At 2:59 p.m. on October 27, Concord Academy announced its new Head of School, Henry Fairfax, to all community members through email, including students, faculty, parents, and alumni. The Head of School Search Committee held a student and faculty assembly explaining this decision in the Performing Arts Center (P.A.C.) half an hour before the official message.
John Grossman P’17 ’19, one of the two co-chairs of the search committee, first introduced the extensive 10-months search process to the whole school. The committee consisted of trustees, parents, faculty, graduates, and two outside consultants, who began meeting back in December 2020, almost a year ago. After carefully crafting the position statement based on hundreds of community member inputs, the committee received résumés and statements of intent from around 40 candidates. The committee then selected 10 semi-finalists and interviewed them at a “secret quarter”—the Sheraton Hotel at Harvard Square—to narrow down the list to four finalists.
Over the selection process, the committee has had 25 to 50 meetings, more than 70 reference calls, and over 735 community surveys—all to help CA find our next leader under the guiding principles of our mission. The search committee came up with a list of 15 key characteristics in the position statement and some challenges candidates could address. Some topics include strengthening trust around how decisions are made, balancing day and boarding needs, elevating CA’s for community and equity, and marshaling resources for the school, such as growing the endowment. The committee looked for a mission-aligned vision, a leadership style that is both collaborative and decisive, and the ability to implement and animate our mission in candidates. These criteria collectively ask two questions: “Which candidate is strong where we have the greatest needs?” and “Which candidate will build on our existing strengths and will grow alongside CA?”
With regards to these principles, Jennifer Burleigh ’85, the other co-chair of the search committee, explained the committee’s choice in selecting Fairfax as CA’s 11th Head of School from Zoom: “This candidate has virtually limitless upsides [and] was one of the top Head of School candidates in the country. […] This candidate’s application package revealed a clear mission alignment and a passion that was hard to ignore. [This candidate is] a leader who excels at managing disparate constituencies and welcomes different points of view, who makes all voices feel hard while making decisions, a leader with a passion for the work of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging in independent schools and unique ability to bring all voices into the conversation.”
Fairfax also received the highest support from the CA community in feedback surveys. A student commented on Fairfax’s remarkable leadership talent:
“I cannot [over] emphasize how much Henry was a breath of fresh air. He understands the different pieces that come together to make a school and he thoroughly comprehends systems that prove to be a problem. He is a strategic thinker, and his unique vision is one in a hundred. His ability to communicate to students plausible ways he would make change[s] on an administrative level was second to none. I hope CA does not squander the opportunity to hire an individual for the future of our school because Henry represents where we want to be, not necessarily who we are now.”
Faculty, parents, and trustees alike see Fairfax as a passionate, charismatic, and measured leader with a dedication to CA’s mission, who can take CA to where we hope to be with a leadership career in schools similar to CA.
Accepting the head of school position, Fairfax wrote, “I savor the opportunity to bring the Concord Academy community together around a grand vision of modeling equity, academic excellence, common trust, respect for the individual, and love of learning.”
Fairfax will assume office on July 1, 2022. Appearing on Zoom to address the CA community after Burleigh had announced the exciting news during the assembly, he shared, “I felt a sense of home [at CA], a sense of home which started in the lyrics of the mission, which aligned with all that I believe in as an educator.” In a green top, Fairfax ended his warm words with “Go Green!”
Photo courtesy of Concord Academy