Head of School Search

Jon Kidder: A Statement of Educational Philosophy

Humans are naturally curious creatures who learn best when given the opportunity to explore questions relevant to themselves and their communities. From this vantage point, our primary goal as educators should be to transform our classrooms from places where teachers offer “Here is what you need to know” to hubs of curiosity where students ask “How can I apply what I’ve learned?”

Our world is full of modern challenges—global infectious diseases, climate change, extremist terrorism, and economic instability to name a few. Through unprecedented access to technology-driven information, students can explore these issues in ways unimaginable only a decade ago. A quality educational experience capitalizes on this connection and offers students the opportunity to engage meaningfully with issues at the heart of the human experience. The competing pressures to rapidly cover material and test for broad content leaves little room for the kind of learning that can motivate students to want to acquire—or better yet—be inspired to master the background knowledge and critical thinking skills necessary to solve the problems which face our society.

Throughout my career, I have been lucky to see first-hand what vibrant learning looks like across the PK-12 spectrum. As an educator, I am continually renewed when faculty, students, and parents work together to galvanize a community of scholars—where learning becomes infectious and we can focus on the relentless pursuit of a set of core goals. This passion for collaborative, inquiry-based learning began early in my post-baccalaureate years, when I helped lead a National Science Foundation-sponsored group of 4th through 6th grade students on a service learning project to investigate pollutants in the well water of their hometown. Together, we composed and submitted a culminating report on their findings to the Massachusetts EPA. These 10 through 12 year-olds rolled up their sleeves and learned science, mathematical graphing, and editorial writing skills far beyond their years because they cared about an important issue and learned the requisite skills by necessity and will. I then co-founded the Skills Enrichment High School Program, a free summer school designed to empower low-income students in Pasadena. Departing from traditional, remedial curriculum, I led my colleagues in designing engaging courses based on social justice themes: Global Human Rights, the Literature of Personal Memoir, and United States Foreign Policy. Running this program for a dozen years crystallized my long-standing commitment to diversity and social justice, and the idea that educators can do more to make the resources of independent schools available to all children.

A few years ago at the Drew School, I was fortunate enough to lead a faculty process to completely revitalize the student Senior Project experience to serve as a year-long capstone involving research, writing, public service, website creation/blogging, and presentation skills. By the end of this two-year redesign process, student senior projects ranged from internships at tech companies, to creating tutoring programs for at risk youth, to hands-on science experiments measuring the water quality of the San Francisco Bay. Whether explored through a senior project, summer experience, or school year internship, Barrie’s location just north of Washington D.C. presents nearly endless possibilities for high school student engagement with government agencies, NGO’s, and whatever else inspires their intellectual development. Magic can happen both in and out of the classroom—and this magic is an opportunity for a school whose mission is to transform lives. In addition, the ability to utilize the experiential classroom of the great D.C. area may create options for Barrie to expand its high school offerings within the financial confines of its current program.

In my present role as Head of School at Park Day, I endeavor to enhance K-8 academic excellence through hands-on investigations that push students to understand the relevance of what they are learning. This year, I collaborated with the faculty to build and launch an Innovation Workshop, which blends inquiry-based, maker oriented teaching methods within an engaging STEM curriculum. The initiative reflects my core belief that strategic, in-depth investigations can improve students’ information retention and enhance the development of critical thinking. This “less is more” approach, balancing content depth with breadth, is based on the idea that knowledge is best retained as a natural consequence of sustained engagement in relevant issues. Here, the role of the educator shifts from dispensing information to serving as a guide who asks tough questions, challenges students to think beyond easy answers, and helps them synthesize connections.

I understand this type of educational model takes serious work, significant time for teachers to collaborate, and an appreciation that the student-centered, community oriented approach can be a little messy. However, this endeavor can achieve three important goals for a school. First, it can assist in recruiting and sustaining a faculty of high-quality educational entrepreneurs. Second, it can help an institution develop a unique niche of engaging curriculum and teaching practices that attract a larger admissions pool. Third, and most importantly, it can lead to a long-term impact on generations of students who venture forth equipped with the tools to embrace the challenges of the future. This is all made possible by a school’s commitment to engage its students in a broader world and to allocate resources and time to cultivate teacher professional development and collaboration.

February 9, 2017

Dear Barrie Community,

It is our pleasure to announce that on Monday, February 6, the Board of Trustees unanimously elected Jonathan Kidder, Ed.D. as the new Head of Barrie School effective July 1, 2017. We want to thank you – parents, students, faculty, staff, alumni, administrators and trustees – for sharing your time, insight and perspectives during the extensive national search process. Your involvement helped to develop a clear picture of what we value now about Barrie, and what we hope Barrie’s future will look like.

Jon brings a remarkable breadth of experience to the Head of School position, including 20 years designing and implementing innovative, progressive curricula at leading independent schools. At Park Day School, where Jon served as Head of School since 2013, he successfully enhanced retention and admissions, grew marketing, collaborated on a multi-tiered model for financial sustainability, nurtured the faculty’s professional growth, and thoughtfully guided the community through a period of leadership transition after the unexpected passing of its long-time Head.

Jon is deeply passionate about education and the transformative power of schools in the lives of children. He began his career at the Polytechnic School (his alma mater), where he co-directed the Skills Enrichment High School Program, a high school summer bridge program for first generation college-bound youth. He also served as a middle school teacher in history and mathematics, coached athletics, ran the Writers’ Center, and directed the Outdoor Education Program. Jon went on to serve as the Assistant Head of the Pilgrim School in Los Angeles and as the Assistant Head at the Drew School in San Francisco. Jon holds a Bachelor's Degree in American Studies from Hampshire College and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from UCLA. His wife, Dr. May Hu, served as Executive Director of the University of California Press Foundation until taking on the recent work of full-time motherhood. Together they enjoy two beautiful sons – Reid (4) and Arden (nearly 1). Jon and May are thrilled to be returning to life on the East Coast, and they look forward to joining the ranks of Barrie parents as Reid and Arden begin classes this Fall.

The Search Committee, assisted by the help of an outside head search consulting firm (RG 175), reviewed a talented pool of candidates after a thorough nation-wide search and interviewed 7 semi-finalist candidates before selecting three candidates for site visits. Following the three site visits, the Search committee carefully reviewed and considered every evaluation form and individual message we received. The Board of Trustees extend their deepest gratitude to our Trustees who served on the Search Committee for their time and thoughtful deliberations: Immediate Board Past Chair Kevin Creamer, Glenn Horenberg, Mariam Mokhtarzada, Bob Roberts, Board Chair Janet Rutledge, Heller An Shapiro, and Daniel Woubishet.

We especially want to thank the members of the Faculty Advisory Committee: Cathy Carpenter, Dorothy Castelino, Beryl Chafin, David Dulaney, Alicia Enright, Shawna Johnson, Paul Leistra, David Weiner, and Maati Wafford. And the members of the Parent Advisory Committee: Dusty Adair, Julie Belgard, Anton Dormer, Bikem Ozturk, Ana Palla-Kane, Janice Pliner, Theresa Taylor, and Theresa Valois.

Head of School-elect Jon will meet members of the Barrie community on campus this spring and details about this visit will be announced soon. We look forward to working with you as we move into the transition phase, which will provide an orientation process and additional opportunities to meet with the new Head of School.

Charlie Abelmann is working with us to ensure a smooth transition. The Board of Trustees thanks Charlie for his leadership and all that he has accomplished during his seven-year tenure as Head of School. Several farewell activities are planned to celebrate Charlie’s invaluable impact on Barrie.

In closing, we want to add how much we look forward to welcoming Jon and his family to Barrie. From our first meeting with him, it was clear that he is deeply committed to the value of progressive education to empower students to engage in deep learning, develop character, and make a positive impact in a changing world. Nothing could be more needed in our world or more resonant with our mission at Barrie.


Janet C. Rutledge
Chair, Board of Trustees

Heller An Shapiro
Trustee, Search Committee Chair

Jon Kidder, May Hu, and their sons Reid and Arden.

Sept. 20, 2016 Announcement Regarding the Head of School

To the Barrie Community,

I plan to leave Barrie next June, at the end of this school year. After seven great years, I’ll leave to pursue new professional opportunities and goals. For the remainder of this school year, I’ll continue to work with our amazing teachers and staff to make Barrie the best that it can be.

When I joined the school, I committed to helping Barrie benefit from sustained leadership. I believe that stability and growth are now well established. We have a great team in place and a well-defined, stimulating and exciting academic program. During my tenure we expanded to include students starting as young as 18 months and students who come from around the world.

This announcement is part of a timeline designed by the Board of Trustees and me to ensure a smooth transition, as it will allow the search process for the next Head of School to begin immediately. With recently renewed accreditations for Camp, the Institute and the School, and greatly improved facilities, including new award winning buildings, the turf field, a greenhouse and playgrounds, Barrie is well positioned to welcome a new leader. I look forward to working with the Board and with our new Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) to make this another great school year, and to prepare for the years ahead.

Barrie is a great place to work and learn. We have incorporated technology into our classrooms to be as present as a pen or pencil. Our prep students engage in project based learning in significant ways that make learning relevant. We host an annual conference for hundreds of educators as a center of excellence in Montessori. I am excited that the Institute will offer a new credential program for future leaders of Montessori schools.

We have valuable partnerships with schools and organizations close by and in other countries. We are a part of the Future of Information Alliance and help bring student voices to important discussions and debates. We created a program for interns and fellows to begin a career path as teachers and administrators while contributing to Barrie.

It is a privilege to lead Barrie and work in such a special place. I feel fortunate to have called Barrie my home and appreciate the support this community has shown toward me and my family. My sons benefited from Barrie Camp and I have learned from great colleagues and families. I know I will miss many parts of Barrie as I transition to new professional opportunities. Fortunately, I don't need to say good bye yet as we have a full year of school to enjoy.

With deep appreciation to you all,

Charlie Abelmann
Head of Barrie

Dear Barrie Community,

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to thank Charlie for his visionary, thoughtful and inspiring leadership over the past six years.

We have been fortunate to have him as our Head of School, and are particularly grateful for the strong staff teams he has put in place: a lower school faculty dedicated to Montessori principles, an upper school faculty dedicated to project based learning, and an administrative staff that supports Barrie’s growth. Charlie has helped celebrate Barrie as an extraordinary environment for learning by building stronger academic programs and taking advantage of the many ways our campus can support creative learning. Under his leadership, we have constructed award-winning buildings and a new turf field while making our existing barn a learning resource for all our students. We have expanded performing arts opportunities, incorporated mindfulness practices into our curriculum, and developed a strong program for teaching fellows and interns. We have also enhanced our position in the greater community by hosting conferences and connecting the school to local and global partnerships. A leader in progressive education, Charlie advocated for staff learning, taught exciting classes, led an international ESW (Extended Study Week) and fostered new connections to benefit students and campers. I’m certain we will all continue to be inspired by his passion for teaching and learning and organizational development. Our previous Head of School search ended successfully when Charlie came on board, and we are committed to finding another outstanding educational leader who will lead Barrie into the future.

The search for our next Head of School will begin immediately. I am grateful to the following Trustees who volunteered to work with me on the Search Committee: Committee Chair Heller An Shapiro, Kevin Creamer, Glenn Horenberg, Mariam Mokhtarzada, Bob Roberts, and Daniel Woubishet. In addition to the Search Committee, we will be seeking volunteers to serve on key staff and parent advisory committees that will interview finalist candidates and provide valuable feedback to the Search Committee. Students will also meet with candidates and share their input.

A subcommittee of the Search Committee researched and interviewed independent school search consulting firms and selected Resource Group 175 (RG175) to provide counsel to the Committee throughout the process. RG175’s senior consultants Linda Gibbs and Tom Olverson will be working closely with the Search Committee throughout the process to help the school identify a talented pool of candidates from which the school can choose a successor to Charlie.

We’re looking forward to having Linda and Tom on campus October 5-7, 2016 to interview staff, administrators, trustees, parents and other key members of the Barrie community in order to understand the program, aspirations and culture that define Barrie. Their findings will be incorporated into a position statement identifying the skills and abilities needed to lead us through this next phase of our growth.

Opportunities to participate in staff and parent open meetings with Linda and Tom during their October 5-7, 2016 visit will be made available to you in the coming days. We look forward to hearing from each of you.

Heller An and I will keep you informed throughout the search process. After ensuring that the mission of the school is being maintained, selecting a new head of school is the most important function of a board of trustees. Please know that we take this work seriously and are determined to find an outstanding educational leader who will help Barrie become the very best it can be.


Janet Rutledge
Chair, Board of Trustees