On behalf of the Board of Trustees of NBS, we are excited to announce that Smith Coleman will be North Branch’s Head of School beginning July 1, 2019.
When we began this process in July 2018, the Board and Charlotte started by re-affirming the mission and values of NBS, knowing that everything we would ask a head to do would spring from that mission. After 35 years, Charlotte’s list of duties and responsibilities was endless. Knowing that we could not replace her, we whittled that list down to the duties that were solely for the new head of school. After many drafts, the Board determined that the next head of school would need to:
• Value and support the mission of the school.
• Comfortably and confidently interact with all constituencies (students, parents, teachers, community, donors, Board), communicate clearly and transparently (when appropriate), and create a welcoming environment.
• Be able to make connections and recognize interdependent needs by being present in the daily life of the school.
• Maintain a balanced demeanor while juggling a number of duties and wearing several hats.
• Model resourcefulness and budget-driven decision-making.
• Be willing to collaborate with both children and adults when appropriate and be decisive when necessary.
• Bring his or her own talents and add them to the school community.
For all of us, the first point, “Value and support the mission of the school” was the number-one priority, and we knew that building a sustainable future for the school required all of the qualities on this list. We feel very fortunate that Smith and NBS have found each other, as Smith has decades of experience creating programs that match the mission and values of NBS and has shown himself to be a creative leader and collaborator in many educational venues.
Perhaps the first sign that this was a good match was Smith’s decision to come to NBS even when he was not formally interviewing. He came to St. George in December and to the Bill Staines concert in February, both times bringing his whole family. In between those events, Smith formally interviewed with members of the Search Committee, visited to observe the school in action, and then came back for a second full day on our Martin Luther King Celebration Day, when he also met with interested parents, the full Search Committee, and the Board. During his interview with the Search Committee that day, when we asked Smith what excited him about the prospect of being head of NBS, he answered without hesitation: “The chance to tell the story of this place. You should have a voice in education. NBS should not be a ‘well-kept secret’; you should be a national story, and I want to help tell that story. There should be an NPR show about education, and you guys should run it.”
Parent, teacher, and Board feedback were unanimously positive about Smith after his visits. Parents said things like, “I immediately felt confident and secure in seeing someone that I felt could truly be a good ‘face’ and ‘voice’ for our school both within our school group as well as in the larger community. His ability to weave studies/data that reaffirmed what we’ve been doing all these years is an invaluable tool when trying to grow our school and attract new families.” People commented favorably on Smith’s “calm demeanor” and “genuine love of education.” Parents were drawn to Smith’s commitment to “experiential learning” and the creative initiatives he had implemented at previous schools.
Smith has never stopped growing as a learner himself. He has his Bachelor’s degree from Mary Washington in Economic History, a Master’s degree in Conflict Transformation from EMU, and a Certificate in Educational Leadership from JMU, with Endorsements in Admin and Supervision PreK-12, Specific Learning Disabilities K-12 and Middle Education (4-8). He has continued to take trainings and immerse himself in ideas about the best way to educate children, including courses in Responsive Classroom and Place-Based Education as recently as 2017.
Smith has administrative experience in a variety of settings, including creating and directing his own outdoor experiential program, the “Discovery Program,” within the Orange County public school system. As part of that program, Smith developed The American Forest Project with students, an effort to rebuild and connect indigenous forest cover in local communities. In recognition of these endeavors, Smith was presented with the 2007-2008 National Experiential Leader of the Year Award by the National Society of Experiential Education. Smith’s teaching background includes science and social studies for all kinds of students, and he has been a sustainable farming practices consultant for 15 years.
When describing his educational philosophy, Smith wrote, “My effort as a leader has been to inspire great teaching, and to bring community and patience to all that a school is. A student-focused vision, embracing diversity and community collaboration paired with my love of learning is at the core of my philosophy of education.”
Smith’s former colleagues, principals, and parents of former students call him “hands-on,” “a divergent thinker” who “listens and communicates clearly.” His current superintendent said he has “seasoned wisdom” and is a “natural leader.” He said Smith is “the best teacher I’ve ever seen in 30 years.” Another colleague of Smith’s said to us, “I looked at your website, and NBS is a Smith Coleman school!” And his former principal said, “If your mission is to teach kids to love to learn, you’ve got your guy.” We’re sure you can see why we are so excited to welcome Smith to the NBS community.
And speaking of community, the Search Committee thanks the teachers, Board, parents, and students at NBS for meeting so many candidates, giving us feedback, and helping guide us towards finding just the right leader for this very special school. This has been a community effort, and all of your contributions have helped lead us here.
This spring, we’ll continue to celebrate Charlotte and the wonderful school she created, and we’ll look for opportunities to have Smith and his family here, so that you can all meet him and share in the optimism we all feel about continuing Charlotte’s project. In the meantime, we welcome Smith, his wife Teresa, and his children Olivia and Amos to the NBS community.
Katrien Vance and Ellen Bouton
Co-Chairs of the Head of School Search Committee