by Clark Groome
Dr. Stephen L. Druggan, Springside Chestnut Hill Academy’s new head of school, arrived in Chestnut Hill at the beginning of July from his five years as deputy head of school for learning at the Jakarta Intercultural/International School in Indonesia.
A veteran of more than 20 years of independent school experience abroad – before Jakarta he served six years at Germany’s Munich International School, culminating in being its deputy head of school, and 10 at the American School in Milan – the 47-year old Druggan, having grown up in the tiny town of Tidioute, is happy to be back in his native Pennsylvania.
He noted in a recent interview that his new assignment “Is a great responsibility and a wonderful opportunity.”
“We have a wonderful history at Springside and Chestnut Hill Academy,” he said. “We’re starting from a position of strength. My challenge is to help the school, help us, clarify what SCH is.”
After Druggan, his wife, Pia, their sons, Killian (a freshman at Lehigh University) and Alex (an SCH senior), and their Shih Tzus Dino and Doni moved into Jennings House, the school head’s residence, he began what he calls his entry plan.
That plan is, he said, to get to know as many people involved with the school as possible. Meeting his administrative team, the faculty and staff, the trustees and as many others as he can and getting to know them as people is his first priority. As school opens this week, he says that he’s met with more than 150 people individually.
“I have to seek to understand before you can be understood,” he said. “I am learning a lot about CHA, Springside, SCH, Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia, all those circles and where we fit in them.
“What I’m learning from people is the school wants leadership and they want clarity. When we make decisions it’s not because ‘Steve likes this’ or ‘Steve doesn’t like this,’ it’s because ‘SCH stands for this.’ We stand for passion. We stand for the Jersey Stripes [that represent courage, honesty, integrity, loyalty, sportsmanship]. We stand for our dedication to the Wissahickon and the environment. Therefore we make changes appropriately.
Druggan noted that he’s aware of the complexities running a large independent school poses and how important it will be for him to be clear.
“I’ve learned in my career that the larger an organization is, the more complex, the simpler your messaging need to be – simple but not simplistic,” he said.
The people with whom he has met, he said, all “speak about the strength of education this school has been known for [throughout] its 150-plus years.”
He’s also aware of the challenges that the CHA/Springside merger caused for many over the last few years. The answer, he believes, is in looking towards the collective future.
“It has to be ‘us,’ not ‘us and ‘them,’” he said. “When schools get into challenging periods it can be ‘us and them’ faculty and parents; ‘us and them’ faculty and the board. We have to be just ‘us.’ CHA and Springside were wonderful schools or they wouldn’t have been here as long as they were [but] change is the constant we have.”
In talking about how to honor that history while forging the new school, Druggan said it had to be done “one conversation at a time.”
“I told one alumnus that it’s really important when I leave here 10 or 15 years from now that everyone feels proud to be back and show their children their memories – CHA memories, Springside memories, SCH memories,” he said. “We need to remember in this world of hyper-change it’s important to have traditions that are respectful and in line with our mission and vision, which [CHA’s] Blue and Blue [events] and [Springside’s] Blue and Gold are. Let’s celebrate that.”
The bottom line, he said, is what’s best for the students.
“When our kids leave SCH,” Druggan said, “we need to make sure they’re prepared for the next set of opportunities and challenges. We know that when people go out into life [and] have different opportunities you tend to be happy.
“We’ve learned a lot about teaching and learning since … I went to school. We need to make sure the [kids] are engaged. We need to make it real. We need to make sure they use their hands.
“We need to take advantage of the incredible resources we have right here in the Wissahickon, our incredible theater program, our singing program, our Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, our robotics program. All those things are about making learning real.
Druggan said that his experience, particularly in Asia, was enlightening. Not only did he learn a lot of new sports, he said with a smile, but that “we need to realize – our students need to realize – that they’re competing with kids that are motivated.”
He’s also very bullish about “the people who are at SCH now who have stayed with it through its challenges, through its journey – [they] really have a leg up because they know together we can do almost anything.”
“We need to make sure that everyone in the community is excited about what we’re doing,” he said. “It makes sense to them [and] that I can articulate [it] in a simple enough way that non-educators can say, ‘Hey, that does make sense.’”
Druggan says that he’s available to all who want to talk to him about the school. A parents’ night is set for Thursday, Sept. 8, at 5:30 p.m. for new parents and 6 p.m. for returning parents on the Willow Grove Campus. All alumni are invited to a reception for him on Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 7 p.m. in the Rorer Center, also on the Willow Grove Campus. He will officially be installed at a convocation on Friday, Sept.16, at 8:30 a.m. on Landreth Field.