Long Trail head of school brings financial background

DORSET - Steven Dear, who has been the interim Head of School at Long Trail since July, was named the permanent Head of School on Monday, Jan. 21.

The position of Head of School became open when John Suitor, who was the previous Head of School for the last five years, resigned from the position. At the time, Dear, who was the chairman of the school's board of trustees for two years, stepped in as interim Head of School.

"The board actually came to me," said Dear. "The last number of years after retiring from Merrill Lynch was all strategic planning. When I first came in I came in working on the strategic plan for the school. When the opportunity came about to take that plan and execute that it interested me to see what we can do. There were just a number of opportunities going forward."

Gerrit Kouwenhoven, chairman of the Board of Trustees at Long Trail School, said that a search process was started by forming a search committee. "When Steven became interim head a search committee was formed and we began the process by interviewing two executive search firms that were good at identifying good heads of school," said Kouwenhoven. "This helped the search committee sharpen its perspective and clarify what exactly we wanted."

However, even after looking through numerous applications, the search committee and the Board decided that they had what they needed and wanted in Dear, said Kouwenhoven.

"It really became clear to the committee that with Steven, we had all that we were looking for," he said. "He was a parent of a student, he had been a treasurer, a member and chair of the board at a time of transition, which all played a vital role in choosing him and those are moments when you need somebody to steer an even course and he did it superbly."

Dear has an extensive background in financial matters and wants to apply that expertise at Long Trail, he said.

"My first job in Manchester was director of trading for a regional (financial services) firm. Then I was actually hired as head of financial consultant training, then after I was hired by Merrill Lynch and I was hired as international training director," said Dear. "I think one of the things the board was thinking about when they asked me to come into this role was to really look at this school as an educational business and not just as an education.

One of the focuses I had early on was financial sustainability."

Kouwenhoven said that Dear's financial background played a role in deciding to keep Dear on as permanent Head of School.

"What became clear as the economy tightened up is that we really needed to master the art of living within our means," said Kouwenhoven. "We were not, in any sense, in a crisis mode, but our financial and organizational systems seemed to outlive there usefulness for a small and intimate school." That financial sustainability has some schools around Vermont worried that they might have to cut some programs as taxes continue to rise in the wake of a recession that the United States has yet to completely climb out of.

"There is so much going on that is changing," said Dear. "Recently, with Mr. (Armando) Vilaseca becoming education secretary, we are waiting to see what is going to change. I think we are all in the same place and we want to make this a better place and experience for the students."

Dear believes the formula Long Trail School has with there tight teacher-student relationships that really help students learn and grow along with the programming the school provides will keep Long Trail growing for the future.

"The devotion and commitment from our teachers is beyond amazing," he said.

One program that the Long Trail School offers is called the International Baccalaureate (IB) Program, the first in the State of Vermont, that was implemented in May of 2010. According to Long Trail's website, the IB Diploma Program is a rigorous, pre-university course of study designed for highly motivated juniors and seniors. The IB curriculum emphasizes how to learn, how to think, and how to reach considered conclusions on many issues that will face students in the future.

Currently, the IB program is only offered to juniors and seniors as recommended for the first five years of the program, however Dear said he hopes to bring the IB program down to the lower grade levels.

"I want different tracks available to the students, not just the traditional track," he said. "I want to have an entire arts track to be available to the students. For me the IB has been a critical component to challenge the kids that want it. A part of that is called the Theory of Knowledge. One of our core beliefs here is to teach the kids how to think not what to think. With the Theory of Knowledge, it is all about experiences and how to make your own decisions."

Much of what Dear wants to accomplish as Head of School along with expanding the IB program is to also expand programming for the arts and continue working on financial sustainability.

"I want the arts to grow much stronger and we actually have some major plans coming soon," said Dear. "We have some incredibly committed teachers here. I will also continue to focus on financial sustainability. We always want to be able to pay our teachers the right amount."

Added Dear, "As long as I am hear we will always have a focus on the arts. Kids who take the risk and get on stage get more self-confidence and you see that translate into better grades."

Dear acknowledged the fact that there has been a shrinking number of students in Vermont and that it could be difficult of an independent school like Long Trail to remain competitive in enrollment.

"We have watched the demographics and the number of students in Vermont been shrinking," said Dear. "Last year we had our biggest graduating class of 34 in all, we normally graduate 22 or 23. I think because of our programs we are able to keep enrollment where we want it, hopefully around the 170 to 175 range."

Founded in 1975, Long Trail School has grown from a one-room rented space serving 14 students, to a state-of-the-art, 60,000 square foot facility on 14 acres of land serving students grades 6-12 with over 50 faculty and staff members. Long Trail services students from towns in southwestern Vermont and nearby New York state, as well as worldwide.

"I have never been more excited about this school, being in this new role, seeing everything at ground zero," said Dear. "I think we are going to do great things in the next few years."


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