Head of School Darryl J. Ford Hon. 1689 has advised us that, after more than two decades of distinguished and dedicated service, the upcoming 2022-23 academic year will be his last at William Penn Charter School. Darryl was named Head of School in 2007 — making him the seventh Head of Penn Charter in the modern era — after serving as Director of Middle School for 10 years.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, we take this opportunity to express our admiration and gratitude to Darryl Ford, a remarkable educator, a remarkable person, and a visionary leader.
Darryl has led Penn Charter through a period of growth and achievement that has advanced our educational program and our profile as a leader in independent school education. As the oldest Quaker school in the world and one of the very oldest schools in the United States, Penn Charter has long been in the forefront of American elementary and secondary education. The Strategic Vision the school adopted in 2011 thrust PC into the national spotlight.
That bold vision was designed to give students knowledge and also skills they need to thrive in a changing world. "We are looking into the future and recognizing that we can't know what our students will encounter," Darryl explained to parents. "We want them to be prepared, agile and ready to make a difference." With his administrative team and faculty, Darryl set about to implement the six goals of the Strategic Vision, always with an awareness of its distinctive focus on meeting the needs of the community and creating change. The yearlong process that led to the creation of the Strategic Vision involved many dozens of students, OPCs, trustees, parents, faculty and staff — and, impactfully, Darryl. Among other decisive contributions, in titling the Strategic Vision he was the person who articulated its intent: Educating Students to Live Lives that Make a Difference. The idea that OPCs could go out into the world to make a difference came naturally and forcefully to him, perhaps because that is what he has tried to do himself in his work as an educator and in his service to his community and to his church.
The Quaker values at the heart of Penn Charter came easily to this devout Episcopalian and graduate of a Quaker school. Darryl practices empathy. He lifts up community and nurtures relationships. He acts with integrity. He strives for excellence. His advocacy for social justice is profound, and it has had a restorative impact at Penn Charter, although he would be the first to acknowledge that this work is not finished. These aspects of his character and personality, combined with his experience and knowledge as a leader in education, have helped him guide Penn Charter throughout his tenure and especially in the past two years when the school faced significant challenges.
Darryl leaves PC well situated for the future: The metrics for enrollment, student and faculty diversity, OPC engagement, endowment growth and fundraising are all excellent. Our Strategic Vision will continue to serve as a roadmap for years to come and, in his last year at Penn Charter, Darryl will lead us as we reach for two milestones in that endeavor:
- achieving the $125 million goal of the historic How Far? campaign that funds Strategic Vision innovations, and
- breaking ground for the last project in our campus transformation, a new lower school.
Change, especially leadership change, is impactful and hard work, and Darryl's news comes at a time when several senior administrators have retired or moved on to new roles. Darryl continues to lead the visioning and selection of new school leaders for Penn Charter, and we are grateful that he will have another year in which to transition these new administrators. We also are thankful to Darryl for the time he will spend next year to ensure an orderly transition for a new Head of School.
Process and Timing. A Head of School Search Committee composed of PC Trustees will manage the search for Darryl's successor. Trustees have hired Sherry Coleman and Nishant Mehta at Storbeck Search to shape and conduct a national search focused on Penn Charter's needs and aspirations. We hope to announce a new Head of School in the fall; that person would begin work on campus in July 2023.
Please Participate. We are approaching the search through a lens of Quaker values and with a commitment to equity; community input will be critical in shaping the search and job description, and in evaluating the finalists. Member of the Penn Charter community have been asked to share their thoughts on PC's strengths, challenges and opportunities in a Stakeholder Survey that will inform the Position Statement, or job description, for the Head of School.
Ongoing Communications. Our process will be as transparent as possible while protecting the confidentiality of candidates. In the coming weeks we will communicate additional information about the process, including the clerks and members serving on the Search Committee. We will post this information and ongoing updates on penncharter.com, and we will communicate directly to various constituents about opportunities to participate in the search process.
We encourage you to read the second half of this communication — Darryl's reflections on his Penn Charter years and plans for the future. There will be opportunities to thank and celebrate Darryl, but as you encounter him in the coming weeks in the halls, the sidelines of games, in the Kurtz audience or at OPC events, we hope you will thank him for his service to PC. We especially thank Dr. Gail Sullivan, Darryl's wife, and their sons, Jameson OPC '20 and Lucas, for their understanding and support. Being the Head is a 24/7 commitment that exacts family and personal sacrifice.
For our part, working with Darryl has been rewarding and extraordinarily satisfying. Calling him a friend is an honor.
"... I have loved my work with our students and our work to make things happen for them. Serving them has been the singular privilege of my headship."
After 31 years as a school leader and teacher, 26 of those years at Penn Charter, I have decided to plan for a third act, one more stop, before retirement. I have informed Penn Charter Trustees that I will conclude my service in June 2023 when my current contract ends. This timing for my departure works for me personally and professionally and, just as importantly, it works for Penn Charter in a significant way: Together we have achieved many of the goals we collectively set as a faculty and staff, Friends school, community, trustees and head. Penn Charter is stronger than ever.
I am heartened by what we have achieved together and so proud of the work we have done during my now 15 years as head. Penn Charter's strength is evidenced by the growth in enrollment, diversity, endowment, financial aid for families, and facilities. Moreover, the educational program advanced exponentially with the strategic visioning process to include increased project-based learning, greater emphasis on health and wellness, the creation of the Teaching & Learning Center, the Center for Public Purpose, and an office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, among other initiatives. The Strategic Vision, Educating Students to Live Lives that Make a Difference, remains a foundational guidepost even as new educational directions will be charted by our excellent faculty and staff. These same colleagues, modeling and teaching integrity, truth-telling and conflict resolution, will evolve our identity and actions as a Friends school — and our students' understanding of Quaker values.
The boldness of the Strategic Vision is unfolding in a campus transformation designed to meet the needs of our students now and into the future. The Fisher Middle School, Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts and Kline & Specter Squash Center were crowning achievements of the last capital campaign. We moved next to create the pre-K space at the Church of the Good Shepherd; the first turf field; Chigwell Close (complete with a stream); Gross Softball Field; and Maguire Field. Now, with the How Far? capital campaign, we have moved forward to create an athletics corridor featuring Maguire Field, Palaia Baseball Field and the fabulous Graham Athletics & Wellness Center. On the opposite end of campus, we are poised to create an "Academic Village" that unites all three divisions in a vibrant learning community; classroom renovations and a soon-to-come new lower school are the impressive results. This investment in the physical campus supports student learning and wellness, and it transforms how we teach and how we interact with each other.
In the last two years, we continued to advance our vision for Penn Charter while confronting two significant problems: a worldwide pandemic, and long-held prejudices within our community and our world about race and gender. PC's Covid planning and protocols — aided by the decision to become a 1:1 laptop school — achieved our objective to offer as many days of in-person instruction as possible while remaining as safe as possible. The entire community is to be commended for this achievement. The social justice work, so important to our students' education and well-being, is progressing, but unfinished. For some, tackling the work of race and gender has been unsettling and represents a departure from the familiar Penn Charter that they once knew. I maintain that central to Quakerism is the belief that there is the inner light — that of God — in each person, and central to Quaker education is the testimony of equality. These beliefs, and the Quaker observation of continuing revelation, call us as a school to continue the work of building a just community for all, even when we may disagree or experience a loss in the midst of change.
While I won't miss making Covid decisions or predawn snow-day calls with colleagues, I will miss the amazing people who comprise our community. Chief among them are my excellent colleagues. The PC faculty and staff make everything happen for our students. They are the people who not only teach and coach our students, but, more critically, care for and support them in ways that extend well beyond the classroom or athletics field. It has also been my privilege to work with an excellent administrative team, many of whom have become friends over almost three decades. In similar fashion, our Parent and Caregiver Community has been both supportive of all of our students and shown great care to me and my family during my tenure at Penn Charter. I will miss meeting with OPCs from around the country — many of whom are now my friends — learning from them, and representing to them how Penn Charter has evolved and will continue to evolve. In addition, I have worked with an exceptional Board of Trustees. A good board cares for the here and now while it works to secure the future of the institution. These strengths are evident in Penn Charter's board, and I thank our Trustees, and Will Carr, Anne Marble and Jeff Reinhold, three exceptional board chairs, and our wonderful Assistant Clerk Jane Evans, for their leadership, guidance and enduring friendships.
And finally, I am most proud of what we have accomplished for our students, striving to make Penn Charter the best place for them to grow and learn. Whether teaching them in the classroom, greeting them in the hallways, meeting them in my office, or witnessing their talent on the playing fields, in the gym, or on the stage, I have loved my work with our students and our work to make things happen for them. Serving them has been the singular privilege of my headship.
I thank each of these constituent groups — our faculty and staff, administrative team, alumni, trustees, parents and students — for their support and for making Penn Charter the special place that it is. I also want to thank my family, who have had the privilege to be part of this community. Malcolm Ford, my brother and Lower School Science teacher, has been supportive in immeasurable ways. Thank you, Malcolm! This community has cared for my sons, Jameson and Lucas. While the benefits of Penn Charter are many, it is not always easy to be on this campus when you are the head's children. Thank you, Jameson and Lucas! And finally, I especially want to thank my wife, Dr. Gail Sullivan. Without Gail's unwavering support of me and her behind-the-scenes work on behalf of the school, this past quarter of a century at Penn Charter would not have been possible for my family and me. Thank you, Gail!
In the novel Animal Farm, a book I taught to eighth graders for 10 years in Middle School Civics, a character proclaims, "No sentimentality." While I hope for a more successful end than occurred in Orwell's novel, the point is well taken. However, we have so much good work to be done in the next 16 months that I expect to be too busy to become sentimental just yet. I eagerly look forward to that work and to my yet-to-be-determined third act.