Head of school Stephen Repsher (right) briefs future head of school Lee Thomsen during Thomsen’s visit on Nov. 20.

New head of school, Lee Thomsen, considers changing high-school schedule

Drawn to SCDS by the community’s close relationships and sense of humor, Lee Thomsen, future head of school, is already formulating plans for the school’s improvement.

“Having been at a number of schools in my career, I knew the kind of community I was looking for,” Thomsen said.

“There was a description of faculty in the (head search) document that said something along the lines of ‘appreciating our sometimes-eclectic nature as a faculty,’ and what that told me was the school had a sense of humor.”

Thomsen said that one of the first things he wants to address is the high school’s schedule. He said that switching to a rotating schedule with hour-long classes at his current school had a significant positive impact on students’ lives.

“Not every class meets every day, which means not every class has homework every night,” he said. “It really changed the pace of our students’ days in a positive way.”

Another of Thomsen’s priorities is discussing the addition of a counseling department.

“Something that was striking to me, which people may be working on already, was that there’s no learning or emotional support counselor at the school,” he said.

Thomsen said he considers academic support and emotional support two different jobs, each with subdivisions.

An academic support counselor helps teachers meet the needs of students with learning differences, he said. The counselor also helps students with test anxiety and organizational challenges.

In the lower school, he said, an emotional support counselor would help students work out difficulties with friendships and families.

However, he said, because older students have more complicated lives, an emotional counselor for those divisions should “do triage” with emotional issues and then connect students with professionals in the community.

Though it would be ideal to have at least one person for each of the two divisions, Thomsen said, the school’s need and budget must be further assessed before he can know how many people should be involved in the counseling department.

Building a program that connects students with internships through the school is another of Thomsen’s ideas.

An internship program would accomplish two objectives, he said. The first would be to connect students with professional opportunities in places such as businesses, hospitals and universities, and the second would be to market the school.

“We want to put Country Day’s best assets into the community,” Thomsen said. “When students are working in internships, they will encounter people who may or may not be familiar with the school – those people will experience the Country Day students and say, ‘Wow, these kids are amazing.’ ”

Because his current school (Rowland Hall Preparatory) is located in Salt Lake City, Utah, Thomsen said he is very familiar with conservation methods. As California’s drought continues, he said he wants to find a balance between an eco-friendly and aesthetically appealing campus.

Thomsen’s school has participated in an event called the “Green Cup Challenge,” which is a friendly competition among a number of independent schools. The goal is to cut down on as many resources as possible during the month of January.

Thomsen said that having a similar competition at SCDS might encourage students and faculty to reduce their waste.

Thomsen’s environmental experience extends to architecture and design. Rowland Hall is planning a new building that has been designed to have a gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.

Another area Thomsen hopes to balance is the school’s use of technology.

“The best schools have a balance of what has traditionally been successful teaching and new teaching,” he said. “When technology is used properly, it almost becomes invisible.

“You want to use technology when it’s the right tool for the job, and not when you’re using it just for the sake of using it.”

Thomsen said that Country Day’s equal commitment to the arts, athletics and academics is one of the school’s best traits, unlike at many other independent schools where athletics and arts “fall a distant second and third.

“While I was at Country Day, I got the feeling that that wasn’t true,” he said.

“Those three pieces are very valuable to Country Day students, and it’s important to me because it felt very genuine.”

—By Marigot Fackenthal

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