Upper School Director Kirk Greer has decided to leave Latin at the end of the current semester, a move that shocked and saddened colleagues in what has already been an unusually challenging year. In January, he will become a middle school language arts teacher at Baker Demonstration School in Wilmette.
Mr. Greer has devoted 16 years of his professional life to Latin, throughout which he came to personify some of the school’s most cherished values—chief among them leadership and loyalty. “Over the years, I’ve really relied on his competence and his capacity as a really good leader and thinker,” said Head of School Randall Dunn.
“His steady leadership through the crisis has been one of the primary reasons that has helped me stay sane through the chaos,” said Upper School statistics and economics teacher Tim Kendrick.
“His leadership, his intellect, his kindness, his humor, his passion for education has made the Upper School stronger and I will miss him dearly next semester and beyond,” echoed Upper School English teacher Shannon Barker.
Latin has tapped Mr. Greer for several leadership roles during his tenure at Latin. He chaired the History and Social Studies Department, managed a large grant for teacher excellence, co-chaired a comprehensive strategic planning effort, spent a year as the Director of Studies and Professional Development, and, most recently, has served as Upper School Director.
Mr. Greer served in his most recent leadership role at Latin during one of the most contentious times in recent school history. In March, he facilitated the transition to a remote curriculum; over the summer, he sought to mend a community reeling from testimonies of recent and historical racial injustice. Now, in his final moments as Upper School Director, he is reconciling debate between two distinct parties: those who favor continued online schooling and those who seek an expedited return to in-person school.
Still, Mr. Greer reflects fondly on his tenure as a Latin teacher and administrator. “I learned how to be a teacher here,” he said. “I learned what it means to be a professional. I’ve made lifelong friends whom I certainly plan to stay in close touch with. I’ve also made lifelong friends with former students who are now getting married, who are now leaving medical school, who are doing incredible things.”
It is those relationships, he said, that prompted him to look for a career in teaching once more. “As much as I did enjoy the chance to work with faculty and—certainly before the pandemic—try to move the school in some positive directions in terms of how we taught and what we taught, I think that ultimately I just really missed the chance to do it myself and connect with students and be in the classroom.”
Baker Demonstration School, a private middle school in Wilmette, will hire Mr. Greer at the beginning of the second semester. “Mr. Greer has been a known and respected member of [our] community for many years as both a parent and fellow educator,” said Baker Head of School Carly Andrews. “His love of learning, his equanimity, and his care of students will make him a wonderful fit.”
Mr. Greer said his departure “doesn’t really have anything to do with Latin, it had more to do with when that opening was available at Baker.” According to Mr. Greer, the retirement of a “long-time, well-respected” language arts teacher created the Baker opening.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of unusual circumstances in education like virtually every other sector,” said Andrews on the unconventional timing of Mr. Greer’s hiring.
This is not the first time that Latin has seen its Upper School Director depart. In fact, since Ted Graf left Latin in 2015, there have been three different individuals to hold the position—Steven Coberly, Monica Rodriguez, and Mr. Greer—and now there will be yet another regime. Though this trend may appear alarming, neither Mr. Dunn nor Mr. Greer revealed any concern. “You always want as much continuity as possible in leadership roles, in any role in the school,” said Mr. Dunn. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a situation where no one wants to work at the school or we don’t want people to work at this school,” he added.
“I don’t think it’s out of the ordinary,” said Mr. Dunn, comparing Latin to other independent schools across the country. Mr. Greer agreed and said, “I guess, just to zoom out a little bit, the typical duration of an Upper School division director’s tenure, like independent schools around the country, is between three to five years. That’s kind of the ongoing average. I wouldn’t describe the situation as a chronic issue.”
So why is tenancy of administrative positions at schools like Latin so temporary? According to Mr. Greer, “It’s a hell of a job. It’s pretty intense. I knew that going in, and I certainly saw it as a challenge I wanted to take on—I wanted to test myself and test my abilities. But I think it takes about [three to five years] to figure out whether or not you really want to make the switch permanently from a teaching role, as is my background, to an administrative role.” Still, Latin’s Middle School Director, Deb Sampey, has held her position for almost 30 years. “She is incredibly skillful at the position,” said Mr. Greer.
Since the 2004-2005 school year, Latin has had five Upper School directors, which equates to an approximate 33% yearly turnover rate for that position. And it is worth noting that with the exception of Ted Graf, who served as Upper School director for eight years, the average tenure of the other four directors was less than two years—not Mr. Greer’s suggested “three-to-five year” term.
On December 14, the Latin administration announced that Lower School Director of five years Julie Brooks would also leave her position at Latin. Ms. Brooks will depart in June.
The Latin administration has not hired a replacement for Mr. Greer, nor do they intend to before the 2021-2022 school year. In his place, explained Mr. Dunn, will serve “a team of several faculty, staff and administrators,” until an executive search firm engaged by Mr. Dunn helps the school hire a permanent director for the fall of 2021.
“Frankly, we know that it’s not the same as having one person in the role,” Dunn said. “But to be able to make it through this next semester as efficiently as possible, and ensuring everyone has a resource to be able to address their issues, I think we’ve found that this is a really good model going forward.”
The Transition Team that Mr. Dunn outlined consists of registrar Courtney Burke, Spanish teacher Xavier Espejo-Vadillo, computer science teacher Ash Hansberry, learning specialist Jen Hayman, Upper School Assistant Director Karen Horvath, Director of D.E.I. Eleannor Maajid, and Upper School Assistant Shamina Stanford.
“The idea of an interim director was a possibility,” said Mr. Espejo, who will help oversee the “academic and faculty support” responsibilities of Upper School Director. “However, for a member of the staff or faculty to take over as an interim director would mean they would have to give up their classes or transfer their services to someone else in a moment where most stakeholders feel overwhelmed as we all try to do our best to continue learning.”
Mr. Espejo shared that the decision to assemble the Transition Team was not made democratically. “The fact the decision was taken by the admin team has added to a feeling of distrust,” he said. “There will be more challenges we will need to face as we move on.”
To defer the hiring of a new Upper School Director does save Latin’s administration—to whom money is currently in short supply—the cost of a semester’s salary, and for a position that Latin’s Form 990 says they paid about $150,000 (adjusted for inflation) per year in 2015.
Still, Mr. Greer and Mr. Dunn both affirmed that the decision wasn’t about finances. “We always ran things as a team anyway,” said Mr. Greer.
Moreover, when asked if the members of the Transition Team would receive a pay raise, Mr. Dunn said, “I would say yes, in some way shape or form we will look at how we compensate them for that additional work. Basic answer, yes.”
“The Transition Team was devised as a sustainable way to keep the US running as we take the appropriate time … to find the right person to steadily lead us starting the next academic year,” said Mr. Espejo. “We meet very frequently and we have adopted a communicative and collaborative working system to make us as effective and responsive as possible.”
To his fellow Latin educators, Mr. Greer’s departure came as a moment to reflect on his contributions to the school.
Stephanie Stephens, an Upper School history teacher who hired Mr. Greer more than a decade ago, called him a “master teacher and a good man” who “exemplifies academic excellence, community, and integrity.”
“Mr. Greer cared about creating the best learning environment for students. Even as the Upper School Director he always insisted on teaching at least one class to stay connected to the classroom,” said Upper School science teacher Faye Wells.
Upper School math teacher Nichol Hooker added, “He is a champion of his faculty.”