by Clark Groome
Growing up in the tiny town of Tidioute (pronounced TIDI-ute, population 844 in 1980, 688 in 2010), Pennsylvania, helped Stephen L. Druggan, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy’s head of school-elect, learn to listen.
“I had this amazing opportunity,” Druggan said in an interview while he was at SCH for three days recently. “I worked in a hardware store. I started when I was 14. I learned from the man who owned it that when someone comes in and their hot water tank isn’t working, you really need to listen.”
It’s a skill that, he says, is very important to anyone working in education.
Druggan, 46, graduated in 1991 from Slippery Rock University with a B.S. in elementary education. He began his career as a second- and fourth-grade teacher at the Washington District (Virginia) Elementary School, where he worked for four years while pursuing a masters in curriculum and instruction at the United States International University in London.
(In 2007 he earned an Ed.D. in organizational leadership at Nova Southeastern University in Miami, Fla.)
“That first teaching job was life changing to me,” he said.
The school was in Virginia’s second poorest county. It was there, he added, “I learned the power of a teacher.”
“At that point in my life,” he said, “[I thought] ‘OK, go to graduate school, finish graduate school, go to the Peace Corps and then come back and be a principal in America.’”
But it was while he was in London that he learned about international independent schools. He went to a job fair and then, on Super Bowl Sunday 1997, got offered jobs for the following August in Milan, Istanbul and Vienna.
“I had friends in Istanbul and Vienna,” he said, “but for some reason I took Milan.” He moved there and met his wife.
After eight years at the American School in Milan, he moved to the Munich International School, where he was from 2005-2011 when he became deputy head for learning at Indonesia’s Jakarta Intercultural/International School.
His original plan was to stay there at least until 2017 when his younger son, Alec, will graduate from Jakarta International and then come to the United States for college. His older son, Kilian, is currently a senior at Jakarta and he, too, plans on college in the U.S.
When the consultants approached him about the opening at SCH, he said he wasn’t looking for a job.
“Nevertheless I looked at SCH and read about it and it was like,” he said, thinking ”‘That’s unique.’ I thought the single gender piece (pre-K to eighth grade) was very important in the world today. I definitely see the need for that. The media is pushing stereotypes down kids’ throats. For them to be themselves is hard.”
He said that the school’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership was also a draw. The blend of history and tradition and “using that for a bright future” was very attractive to Druggan.
“I love history and I love the future,” he said. “SCH blended the history that I love with the clarity we need to change to be successful in the future.”
SCH Trustee Patrick Lindsay, co-chairman with Mims Maynard Zabriskie, of the head search committee, said that they were attracted to Druggan because “This guy loves kids, he has fearlessness, he’s a solid educator.”
“He has a quiet presence,” Lindsay noted. “He has a diverse background. He’s not uni-dimensional. He stood out from the first time we interacted with him.”
“He seems like the kind of person who will be an excellent community builder,” Zabriskie said. “He has done that in his previous schools.”
“SCH has an incredible opportunity, Druggan said, “It has come through [a] challenging time. It will come out of that. Then it needs clarity. My track record is in very complex places. Jakarta is 2,500 kids on four campuses that had a very similar time in its history like SCH went through.
“So the ability to bring a community together, to instill clarity and to plan effectively to deliver on that clarity while continuing to focus on what else can we do to achieve our mission and vision [is what I bring to the school].”
“We were also looking for someone who is interested in excellent academics,” Zabriskie noted, “someone of of the highest integrity and a visionary leader. He exhibited all those characteristics.”
Several members of the search committee, and many who met him when he was in Chestnut Hill for his first visit in September, said that he was their first choice. Among his characteristics was, many said, “he listens.”
And that brings him full circle from his job at the hardware store to his leadership in schools abroad and his new role at SCH, which begins July 1, 2016.
“What we all have to do in life is take what we have learned in one situation and transfer it to the next situation, which is going to be different,” Druggan said. “That’s what I need to do here. It means I need to really listen, to respect what’s come before but not be afraid to distill and work together to chart the future.”