Head of School: a job description

Features

by Alyssa Pilecki ’20-

It is common knowledge by now that Head of School Dennis Bisgaard is leaving Kingswood Oxford after 12 dedicated years of leading the community, and that Tom Dillow will become our next Head of School.

But what exactly does being a Head of School entail? What do they need to do and why are they so important? “The Head of School is the main culture setter of the school, but not necessarily the most important person on campus,” Mr. Bisgaard said. He went on to explain that the Head of School works closely with senior administrators to help establish the tone of the school, as well as the Board of Trustees, who are responsible for the fiduciary and fiscal well-being of school. “The Board of Trustees sets all of the policies for the school,” Mr. Bisgaard said, “but they don’t necessarily understand all the nuances, so the Head of School has to convey what the community needs, what would work, and what wouldn’t.”

Under the leadership of Mr. Bisgaard, KO completed a number of major campus projects, among them the addition of the turf field and Chase-Tallwood Math and Science Technology Center. Meanwhile, the school added Mandarin Chinese and various Global Online Academy (GOA) courses to the curriculum. Mr. Bisgaard also helped to create a Robotics team and form more opportunities for international travel.

“I keep trying to add things that are exciting for and which cater to a wide range of students,” Mr. Bisgaard said. He also said he always wants everyone to have the best chance to excel in their particular interest, but he wants people to have the opportunity to discover new ones, as well. “Whether it be for the one playing her saxophone for hours on end, or the one shooting hoops with his friends, I’ve wanted Kingswood Oxford to be a place where everyone can be comfortable to be themselves,” he said.

The downside to the vast amount of opportunities available at KO is the large price tag, and it is up to the Head of School to make sure those costs are covered. Mr. Bisgaard said that the majority of his time is spent meeting with various parents, alumni, parents of alumni, and foundations to raise money for new additions to the school, such as the Hoffman Field House. “Believe it or not, tuition doesn’t actually fully cover the many expenses of the school,” he said. “So, sometimes I have to literally travel from coast to coast to meet with alumni.”

Mr. Bisgaard also said that it’s very important for a Head of School to look at the school’s mission statement and core values, so they can always strive to emulate those. “A good Head of School has to be transparent with the community and really be as helpful as they can, so people feel valued and known,” Mr. Bisgaard said. He then said that during times of crisis, he feels it is especially important for him as the Head of School to reach out to the entire community and ensure every person’s concerns are heard and cares are met.

Various students and faculty members said they think Mr. Bisgaard has done an excellent job of listening to the school and communicating with everyone, including seven-year senior Caroline Doyle. “He’s always been really accessible to the students, and I appreciate that a lot,” she said.

Dean of Students William Gilyard said he felt the same way. “Mr. Bisgaard is someone who is always willing to listen to others and hear some hard truths, and therefore Mr. Bisgaard knew how to guide KO through tough times,” Mr. Gilyard said.

Science Department Chair Fritz Goodman recalled a faculty meeting where Mr. Bisgaard demonstrated his rationality and thoughtfulness. One teacher asked a question about a difficult topic and Mr. Bisgaard paused, responding, “I think we should inject some sanity into the situation first.” Mr. Goodman then said that because of many instances like this one, Mr. Bisgaard reminds him of a chess player. “Chess players can’t get too upset or emotional, and in order to win they have to be thinking three or four moves in advance — and that’s how Mr. Bisgaard sees the future of the school,” Mr. Goodman said. “He’s always thinking a few steps ahead.”

Looking to the future, Mr. Bisgaard said he feels Mr. Dillow will inherit a great community and will be able to bring a positive and fresh change to KO. “If I were him, I would really enjoy the new experience and take it all in at first,” he said. “By getting to know everyone and truly embracing the community, he can see what’s working and then in some areas make whatever improvements and enhancements are necessary.”

Students and faculty are sad to see Mr. Bisgaard leave, but also excited for him to begin a new journey. “I was happy for him, sad for us,” Mr. Gilyard said. Sophomore Maggie Eberle, who has been at KO since Form One, said she feels that Mr. Bisgaard did a great job here and will do great things elsewhere as well. “Mr. Bisgaard is a kind man who really had KO in his best interest,” Maggie said. “I feel Mr. Bisgaard did a good job as Head of School. The rest of the community and I wish him luck in his new position.”