by Clark Groome
As Springside Chestnut Hill Academy begins the 2015-2016 academic year, Mark W. Segar. Ed.D., its interim head, says he’s looking forward to his one-year assignment because now is “a tremendously exciting moment to be part of [SCH].”
Segar, 67, is a native New Englander and, forgivably, a Boston sports fan, who grew up going to independent schools and has spent the last three decades leading, first, The Common School in Amherst, Mass., from 1983 to 1994, and then, from 1994 to 2013, serving as head of school at the Waynflete School in Portland, Maine.
After retiring from Waynflete, he was offered a one-year interim position at Falmouth Academy in Falmouth, Mass. That was followed by a year as the interim executive director of the Learning Prep School in Newton, Mass.
And now he comes to Chestnut Hill to serve as the transition between Priscilla Sands, who left SCH to become head of the Marlborough School in California at the end of June, and the institution’s hiring of a new full-time head of school who’ll start July 1, 2016.
The son of an independent school teacher, Segar spent his high school years at the Loomis School (now Loomis Chaffee) in Windsor, Conn. His undergraduate years were at Harvard, where he earned an A.B. in English cum laude in 1970.
He originally planned to teach Irish Literature at the post-secondary level, “but the social-political upheavals of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s came along and I found myself very involved in that,” he said in a recent interview in the Headmaster’s Office at SCH.
During the mid to late 1970s, he said, “I got involved in public policy work and advocacy first.
“I had some experience having grown up in a modest household in terms of being the son of teachers but [being part of] very privileged educational settings. Coming to terms with issues of race and class for the first time as a young adult was very powerful for me.”
After several years working on public policy, including two as a special assistant to the governor of New Hampshire, he entered the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where he received his doctor of education degree in educational policy studies in 1982.
In Amherst there was a small, experimental, progressive elementary school at the edge of the Amherst College campus that was looking for a director just as his time working for the governor of New Hampshire was ending.
He took the job, saying, “Not having had a traditional career as a teacher or division head or something like that [made this] a tremendous opportunity for me. In a small place (there were fewer kids in that school then there are employees at SCH) there is no administrative team, so I was the admission director, the development director, playing a lot of different roles and getting a lot of firsthand experience in all aspects of school administration.”
After his 11 years there and his 19 at Waynflete he was planning to retire when he was offered the interim job at Falmouth. That seemed like a good idea, so he signed on, did so at Learning Prep the next year and at SCH for this year.
Interim heads are relatively new to independent schools. Historically the outgoing head has stayed in place until the new head comes on board or, alternatively, a senior faculty member steps in when the previous head, for whatever the reason, leaves.
With increasing frequency, however, schools want to have the year between one head and the next as a true transition.
“You’re stepping onto a moving train,” Segar said, “and a few stops down the line you’re going to step off and someone else will step on.”
Transitions, like change in general, can be, he said, “A vulnerable moment for great institutions. Taking stewardship responsibility really seriously through a transitional time feels like important work to me.” It’s a time that needs “continuing forward progress and a sense of reassurance that even though there’s a disruptive change in leadership there can be continuity of experience for children.”
Segar’s enthusiastic about being at SCH.
“It’s at a very exciting developmental point institutionally,” he said. “The commitment of building of a single, unified culture at a place where there are deep roots in the two founding schools – and these roots are very deep – has been made and the work has begun. Becoming a single entity draws on its past but forges a unified future.
“Another really interesting thing in which the school is in the forefront is figuring out what’s the balance to strike between single sex education and coeducation.”
SCH is single sex pre-kindergarten through 8th grade and coeducational in the upper school.
Segar noted that this year’s senior class will be the first co-ed graduating class. For him the timing of coming to SCH was a major attraction.
In a meeting he had with students after accepting SCH’s call, “I said to them, and heard from them, [that] it’s going to be really interesting for students and teachers to work together with other constituencies of the school – families and alumni – to build that future.”
“It’s a particularly interesting moment,” he said.
He noted that for many people, himself included, the most formative classroom experiences came in primary and secondary schools. Part of that, particularly in independent schools, is because of the relatively small classroom size.
“I believe that schools are essentially relational enterprises,” he said. “It was in the closeness of relationships that I found the most power as opposed to being in a big lecture hall with a sage on stage.”
As for his year ahead, Segar said, “The trustees have been very clear that they do not want this to be a seat-warming interval – the school needs to continue to move forward. At the same time it’s important that the posture that I strike as head is respectful. I’m joining a moving enterprise and have no intention to rework the premise or the structure of the school.
“Leading change is really interesting and challenging work and it’s human nature to be resistant to change. Part of what I hope to do is get a sense if the number of things that are changing at once is too shallow or too heavy.”
He said that his job is not to diminish the identity of the two founding institutions but to consolidate the identity of the new institution.
Segar is married to Susan Metters, a retired public school counselor and social worker. He has two sons and two grandchildren.
He concluded by saying, “I love working together with faculty and staff and families and children and adolescents. It’s a tremendous privilege to have this kind of career and the opportunity to continue to be helpful is a great honor.”