Thacher’s Head of School Search: A Look Inside the Process

On February 10th, the Mulligans announced their departure from the Thacher School. Mr. Mulligan, who has served as the head of school for the past 25 years, took the entire community by surprise as he informed everyone that they would be moving to Wyoming at the conclusion of the 2017-2018 school year.

The imminent and enormous task was to find a new head of school for Thacher. Starting by employing headhunters from Educational Directions, Inc. to be on the lookout for potential candidates, the school put out a prospectus (which can be found here https://www.thacher.org/page/explore/head-of-school-search), an extensive document used to recruit candidates, explaining every important aspect of Thacher and the desired profile elements in a new head of school. The prospectus is a conclusive result of a survey to the entire Thacher community (students, parents and alumni) and the recommendations of the board. Two consultants took the prospectus and reached out directly to people who would be interested, even international candidates.

It wasn’t until early March did faculty at Thacher become involved with this process. “The Succession Committee”, composed of 2 current faculty members (Mr. Hooper and Ms. Morales-Kent) and 11 board members, was in charge of the search. “I’m amazed by the other 11 generous members of the committee.” said Mr. Hooper, “just the hours and hours of time they have given up as volunteers, and only because of their love and loyalty for the school. It is extremely inspirational.”

The head of school candidates were also required to meet the “Head’s Faculty Advisory Council,” which serves as a liaison between the head of school and the faculty at large. In fact, Mr. Mulligan himself does not play any official role in the process. The board set up the committee to be involved, and it will be them who eventually decide the results for the head of school. Of course, the faculty and board members are interested in Mr. Mulligan’s perspective and advice.

The initial group of candidates consisted of 17 people, who came from a larger pool that the school was not involved in looking for. The Succession Committee then took a closer look at the candidates’ resumes, personal statements and letters of recommendation, which led to a smaller candidate pool of seven. Later those seven people met with the committee in person for an interview. The three finalists were decided within one week.

As for the criterias in the search, it is obvious that the head of school is a tremendous responsibility with required competency. The committee assessed the candidates’ leadership abilities, vision for the Thacher School, along with experiences and achievements at their previous jobs. According to Mr. Hooper, “We were also really interested in candidates who have studied Thacher and could articulate why this job, as opposed to any other headship, was right for them.” There was no strict list of criterias for the candidates, but there were certain qualities that were needed in a head of school for Thacher.

The three finalists came into light mid-September: Ms. Blossom Pidduck. Ms. Ana Ramírez and Mr. John Taylor. Ms. Pidduck, CdeP 1992, is currently on sabbatical with her husband and two daughters. She serves as the assistant head of school and director of studies at Thacher. Ms. Ramírez acts as the assistant headmaster for leadership and the modern language department head at the St. Andrew’s School. Mr. Taylor is the associate head of school and dean of faculty at Deerfield Academy. “I understand that having an internal candidate is a particular issue that has to be managed in a search like this,” says Mr. Hooper. Ms. Pidduck does have an advantage in the sense that she has been here a long time, so she can offer perspectives that are different from candidates who haven’t previously been here. “I think it’s good that she’s on sabbatical, so she can give her full attention to the search.”

Finding a candidate who is completely new to Thacher is no easy task. Ms. Milligan, chair of the Succession Committee, says, “Everybody approaches a new challenge differently, but we, as a board, would support their efforts of getting to know the school. Our focus will be to make sure the transition is smooth and bring them up to speed.” Mr. Hooper adds, “In any case, we are lucky to have three exceptional leaders who are extraordinarily qualified and interested in this position as head of school. All three, first and foremost, are committed to the classroom, students and building school culture. Most importantly, they also have demonstrated a high level of appreciation for what Thacher is. They understand that this is not just another headship opportunity, rather that Thacher is something they want to be a part of.”

For those who are still worried about the transition between Mr. Mulligan and the new head of school, Ms. Morales-Kent provided some insight: “I am confident that we thoroughly examined every detail of the candidates because every member of the committee understands the significance of this moment for the school, given Mr. Mulligan’s incredible legacy. If the community knew that the process was really carefully taken on, they will then embrace the new person, knowing that this took up lots of time and conversation.”

Looking ahead in the head of school search process, shortly after the candidates’ visit to Thacher, the succession committee will meet and forward a recommendation to the board, who will ultimately make the decision to appoint the next head of search in a two to three week period. The new head of school will officially become an employee of Thacher in July 2018.