of school; I want the community to have a chance to review my work.”
Foehl is also interested in bringing a theme of innovation and technology to the school.
“The curriculum committee’s initiative this year is innovation and technology,” he said. “I’m invested in not trends, but more substantively how we think about our program and how innovative it can be. I think it’s a real strength of the school, but we need to consider what that’s going to look like moving forward.”
Foehl’s plans for improving student well-being involve hiring an on-site counselor and developing a program to aid students going through social and emotional struggles.
“I hear of students from all grade levels going through emotional challenges,” he said. “It’s not just the high-school students who are stressed out – this is something that’s really impacting our overall program.”
While Foehl wants to put the high-school schedule up for discussion, he doesn’t necessarily want to change it.
“I want to lead a conversation about our schedule – even if we end up back where we started, I still think it’d be productive to look at our schedule and see if it’s working for the things we want our students to experience here,” Foehl said. “There’re a lot of different feelings about that – teachers of different disciplines feel different ways. I want to make sure we’re able to accommodate to the best of our ability.”
Candidate Lee Thomsen, head of the upper school at Rowland Hall in Salt Lake City, Utah, said he’d start by focusing on increasing the population, improving the attrition rate from eighth to ninth grade and getting students involved with outside academic activities such as organized internships.
“It seems to me that there’s room to add students without having to build anything, although I don’t know exactly what the ultimate capacity would be for this physical space,” Thomsen said.
“I think adding even 10 kids to each grade level would make a big difference. I’ve been at high schools where the population is 300, and they still maintain a very caring culture where everybody knows everybody.”
Part of achieving that larger high-school student body, Thomsen said, is keeping more eighth-grade students as they move into ninth grade.
Thomsen is enthusiastic about bringing in and possibly implementing ideas from his current school.
“I’m very proud of the program we’ve done at my school called ‘Beyond the Classroom’ that has involved cool events such as a science-and-engineering day. We’ve had kids build cardboard boats to sail around the Great Salt Lake while I kayaked next to them.”
He also wants to make internship opportunities more accessible to students by organizing a system that would allow students to apply through the school.
“If we can get Country Day students working in, say, a lab at Sac State or the state government, whether it’s during the summer or school year, it’ll give them this amazing pre-professional experience,” he said.
“We can build up a collection of professionals who are willing to host students. Ideally, there’d be an application process – we’d have kids put together resumes and cover letters – they’d really be applying for these internships.”
Currently, the Search Committee is working to make a candidate recommendation that will go to the Board of Trustees, which makes the final decision. They hope to select the new head by the first week of November.
—By Marigot Fackenthal