By Simon Hoke
On June 11, 2018, Jim Dunaway sent a letter to the MPH community announcing that he would be stepping down as Head of Manlius Pebble Hill School. Dunaway was brought on as Head in early 2015, during a period of significant financial difficulties for the school. He led MPH out of this period with steadfast decision-making and resolute leadership. Throughout Dunaway’s time at MPH, the school has become a more resilient place. Yet, after five years in charge, Dunaway will be leaving after this school year.
The MPH Board of Trustees, upon hearing Dunaway’s decision, immediately got to work developing a foundation for the imminent change in MPH’s leadership. President of the Board of Trustees John Mezzalingua issued a statement on the same day as Dunaway. He explained Dunaway’s decision to step down and provided an early look at the search process to replace Dunaway. “We are confident there will be much interest in this position, as MPH and Jim enjoy an excellent regional and national reputation,” Mezzalingua wrote.
Since these letters, the Board of Trustees has made significant progress in their search for the new Head of Manlius Pebble Hill. Of these board members, the designated search committee includes Mezzalingua, as well as four other board members: Evan Dreyfuss, Candace Campbell Jackson, Peter Meier, and Kim Townsend. They have hired Carney Sandoe & Associates, one of the preeminent agencies for independent school leadership searches in the nation. The firm has a database with thousands of potential candidates, many of whom they contacted for the job.
The search consultants initially contacted upward of fifty candidates for the position. By September 28, they established, and presented to the search committee, a list of eight to twelve semi-finalist candidates. Since then, the list has been narrowed to just two candidates. The identities and credentials of both candidates will be made public to MPH parents via email by Sunday afternoon. One such email has already been sent to parents, explaining the parent interviews with the first of the two candidates, taking place on Friday, October 12, from 2:30-3:25 PM, and on Saturday, October 13, from 8:30-9:30 AM; the email also gave a short career summary of this first candidate.
Student and faculty groups will meet with both candidates, allowing the candidates to get a glimpse of the MPH community, and allowing the MPH community to meet their future leader. Many students are interested in the search for the new Head of School and would like to follow its progress. Yet, many of them don’t quite understand what the Head of School does. I asked John Stegeman, Head of the Upper School, about his idea of Mr. Dunaway’s role. “I think one of the things that makes a head of school job so important and difficult, and why there is so much riding on this search, is because [it includes] two extremes of a person’s work life: the visionary, long term goals all the way down to the execution of the smallest details,” Stegeman said. So the Head of School must supervise MPH through all its day-to-day affairs, but the Head must also create a sustainable financial and curricular plan for the future of the school.
Will the person hired to become to the next leader of MPH have the characteristics necessary to continue MPH in the right direction? That remains to be seen, but Jim Dunaway is encouraged about the person who will eventually be hired to replace him. “I like the consultants, and I think they know what they’re doing, so I’m pretty convinced that we’re going to have somebody who is outstanding,” he said. Mr. Mezzalingua, in his letter to students and parents, expressed that he would have loved Dunaway to stay in his position for the foreseeable future. However, Dunaway himself realizes that the new head of school should not be an exact replica of himself.
“Two of the biggest mistakes that schools make when they’re looking to hire a new head are either to look for somebody who is the opposite of the current head, because they are not happy with him, or, if they are happy with him, to look for a clone of the current head,” Dunaway told me.
The previous timeline of the search had it ending anywhere from mid-November to December. Since then, the process has sped up. Depending on how the campus visits go with these two candidates, the Board of Trustees could reach a final decision sooner than anticipated.
In any case, the new leader of Manlius Pebble Hill will be selected before the end of this year. The school will share news of the search on the MPH website, and in announcements during assemblies, and the Pebble will keep its readers up to date on new developments in the process.