Latin Searches for New Administrators, Copes With High Turnover


Eden Raviv

After another semester of collective bargaining, the union and administration have yet to finalize a faculty contract.

In just the past year, four senior administrators at Latin have announced their departures. Two of those departures are planned retirements—Middle School Director Deb Sampey and Assistant Head of School Shelley Greenwood both shared news of their retirements prior to the beginning of the school year. But the other two were unexpected, as Upper School Division Director Kristine Von Odgen and Director of Communications Katie O’Dea each departed mid-year.

On March 2, Dr. Hagerman announced the first permanent replacement hire of these senior administrators. Tray White will serve as Latin’s next Middle School Director. Mr. White’s administrative experience includes Assistant Principal and Academic Dean for Sidwell Friends’ Middle School in Washington, D.C., and, prior to that, Dean of Student Life for Intermediate and Middle Schools at Francis W. Parker in Chicago.

Over just a three-year period, Latin’s turnover in senior administrative positions will include Head of School, Assistant Head of School, all three Division Directors, and the Directors of Development, Communications, Technology, and Athletics.

Latin has not been the only school searching for new administrators. Both Francis W. Parker’s website and Chicago Laboratory Schools’ website currently list open administrative positions.

And the high level of turnover in the world of education is certainly not limited to senior administrators. On a national scale between February 2020 and May 2022, nearly 300,000 teachers and other staff quit education entirely.

Head of School Thomas Hagerman said, “Teaching can be a challenging profession, and I think as a nation we are faced with a little bit of a crisis of a shortage of teachers and people who are interested in going into the field of teaching. We know that the union is an important piece of that, and so we are really committed to making sure that we get a really good contract in place that will incentivize people to both come here and stay here over the long term.”

Additionally, Dr. Hagerman mentioned another possible reason that teaching has become less appealing post-pandemic: Many candidates desire flexible scheduling and remote opportunities, which do not typically work in a school setting.

Though departures of any faculty or staff members typically warrant replacement, searches for senior administrators at Latin require more exhaustive processes. This year, the school partnered with StratéGenius, a BIPOC-owned search firm that helps independent schools boost representation in their faculty and leadership.

“A lot of search firms say that they will bring in [diverse] candidates, but [StratéGenius] really tailors their searches to bring in high quality diverse candidates,” Dr. Hagerman said.

Of the roughly 70 applicants for Latin’s MS Director role, the search firm narrowed the choices to seven. Latin then formed a committee of community members to interview each candidate. In terms of who serves on committees like this one, Dr. Hagerman said, “We try to have a diverse committee of folks who are directly affected.” He noted the importance of representing faculty from a range of grade levels, backgrounds, and identities. In addition, the MS Director search committee valued leaders passionate about child development and innovators focused on enriching academic and community opportunities.

After a series of interviews, three candidates were eventually invited to tour and interview on campus. Middle School science teacher Kathleen Meade led the MS Director search committee. In regards to the process itself, Ms. Meade said, “[It] was comprehensive and included soliciting feedback from a variety of constituencies (faculty, staff, Middle School students, parents, senior administration, board members).” She added, “The search committee carefully deliberated in order to ensure all voices were heard.”

During a recent campus visit, Mr. White met with a variety of groups around the school, establishing the foundation for a smooth transition, come July 1. “The search committee is confident that the Middle School faculty will be of tremendous support throughout the transition,” Ms. Meade said.

The search for a new US Director will follow a similar process to the Middle School search, but for now, Improv teacher and US Dean Nick Baer has stepped in to fill the role. As Dean of Community Learning Suzanne Callis covers some of Mr. Baer’s responsibilities as dean, Mr. Baer has committed to serving as Interim US Director at least for the remainder of the school year. He also said that it is likely he will remain in the role for the 2023-24 school year.

When asked whether Mr. Baer is being considered as a permanent replacement, Dr. Hagerman said, “All the senior admin positions are things that we have traditionally gone to search for, but obviously in conversations with Mr. Baer—if he is interested in continuing on, he would certainly be able to be a part of that process.”

“We always do the [external] search because we want to find the best possible person,” Dr. Hagerman said. “I think we always encourage qualified internal people to apply for jobs. We want both institutional knowledge and people who have experience at Latin, and also new ideas to come in and help keep us vital.”

Regarding external searches, Dr. Hagerman said, “We want to attract the highest quality candidates. That means often that they are working somewhere else. So the confidentiality piece is a really important one for us to preserve the integrity of the candidate’s experience, to make sure that we attract really high quality folks who are interested in working here.”

In addition to these two division director positions, Latin is also searching for a new Assistant Head of School. The search is currently underway, and Latin hopes to announce this hire in the near future.

Dr. Hagerman intends to redistribute responsibilities between himself and the new Assistant Head of School. He said he plans to focus more on operational leadership, including overseeing Admissions and Development. Meanwhile, Community Life, Teaching and Learning, and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion are among the programs that will be primarily overseen by the Assistant Head of School.

Once any of these positions are filled, the new faculty member or administrator begins to receive school communications and meets with members of their division or department. Dr. Hagerman noted that summers are an especially critical time for faculty onboarding, and that the process extends throughout their entire first year at Latin.

Though Latin has acted quickly to fill these major positions, mid-year departures have proven especially challenging. Latin currently has just one person managing communications, compared to five at the start of the year. Director of Human Resources Susan Bolon said that the communications positions have been posted, and that the school is currently waiting for more applications to accumulate.

“Certainly, it’s a challenge when there is a lack of staffing,” Ms. Bolon said, “but the nice thing about faculty and staff here—everyone helps each other, and we are trying to be really supportive of the person that is still in that office, and people have really stood up across the school to help each other.”

Xavier Espejo-Vadillo, Upper School Language Department Chair, Spanish teacher, and Project Week Coordinator, said that amidst frequent turnover, “For some things that are more logistical, where we need approval from an administrator, it is difficult to figure out, ‘Who do we go to for this?’”

“The school has a lot of initiatives going on,” Mr. Espejo said. “Are we being backed up? Who is doing that? Basically there is no one right now.”

Dr. Hagerman’s perspective with turnover at Latin has been different from that of Mr. Espejo. He said, “People just all pitch in here, especially when things are hard. People just show up, and everybody rolls up their sleeves and works together.”