Thoughts on Rivendell’s Headmaster Search

Thoughts on Rivendell’s Headmaster Search

Thoughts on Rivendell’s Headmaster Search.

Steve Larson, Headmaster at Rivendell School from 1992-2002.

(1.)  A Keeper of the Vision. The headmaster at Rivendell School needs to be the one who is persuasively up front in advocating for the unique vision of the school. S/he needs to keep articulating Rivendell’s distinctives and the rationale for them. The school motto is inspired, in my opinion, and the school head needs to keep unpacking and repeating that motto. The head needs to remind the parents, students and faculty, time and again, of Rivendell’s special calling in education. Rivendell has a pioneering vision, and so the headmaster must be comfortable operating with a pioneering spirit. Rivendell doesn’t want to be different just to be different, to be pointlessly distinctive, but instead it has meaningful reasons that make sense as to why Rivendell is unique. The new head has to be comfortable being unique, sort of an outlier, and needs to be a cheerleader about those meaningful reasons for the school’s existence. After going through the interviewing process with the Board, I commented that if I were to start a k-12 school, it would look just like Rivendell. Maybe a reasonable question to ask the applicant would be… If you could start your own school from scratch, what would it look like? Would it look like Rivendell? Are you a pioneer or a settler, someone who enjoys breaking new ground in education, or someone who wants to maintain the status quo?

(2.)  A Builder of Community. Rivendell School is first and foremost a highly personal community, an interdependent group of like-minded people who are working together for the same goal. Even though the Board obviously needs to be responsible in managing the budget responsibly, Rivendell is not primarily a business to maintain. Parents should not look upon themselves as consumers who are merely trying to make the most of their tuition money or who get the biggest bang for their buck as they push for a certain product. Students are not customers who must always have it their way like Burger King. Rivendell is not a factory, producing students who all look the same and are all educated in a one-size-fits-all pedagogy. Rivendell educates each unique student with a personal touch. There is nothing corporate about Rivendell. There have been many programs and activities with community in mind: the Forms, School Blessing, Graduation, Buddies, Recess, Carpool, Assembly, Drama Productions, Fall Faires, and other special events. These are all community builders, and the headmaster needs to have a personal involvement in all of it. Anything that begins to break down a sense of community should be on the head’s radar. A possible question to ask the applicant might be… What is the difference between a community and an institution? Which would you rather build? Do you have experience in building community?

(3.)  A Teacher At Heart. A Rivendell head must welcome personal contact with the students, in the hallways, in the lunchroom, and especially in the classroom. The term headmaster actually means lead teacher, not chief executive or official bureaucrat. I taught a full section of Humanities during my ten years at Rivendell, which means I was half-time teacher along with my headmaster duties. This enabled me to bond professionally with the faculty at the ground level. I had an inside experience with the Rivendell education, and I could advocate for the needs of the backbone of the school, which is the faculty. In this role, I was one of them, which is the best place to be for a headmaster. In this role I was viewed in the community as an educator first, someone who is still engaged in the art of learning and educating. Of course, this meant that the Board had to take the lead in such things as fund-raising, admissions, and budget management. It also meant that there was the need for an Administrative Assistant to take care of many of the details. This arrangement was a Rivendell distinctive, and I fully believe in that model of school management.  With this model, the school head needs to be competent in the classroom and creative in designing curriculum. The head needs to be an authentic, inspiring educator at the grass roots level. A legitimate question one could ask an applicant could be… Do you operate best in an office or in a classroom? Would you prefer being at recess or a committee meeting? Would you consider yourself first an educator or a manager?

(4.)  A Christ-Centered Person. Rivendell School is a Christ-centered community school, so it stands to reason that it is led by a person whose life is centered on Christ. In my view, the church denomination doesn’t really matter, be it Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Jewish convert. What matters is the mature faith of the school head, whose job it is to be a winsome example to the school community of a growing, intentional Christ-follower. The head needs to be trustworthy as to his/her Christian world view, Biblical knowledge, and consistent witness of loving relationships with everyone this person knows. The head must be able to use Scriptural principles in leading the school. I would think that during an application process this person would do deeply into his/her Christian life history. A logical question one might ask an applicant would be… How would you propose to provide an inspiring example to others of your Christian faith? How do you plan on integrating your faith with your calling as an educator? What makes a Christ-centered education different from a standard education? How would you Biblically describe a Wisdom School like Rivendell?