by Sue Ann Rybak
Germantown Academy’s board of trustees has announced the appointment of Rich Schellhas, assistant head and head of Upper School at Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, to replace James W. Connor, who has served as the school’s head for 25 years.
Schellhas, 45, who lives in Chestnut Hill, will become head-elect in July 2015, and shortly after a national search will begin to find a new head of Upper School for the 2015-2016 school year.
Judi Goodman, president of the Board of Trustees, said under Connor’s tenure the school has transformed its traditional curriculum to create a state-of-the-art 21st century educational experience.
“At no time in our history have we enjoyed a more robust curriculum, talented faculty and staff, impressive campus and, most importantly, an engaged and active student body who make our community proud by living the school’s mission each day,” said Goodman in a statement.
Connor, 65, said serving as head of the school at Germantown Academy has been “the greatest joy and privilege” of his career.
Schellhas said that under Connor’s direction the school has flourished.
“Jim inspired the board and the community to get behind his vision for Germantown Academy,” Schellhas said. “And part of that vision was giving us enough space to unfold 21st century educational opportunities.”
He added that it was a vision that included giving back six acres of its 126-acre campus to create a preserve, to restore wetlands and meadows and improve wildlife habitat.
Schellhas said Connor worked with landscape architects to transform GA’s soggy soccer fields into an educational and environmental resource.
“In addition to completely renovating the physical buildings of our school and raising enough money to do that, Jim has shifted our campus towards the amazing resource that we have in our backyard – the Wissahickon Creek,” he said.
Connor said a key component of the school mission was sustainability.
“It was a great opportunity for the school to open a whole new chapter,” Connor said. “We built a whole curriculum around it. It’s a very significant addition to our school.”
A key part of GA’s mission is to “enable students to acquire the knowledge, confidence and judgment needed to become good citizens and productive leaders in a global society.” For Connor, that mission extended beyond the walls of GA.
Connor added that to fulfill that mission, the school must live its mission statement: independent in thought, confident in expression, compassionate in spirit, collaborative in action, honorable in deed.
Schellhas said a perfect example of GA being “Collaborative in Action” was the creation of the Community Partnership School, which was established by Germantown Academy and Project H.O.M.E., a nationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to ending homelessness.
Connor said the idea behind the school is that with a top-notch education – the type delivered at Germantown Academy – inner-city children can achieve at the same level as their more affluent suburban peers.
Several graduating students have transitioned to Germantown Academy, Penn Charter, Springside Chestnut Hill and many other top-notch middle schools in the area.
Connor added that Schellhas has “already developed a legacy himself” through the development and implementation of the school’s pre-k to 12 international program, which includes faculty and student exchanges with schools in China, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom.
Schellhas, who lived and studied in Germany and Austria for three years, said that, beginning in pre-k, students are introduced to both Spanish and Mandarin. In first grade, students decide which language they want to continue to study for the next 12 years, with the goal of them becoming fluent in another language.
“For me, the international aspect of education has always been compelling,” he said. “It’s just another door that we can open for our kids.”
Schellhas explained that by allowing kids to live and study for a short period of time in another country, it “opens their cultural eyes to other parts of the world.”
Prior to coming to GA in 2009, Schellhas, who has a master’s degree in German literature, was the assistant headmaster at St. Paul ‘s School in Baltimore, an all-boys, international baccalaureate, independent day school. During his 10-year tenure at St. Paul’s, he was chair of the modern language department, pre-k through 12th grade, where he managed language development and enrollment.
Goodman explained in a statement that the board selected Schellhas, because he had “a vision for GA’s untapped potential.”
“My main goal is to make Germantown Academy a mecca for student engagement,” Schellhas said.
Connor said he was pleased with the board’s decision to select Schellhas as his successor. He added that over the next few months they will work together as a team “to ensure a smooth transition” and “continue to move the school forward strategically.”