Q&A: Headmaster celebrates last day of work before retirement; faculty visit to say good-bye (slideshow included)

June 30 was headmaster Stephen Repsher’s last day of work at SCDS.


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Q: How did you feel this morning when you got up for your last day of work?

A: It was a day like any other, until I looked at the calendar and saw that it was June 30. It became apparent that it was my last day, and there was a bit of a shock.

I knew it was coming, so I can’t say that I was surprised. But the enormity sank in when I saw the date.

Q: Was it hard sleeping last night?

A: It wasn’t hard sleeping. In fact, I woke up early today, at around 5:30.

I usually don’t sleep well when there’s a stressful situation, but this wasn’t stressful for me. There was more of a sense of wondering what it was going to be like.

Q: What have you done today and what will you be doing for the rest of the day?

A: I won’t have any special parties; we’ve already done those. There are more people coming by to say goodbye, and they’re making it special. It wasn’t planned, but it’s great for me. It’s a great comfort to see how many lives I’ve touched.

I got in this morning at about 7:30 and I can leave any time, but I doubt that I’ll leave early. I’ve got all sorts of stuff to pack up, and I have to figure out how to get the boxes into my car.

Q: What are the best and worst things about retiring?

A: That’s hard to answer because I haven’t experienced retirement quite yet. However, I’d say that the worst part so far is leaving the place and people that I’ve grown to know and love.

The best part is the knowledge of the freedom to explore new things. I’ll travel and learn and meet new people. I’ll be able to explore new avenues for my interests.

I’m not sure what I’ll do, but it might entail consulting work for schools. I’d like to learn a new language; Italian might be fun. But now I have the freedom to pick and choose what to do and when to do it without worrying about a schedule or constraints.

Q: How does (your wife Paula) feel about your last day? Your children (Emily, ‘09 , and Dylan, ‘11 )?

A: She’s been very supportive. My children are proud of my accomplishments and are happy for me. Paula’s thrilled because she’ll get to see me more than usual.

I’ll be able to be home or travel with them without worrying about constraints. They’re all very sensitive to the fact that it’s a big change.

Q: What’s the hardest part about cleaning out your office?

A: Well, cleaning out my office. It’s not a big job because I’m not a pack rat, but it’s hardest when I’m looking at memories as I’m putting them in boxes. They represent a lifetime and a career in education.

I have personal things from Country Day. (I found a rally monkey in the back of my bookcase.) It’s difficult because it’s easy to become very emotional. In order to be functional, I have to keep myself from being too emotional.

Q: What have you been doing since school let out?

A: I’ve been at school every day working. I haven’t had any time off since graduation. I attended a CAIS (California Association of Independent Schools) annual meeting. I was one of 12 retiring school heads. There were about 150 heads in total from about 225 schools.

I was invited along with the other retiring heads to speak about memorable moments. I shared my story about the rafting trip. I told how much of an example of a pastoral role the school had had. I talked about (the death of seventh-grader Connor Burns) and how it was a very difficult moment, but how it really reiterated the power of community at school and how folks come together at a time of hardship.

I also worked on a new view book, which shares info on the school. They gave one to me as a souvenir.

Q: What do you plan on doing on your first day of retirement?

A: I’m not even sure. I think that having the freedom will be what I do. I’m not sure what it’ll be, but I’ll experience it while it happens.

John Lennon once said “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans,” but I think I’ll just let life happen for the time being.

Q: Are you doing anything special after work today?

A: Yesterday I was thinking that maybe I should do something. (But) I’m looking forward to not having to do anything. I’ll make spur-of-the-moment decisions. I don’t have any appointments, no set schedule.

I’ll probably go out to dinner, but I should run it by Paula first.

Q: What are your plans for next school year? Any trips?

A: There’s a week in September when I’m going to Telluride, Colorado, for a blues-and-brews jazz festival. We’re only seeing it for one day, so for the rest of the trip we’ll be hiking, exploring, going up into the mountains.

In October we might schedule a trip to Europe. We think we’ll go to southern France and northern Italy. We might go to some cooking schools, where we can learn about French or Italian cooking while enjoying the countryside.

Q: Of all your memories of Country Day, which one(s) stand out?

A: Well, there’s the situation with Connor and the rafting trip.

A memory that’s been embedded in my mind is being out front greeting the little ones as they get out of their cars. It’s not really a single event, but it will hold.

Also, the high-school graduations collectively. They’re really emotional and uplifting experiences.

Being in classrooms and watching the teachers and being able to see the lightbulbs go off.

The creation of the school garden was important to me. I’m delighted to nurture and sustain and help that grow.

The increased diversity and financial aid have been great.

Being able to watch the curriculum grow has been a thrill. Seeing the school grow to become more visually appealing and educationally supportive.

Seeing what I’ve done to help the school become what it’s become.

And, of course, when I handed the diplomas to my children were especially powerful moments for me.

Q: Had you stayed for another few years, what would you have focused on doing?

A: I would have focused on what I’ve been doing: strengthening the curriculum, expanding, getting more funds for the school, another capital campaign. I would’ve helped develop a new strategic plan because the current one ends in 2017.

The accreditation also needs to be renewed.

Q: How many people have come to say goodbye this week?

A: I couldn’t even count. There have been at least a dozen people just today. They’ve all said very generous things and expressed appreciation for my leadership.

They’ve commented on my humility, my quiet but firm leadership, my ability to remain calm and help others become calm in the face of major crises. They’ve expressed appreciation for my mentorship, whether it’s been as a teacher or a parent or an administrator.

It all meant a lot to me to know that people appreciate those sorts of things, especially because teaching has been a big part of what I do.

Q: When is (new headmaster) Lee Thomsen’s first day?

A: He starts at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning.

Q: Will you stop by at any point this summer to wrap up loose ends or is this it?

A: Work never stops; there’s always something to do. But for me, there aren’t any more loose ends.

But I’ll probably stop by to talk to Lee and to say hi.

By Quin LaComb

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