Sunday, September 28, 2003

4 new school leaders bond

'We count on each other'

By Cindy Kranz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Heads of schools (back, left to right) Joseph Devlin, Summit Country Day School, Lee Pierson, Cincinnati Country Day School; (front) Randy Brunk, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, and Sandra J. Theunick, Seven Hills School.
(Brandi Stafford photo)
| ZOOM |
This year, for the first time in their collective history, four prestigious independent schools in Greater Cincinnati have new Heads of School.

Although they share a common bond, the four come from very different backgrounds. One is a real estate developer-turned-educator. One has a divinity degree. One dropped plans to obtain an MBA and instead earned an education degree. One spent the last 29 years as an educator and head of a boarding school.

The new Heads of School are:

• Randy Brunk, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy.

• Joseph T. Devlin, Summit Country Day School.

• Lee Pierson, interim head, Cincinnati Country Day School.

• Sandra J. Theunick, Seven Hills School.

The four recently gathered at Theunick's Hyde Parkhome for a dinner party. It's not unusual for heads of independent schools to confer, collaborate and socialize. Their relationships are more collegial than competitive.

Randy Brunk

Job: Head of School, Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Sycamore Township
Age: 46.
Residence: Loveland.
Family: Wife, Nancy; three children: Tim, Elisabeth and Greg
Previous job: Head of School, Peoria (Ill.) Christian School.
Education: Bachelor's degree in industrial construction management, Colorado State University; master's degree in education and leadership training, Regent University.

Joseph T. Devlin

Job: Head of School, Summit Country Day School, Hyde Park.
Age: 59.
Residence: Blue Ash.
Family: Wife, Barbara; three children: Joseph, Kristin and Hope; three grandchildren
Previous job: President, Girard College, a private co-educational boarding school in Philadelphia.
Education: Bachelor's degree in English literature, University of Scranton; master's degree in English literature, Villanova University; doctoral work in English literature, Kent State University.

Lee Pierson

Job: Interim Head of School, Cincinnati Country Day School, Indian Hill.
Age: 64.
Residence: Indian Hill (on campus).
Family: Wife, Andree; two children: Christina and Glen; three grandchildren
Previous job: Headmaster, Francis Parker School, a private co-educational school in San Diego.
Education: Bachelor's degree in political science, Princeton University; master's degree in international politics, University of Pennsylvania; doctorate in education, Harvard University.

Sandra J. Theunick

Job: Head of School, Seven Hills School, Madisonville.
Age: 57.
Residence: Hyde Park
Family: Husband, Dennis Fisher; two children: Susan and Cynthia; two grandchildren
Previous job: Head of School, Chapin School, a private girls school in New York City.
Education: Bachelor's degree in psychology, Newton College, now part of Boston College; master's of divinity, Washington Theological Union.

"We all know that at the end of the day, we can count on each other for support," Theunick said. "We're the only ones who know what our job is like."

Randy Brunk

When Randy Brunk noticed on the first day of work at July 21 his reserved parking sign said "24hours," he had the words removed. Yes, he needs a parking spot as he shuttles among four campuses at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy. But the last thing he wanted was a 24-hour reserved parking spot.

That's the tone Brunk has set at the 1,450-student private school. No one is better than anyone else.

Brunk arrived after an unlikely career path. He was a real estate developer in Colorado when he caught the education bug by working with Junior Achievement in middle and high schools.

"I found myself coming home after the days when I worked with Junior Achievement, strategizing how I could reach a kid differently,'' he said. "My mind became consumed with those kids, even though I only went into different classes three times a week.

"That's still my passion. I'll probably die trying to figure out how you reach every kid with the perfect program, because they are all incredibly unique."

Among his challenges at Cincinnati Hills is solidifying its foundation. The 14-year-old school grew so fast, he said, that it had to perform quick fixes to accommodate the growth.

"I'm extremely pleased with the academic side. That is not a concern. It's more the ancillary things. We have a football game here and we're parking blocks and blocks away. ... I don't think we have a real complete employee handbook. When you've got an extra 200 kids a year walking in the door, you've got other things to worry about."

He's most excited about opportunities for greater use of technology. It's important, Brunk said, to deliver education differently for the increasing number of students who are visual or kinesthetic learners.

"The computer can be a valuable tool for this particular generation," he said.

Joseph Devlin

It was the people who won Joseph Devlin over when he interviewed to be the new Head of School at Summit Country Day School.

"They went to great lengths to make my wife and I comfortable," Devlin said. "The fact they were so attentive to Barbara sent a strong message that they really are about family. ... People have been very kind and generous, very down to earth, which is really impressive. There's no pretense. I like that."

People in the community, as well, helped pry him from his previous job of 29 years as president of a boarding school in Philadelphia. While Devlin was looking for Tylenol in Kroger, the pharmacist offered to help.

"That would not have happened in the East," he said.

Devlin's sees his challenges at the 1,100-student school as two-pronged: Diversify the student body, faculty and board, while raising endowment funds to support economic diversity.

"In order to educate children as fully and completely as we want to, they need to be exposed to a lot of diversity, not only racial, but economic, cultural and religious diversity," Devlin said. "The more experience they can have in their formative years, the better we'll prepare them."

He also plans to look into expanding the school's character education program, now in the middle and upper schools, to the primary students.

His immediate challenge is overseeing the school's $11 million building project that includes a new lower school, scheduled to open in fall 2004, a new stadium and two parking garages. For the first time, all buildings will be connected, so no students will have to go outside for lunch or chapel.

Unlike the other new Heads of School, Devlin is in the unenviable position of filling the shoes of Ed Tyrrell retired at the end of the school year after 32 years as Headmaster. "People's experience is really Ed Tyrrell. ... They need to be patient and realize change is good and that my style will be different from Ed's. I need to listen and learn."

Lee Pierson

Lee Pierson was so impressed by Cincinnati County Day School that he was lured out of a retirement to serve as Interim Head of School for one year.

Pierson retired in 2002 at New Haven, Conn., after more than 40 years in education. Inspired by the public service spirit of the Kennedy administration, Pierson had traded in plans for an MBA for a career in education.

He may be a one-year "temp" while the 860-student Indian Hill school searches for a permanent leader, but there are challenges nonetheless.

"The major challenge for any Head of School at a leading independent school is to be sure that on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis the school runs well and smoothly, and the faculty and student body are upbeat and engaged. In every area of school life, you try to improve things a little bit.

"At a school like this, no revolution is needed. It's positive evolution. That is the primary responsibility of any independent school head, whether you're here one year or seven."

"When people are focusing on an independent school, like Cincinnati Country Day, where the quality of academics and academic achievement is very high, some people tend to forget that we value, equally, the sort of personal and character development of kids in terms of clubs, in terms of student council, in terms of giving students responsibility, in terms of an expansive athletic program, which is designed far more to build teamwork, cooperation, sportsmanship and character than it is to build championship teams," Pierson said.

Meanwhile, a national search is under way for a permanent head of school, who may be named by December for the 2004-05 year.

Sandra J. Theunick

MADISONVILLE - Sandra J. Theunick will be installed 4 p.m. Saturday as the new Head of School at Seven Hills School's Hillsdale Campus, 5400 Red Bank Road.

Speakers include Chairman and President of the Board of Trustees Stephen J. Kent, Trustee James A. Schiff and Theunick.

Students from each division, Doherty, Lotspeich, Middle and Upper schools, will speak on "What Makes Seven Hills Special to Me." The Upper School Chorus will sing a song written by music teacher Tina Groom for Theunick.

The Heads of School of Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy, Cincinnati Country Day School and The Summit Country Day School, will also attend.

Sandra Theunick's global perspective and calm nature served her well two years ago Sept. 11. At that time, she was Head of School at The Chapin School, a private K-12 girls school 31/2 miles from the World Trade Center in New York City.

"It was very clear to me on that day that our job was to keep those children safe no matter at what cost. I knew this before, but I really knew it on Sept. 11.The teachers are heroes. You had people whose wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, uncles and aunts were potentially harmed on that day in what happened at the World Trade Center. And yet, nobody panicked." Now that she's head of Seven Hills School, her challenge is to implement the 1,058-student school's new strategic plan, which includes focusing on diversity.

"One of the things that I really believe in is the importance of young people having an interfaith perspective in their understanding of the world, world cultures, world religions," said Theunick, who has a divinity degree.

Part of the Seven Hills culture, she said, is to admit students with a variety of abilities. Some may excel in music or culinary arts, while others are gifted in math and science.

"We're going to keep focused on our mission that there's room here for all kids."


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