Head of School Search

Head of School Search

Letter from Head of School

August 22, 2022

I love my job. I love the joy and success of our students, the warmth and engagement of our parents, and the talent, dedication, and camaraderie of our faculty, staff, and trustees. Working together over the last decade, we have transformed not only the lives of our students, but also that of our School. This work has been rich and full of meaning.

But now, confident that McLean’s foundation is stable and its future bright, I wanted to share with you my decision to retire from school headship at the end of this school year. This is the right time–for me and for McLean. I am ready to find my next calling, secure in the knowledge that this is an opportune moment for McLean to enrich its future with fresh leadership and vision.

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The path has not always been easy for McLean. Although programmatically strong from the start, by the time I joined in 2013 we had lost one-third of our enrollment in the wake of the Great Recession, and the School’s future was no longer assured. Since then, we have come together to achieve a set of ambitious goals set out by the Board of Trustees. Our beautiful, expanded building is full, our program is richer than ever, our philanthropic base is strong, and our teachers are delivering in still new ways on our core mission of a transformative education. Most of all, our students are thriving.

I am deeply grateful to the capable teachers, staff, administrators, and trustees who have been close partners throughout my tenure, and for the leadership of four talented Board Chairs: Eric Greenberg (Remy ’14), who hired me, and partnered on course corrections during a precarious period, Stephen Anthony (Caroline ’21) who steadied that course and oversaw our building expansion, Dr. Valaida Wise whose wisdom and commitment to good governance and inclusive community further fortified the Board, and now Jim Cigliano (Ben ’23), whose passion and insight have been instrumental in our progress since he walked into my office six years ago, volunteering to be of service.

Our success has also depended on the partnership and support of so many parents, alumni, grandparents, and other friends of the School, including trustees without prior connection to McLean, who continue to offer their deep and diverse expertise because they believe in what we do.

This was a difficult decision for me personally. Still, I know the time is right. It has been an honor and a privilege–and the highlight of my career–to serve McLean, a school that discovers and models education as it should be, in all of its dimensions.

Meanwhile, we have a rich year before us as we wrap up our strategic planning initiative and the Board conducts a nationwide search for my successor. I am grateful to Eric Greenberg for agreeing to lead the Search Committee. Anticipating that my successor will join the school in July 2024, the Board has appointed my tremendously capable colleagues, Jeff Berman and Melissa Gray Hughes, to serve as Co-Interim Heads of School for the 2023-2024 school year. Melissa and Jeff’s broad talent, their deep understanding of the school, our students and our mission, and their long tenure collaborating with me and with our trustees ensures that our course will continue as they serve as a bridge to McLean’s next chapter.

With confidence in our future, love for our school and students, and tremendous gratitude for your friendship, faith, and support,

Michael Saxenian
Head of School

Letter from Chair, Board of Trustees

August 22, 2022

As you will have read in Mike’s letter, he has told the Board of Trustees that this will be his last year as Head of School. With gratitude for his service, the Board has reluctantly accepted Mike’s retirement after this coming school year.

Mike will leave McLean a stronger institution, a more diverse and vibrant community, and a school that continues to enrich its program even as it remains singularly focused on a mission to transform lives. Even this remarkable list understates what McLean has accomplished on Mike’s watch:

  • Put our Students and our Teachers first, delivering the highest quality individualized instruction that is truly transformative for McLean’s wonderfully talented students
  • Built exceptional leadership and faculty teams, and a culture of collaboration
  • Sustained McLean’s small class sizes that enable individualized instruction
  • Defined, refined, communicated, and delivered the Abilities Model®
  • Developed nationally-recognized programming in mindfulness
  • Grew enrollment responsibly to full capacity
  • Fostered and strengthened McLean’s very special culture of support and inclusivity
  • Established a culture of philanthropy and successfully completed McLean’s first capital campaign
  • Shepherded the expansion and transformation of our campus so that its richness and architectural beauty mirrors our educational program
  • Proactively navigated the pandemic and implemented policies before and beyond most other schools to maintain its mission while keeping the community safe and healthy
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These accomplishments make it hard to imagine McLean without Mike. But as our ongoing strategic planning reminds us, this rich community is bigger than the sum of its parts. Inspired by both what we have accomplished and by McLean’s next chapter, our Board of Trustees has begun to look to the year ahead and beyond.

At the outset, I want to affirm and emphasize the seriousness and sense of stewardship that Mike and the Board bring to their responsibility for ensuring McLean provides the very best student experience every single day. Mike is fully engaged, and will remain so throughout this entire school year. It is going to be a great year, marked by McLean’s foundational strength and continued momentum.

Looking ahead, let me describe our timing, our plans for Mike’s transition, and for conducting a thorough, transparent, and far-reaching search.

First: In order to find the best candidates and provide ample time for a smooth transition, the Board has decided to target July 1, 2024 as the start date for the new Head of School. This timeline will ensure that our timing captures the availability of the very best candidates, taking into consideration their likely need to transition from current roles. This approach will put McLean at the leading edge of an often competitive process to engage the finest talent.

Second: In the 2023-2024 school year, between Mike’s retirement on June 30, 2023, and the expected start of our new Head of School on July 1, 2024, the Board of Trustees has unanimously selected two of our Assistant Heads of School, Melissa Gray-Hughes and Jeff Berman, to together serve as Co-Interim Heads of School.

Melissa and Jeff have our total and complete confidence. They are trusted thought partners and advisors for Mike, crucial leaders of the school’s operations, and important contributors to the school’s growth and success. For years they have worked closely with our Board. McLean is fortunate to have two such strong, long-time leaders who are so deeply committed and connected to McLean’s mission, and who are so well positioned to maintain its momentum.

Third: We will commence the search to find the very best leader for McLean. Given McLean’s many unique strengths, we are confident that we will attract the best candidates. To do that we will:

  • Conduct a national and international search;
  • Work to ensure a broad diversity of candidates; and
  • Facilitate an inclusive process that ensures, from beginning to end, the critical input of the many and diverse members making up the McLean Community, including you, our families.

To accomplish these goals, the Board has formed an inclusive, diverse, and representative Search Committee with key representation from parents, faculty, alumni, administration, and the board. The members of the Search Committee, and further discussion of its role and our search process, will follow later this week.

The Search Committee will be led by Eric Greenberg, father of Remy Greenberg (Class of ’14) and uncle of current McLean 8th Grader, Kat Greenberg. Eric chaired the Board of Trustees from 2012-2016, and is one of McLean’s most loyal, long-running, and experienced volunteer leaders. He has an outstanding track record of helping McLean recruit some of its best leaders, including Mike, Melissa Gray-Hughes, Jeff Berman, and two prior board chairs Dr. Val Wise and Stephen Anthony. But Eric’s real superpower is his ability to thoughtfully and authentically listen, connect, and bring the community together in a shared vision.

To assist, guide, and advise the Search Committee, we have engaged the leading executive search consulting firm for independent schools. The Board thoroughly reviewed and met with the top search firms in the K-12 independent school space, including meeting with each of the finalists in person, allowing for in-depth conversations that each lasted over two hours. From this evaluation, we unanimously selected Carney, Sandoe & Associates (CS&A), based on the strength of the firm in our areas of need: 1) conducting a thorough and organized search process; 2) generating–and helping us expertly evaluate–a robust and diverse pool of the best candidates; and 3) ensuring an inclusive process that brings together and draws upon the wisdom and diverse experiences of the McLean Community. Having now met with our two lead consultants from CS&A, Heather Flewelling and Skip Kotkins, extensively, and having consulted many references for each of them, we have tremendous confidence in their commitment, capabilities, and global reach. (You will find background information about Heather and Skip at the end of this note.)

As members of the McLean community, there will be multiple opportunities for you to engage in the search process and provide your input. Heather and Skip will be visiting McLean shortly after the opening-of-school activities settle down, to meet with as many members of the McLean Community as possible. For those unable to attend in person, there will be an online survey as well as a dedicated email address for communication related to the search. Please watch for information about when and where there will be community forums with the Search Consultants. Members of the school community will also later have another critical opportunity to be involved, by meeting finalist candidates and sharing their impressions with the Search Committee.

I and the Board would like to thank you in advance for your participation in this process. To ensure that our community can remain engaged, and that our process is transparent, we will be regularly communicating with you. If you wish to contact the Search Committee, you can do so at HeadOfSchoolSearch@mcleanschool.org.

This is a moment that is bitter-sweet. The remarkable extent of Mike’s accomplishments is mirrored by our reluctance to see him retire. But this moment also marks the opportunity to build upon those accomplishments and move forward into yet another great chapter. Our next Head may be unknown, but our future is solid, our mission unchanged, and our Board’s and Search Committee’s commitment is unwavering. It is a commitment to all of you–and to all who will be joining McLean in the years ahead.

Sincerely yours,

Jim Cigliano
Chair, McLean School Board of Trustees

About our Search Consultants
Heather Flewelling, Chief Talent Officer at Carney Sandoe & Associates, will join Skip on the search team. For over 30 years, Heather has been a national leader in advancing issues related to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging among schools and universities. In Heather’s role as Chief Talent Officer, she works with CS&A to identify new pathways to increase the pools of traditionally underrepresented candidates and support schools and candidates to better reach their goals of diversifying their leadership. Her work builds equitable, inclusive, diverse, growth-oriented programs, schools, and communities with a particular expertise in navigating complex K-12 schools.

Skip Kotkins is entering his 10th year working with Carney Sandoe & Associates. He has led many dozens of Head of School Searches, and also assists schools in creating strategic plans, and in board development. He has had the pleasure of working on Head searches with a number of schools serving neurodiverse populations such as the McLean student body, and just completed a strategic plan for a similar school in New England. Skip is no stranger to McLean: he worked with Mike Saxenian when Mike and Skip were on the NAIS Board together, and he assisted McLean in the recent search that brought Chip Miller to our Upper School. Skip comes from the board side of schools and his understanding of the many non-academic school head responsibilities is a great pairing with Heather’s career serving students in schools.

Members of the McLean Community can contact the Search Committee with any questions or recommendations at this email address: HeadOfSchoolSearch@mcleanschool.org.
As the search progresses, please refer to this page for updated
communications and information.