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Update October 3, 2022

Head of School Profile Announcement

Head of School Profile Presentation

A Message from St. Martin's Board of Trustees

 

Dear St. Martin’s community,

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I am pleased to announce the selection of Whitney Samuel Drennan as our next Head of School. A St. Martin’s alumna, Whitney is a skilled administrator, a charismatic leader, and a collaborative community builder. After a comprehensive, thorough, and deliberate national search process, including input from every constituency in our community, the Board of Trustees enthusiastically voted for Whitney’s appointment. While she will officially begin her tenure as St. Martin’s next Head of School on July 1, 2023, she will begin her transition, working with the Board and senior leadership, early in the new year.

For Whitney, joining our community as the next Head of School is coming home. As many of you know, Whitney is a Metairie native, who attended St. Martin’s from 8th grade through graduation, as a proud member of the Class of 1994. While at StM, Whitney was an athlete, a member of the National Honor Society, and Vice President of her senior class. After graduation, Whitney continued her education at Vanderbilt University, graduating Cum Laude, with a degree in Early Childhood Education. She then returned home earning a Master of Education with a focus on Curriculum and Instruction from the University of New Orleans. While pursuing her Master’s degree, Whitney began her independent school career as a Kindergarten teacher at the Louise S. McGehee school in New Orleans. During her four years in that role, she was instrumental in curriculum development and implementation in the Lower School.

Eager to take on more responsibility, Whitney became the Assistant Head of the Lower School at McGehee, a role in which she not only continued to oversee curriculum and instruction, but also assisted with the day-to-day operations of the division. While Assistant Head, Whitney was part of the administrative team who, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, relocated to Houston working from the campus of the Kinkaid School, to support McGehee families and develop and implement a reopening plan for McGehee School. She also spearheaded the development and implementation of an enrichment program for Lower School students who were performing above grade level.

In 2007, Whitney was promoted to Head of the Lower School. In this capacity, she was responsible for all operations of the Lower School, including, not only curriculum, but also scheduling, student retention initiatives, faculty professional development, managing the budget for the entire division and supporting the admission office. She has served as a member of McGehee’s Crisis Management Team, Faculty Evaluation and Growth Committee as well as their Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Task Force. Most recently, Whitney was given additional responsibility as Director of Strategic Initiatives. Her responsibilities include supervising and mentoring both the Upper School Head and Middle School Head, participating in the strategic planning process and bolstering family engagement. During her tenure, McGehee’s lower school experienced substantial enrollment growth. As one member of the community said “Whitney has put together a fabulous lower school academic program as evidenced by a lower school that is bursting at the seams!”

While a consummate academic, dedicated to forward thinking pedagogical practices and ongoing support of faculty professional development, what has most endeared Whitney to her McGehee colleagues during her more than twenty year career, is her abounding curiosity, her eagerness to work collaboratively and her unflappable optimism. To the families of McGehee she is known for her “joie de vivre” and her abiding commitment to the community she serves. A former Board member and current parent described her as “smart, adept, poised and professional-extraordinary” and shared, “She knows every child by name and knows their family stories. No one at McGehee is more professional or respected.” When asked about Whitney, her current Head of School said, "I quickly identified Whitney as a key member of my administrative team. Whitney is a well-regarded strong leader, decisive, a key team player. Whitney is the person that many people will seek out when they don’t know where to go or don’t want to speak to the person responsible. She is a good listener and defuses situations, but she also directs the person to the right place."

In selecting Whitney, St. Martin’s has chosen a visionary educator, an outstanding communicator, and a beloved colleague and community member. Her familiarity with both our school, and the broader New Orleans independent school community, will bolster her ability to quickly and effectively engage and advance the strategic priorities set forth by the Board, specifically, enrollment, advancement, ongoing academic excellence and the recruitment and retention of top tier faculty and staff. Though brief, her time on campus inspired confidence in many. One member of the StM community shared “her background in managing strategic initiatives is essential as we look toward the future to address the critical issues impacting StM (enrollment, facilities, budgeting, branding). She demonstrates the skills and experience necessary to articulate a vision and strategically move towards making that vision a reality.”

Another community member noted that she showed “a real understanding of the New Orleans private school landscape and St. Martin's place in it. She seemed to grasp the importance of marketing the great things happening at our school - from academic programs to extracurriculars - to the wider community.”

Throughout this process we received feedback from many of you. It is clear to us that our community is dedicated, not only to safeguard, but also to advance the mission, the vision and the culture of the school that we all know and love. As we got to know Whitney during the search process it became clear to us that with her warm, nurturing nature and her determination to ensure that every child has what they need to succeed, Whitney will do the same. It is clear she has the requisite skills, experience and expertise to succeed, and that she will eagerly and passionately embrace both the joys and the challenges of being St. Martin’s next Head of School. Throughout our conversations with her during the process we learned that Whitney remains an avid tennis player, and enjoys traveling. Most weekends however, you’ll find her, with her husband, along the sidelines at one of her son’s many sporting events.

The Board would like to thank our partners at The Education Group, who supported the nine members of the Search Committee as they conducted an in-depth, thoughtful and inclusive search process which yielded a robust pool of candidates from around the country. We would also like to thank Ford J. Dieth, Jr., for his willingness to step in, as our Interim Head of School, when the need arose.

Finally, we wish to express our gratitude to the members of the StM community-faculty, staff, parents, students and alumni- who completed surveys, participated in interviews and who offered input that informed Whitney’s selection as our next Head of School. The somewhat unusual circumstances of this search elicited, at times, strong feelings that we understand were rooted in an unyielding loyalty to, and deep affection for, this very special school. We are gratified by your engagement in the process and are optimistic that, under Whitney’s leadership, and with your support, St. Martin’s is poised to begin a dynamic new chapter in the life of our school.

Because Whitney lives locally, over the coming months we hope to provide opportunities for her to begin to be reacquainted with both the people and the place that make StM so special. Until then, please join us in warmly welcoming her back to our community.

Sincerely,

Mr. Michael F. Nicoladis ‘78, P‘23, P‘26,

Chair, Board of Trustees

St. Martin’s Episcopal School


 

Click here for more information about the Head of School Search


Whitney Samuel Drennan

Whitney is a graduate of St. Martin’s and knows New Orleans' independent schools well. In fact, she attended both Metairie Park Country Day and St. Martin’s, and her entire teaching and administrative career has been at McGehee School.

After attending and graduating from St. Martin’s, Whitney attended Vanderbilt University where she earned her Bachelor’s degree, Cum Laude, in Early Childhood Education and Special Education Hearing Impairment. She began teaching kindergarten, became Assistant Head of Lower School and Coordinator of Pre-K and Kindergarten, and subsequently Head of Lower School. She earned her Master’s of Education from the University of New Orleans.

Whitney currently serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives and Lower School Head at McGehee.

Ford Jones Dieth, Jr. 

Ford has many connections to and a deep appreciation for St. Martin’s. As an alumnus, son of a former faculty member, teacher, lower school head, assistant head, and now interim head of school, there are few facets of St. Martin’s with which Ford has not had exposure.

A graduate of Shenandoah University with a Bachelor of Science in Arts Management, Ford earned his Master’s of Education in Special Education from the University of New Orleans.

Ford has also taught and coached at Christian Brothers School, Holy Rosary Academy, Haynes Middle School, and Grafton School. 

Dr. John Butler

John's entire twenty-six year career in education has been at Marine Military Academy in Harlingen, Texas. John has held virtually every important administrative position other than Head of School. He currently serves as Provost, Director of Admissions, and Chief Financial Officer (CFO).

John is praised for his financial acumen, success in significantly improving student retention, and student recruitment efforts, including increasing enrollment.

John earned his doctoral degree from the University of Houston, a Master of Education from the University of Texas at Brownsville, a Master of Business Administration from the University of Texas at Edinburg, and his Bachelor of Science from Texas A&M University.


Dear St. Martin’s community members,

As we approach the end of the search for our next Head of School the Board has been reflecting on the process, and the next era in the life of our school. One of St. Martin's greatest strengths has always been our strong sense of community and the way in which a diverse group of individuals is able to coalesce around shared values and commitment to our school’s core principles. Grounded in the Episcopal tradition, our community has consistently modeled and valued graciousness, generosity, and humility. Our values are the foundation of our commitment to intentionally foster an environment where all community members are affirmed in belonging. Even as the leadership of the school, both at the Board, and administrative level, changes, these values and principles endure.

Consistent with our fiduciary duty to safeguard the future of St. Martin’s, the Board has been thinking deeply on the qualities, skills and competencies that the individual who will lead our dynamic and vibrant community as its next Head of School must possess. We are grateful for the input of so many of you who participated in this process. As the search has progressed the Board has listened to concerns some in our community have expressed about the process. We wish that we had done more to more clearly highlight the strategic priorities for the school and how they will guide the responsibilities of the next Head. So, we write today to offer some clarity about both.

Before the search began in earnest, informed by the National Association of Schools Principles of Good Practice regarding Head Searches, the Board made several decisions including affirming that we would engage an independent, professional search firm who would: support the Search Committee, develop a position profile with input from school constituencies and help to ensure that the School would attract a diverse group of highly qualified candidates from which to choose.

Once we identified and engaged The Education Group as our search firm, the Board provided them with information that, along with feedback from the community, was used to develop the Head of School Profile Presentation. The process was outlined in an email sent from Kelly Duncan ‘72 and Bruce Parkerson ‘75, the Co-chairs of the Search Committee, to the entire School community on November 5, 2021.

A good profile provides insight into the school’s strengths, essence and culture. It also introduces the candidates to the slate of strategic priorities that the Board has identified and which will be in the purview of the next head. In particular, please note pages 11-12 of the Profile which outline these priorities in more detail. As you can see on page 12 under the Challenges & Opportunities heading, three of the most significant priorities for St. Martin’s next Head of School will be to:

  • improve the school’s position through admission, fundraising and business acumen
  • uphold standards of excellence
  • effectively recruit and retain faculty and staff
     

As you may know these are challenging times for many independent schools, given the impact of Covid, increasing costs and ongoing uncertainty about the economy.  Our leader must be equipped to hit the ground running by identifying and executing the initiatives that will advance these priorities.

It is best practice for the work of a search committee to be conducted with a high degree of confidentiality. Doing so serves not only to protect the privacy of the candidates involved, but also to ensure the integrity of the process. It was important to the Board that every member of the community felt comfortable providing feedback about the candidates based on their own impressions of how each candidate's skills and capacities would position them to succeed in the role. Having confidence that their input would be kept confidential supports that goal.

A tremendous amount of planning and hard work has ensured that this process was comprehensive, professional and fair. We are profoundly grateful for the close partnership and steadfast leadership of our co-chairs Kelly and Bruce. We encourage you to read the St. Martin’s Search Process document for much more detail about the philosophy behind and implementation of the search.

We all need to trust and accept the process, which we have consistently communicated to the School community since last November. The Board remains unwavering in its confidence in the integrity of the Head of School Search Committee as well as the search process. We have been deeply saddened by the actions of some who would suggest otherwise. In addition, it is also important to note that The Education Group, a highly credentialed search firm with a national reputation, would never alter its best practices by endorsing or turning a blind eye to any irregularities or bias in the process. Any suggestion of this sort is simply not true. Our Episcopal identity is centered in a commitment to “act with compassion, love and integrity” and to challenge “behaviors that promote exclusion, intolerance and mistrust.”  Every adult in this community has a responsibility to uphold this commitment. The children in the St. Martin’s community deserve nothing less.  

Should you have questions about the process please don’t hesitate to contact us. You may do so by emailing us at StMartinsfeedback@gmail.com. The Board looks forward to announcing who has been selected as our next Head of School soon.  We are grateful for your partnership and your participation in this process.

Sincerely,

Mr. Michael F. Nicoladis ‘78, P‘23, P‘26, Chair

Board of Trustees

St. Martin’s Episcopal School


Update August 24, 2022

Dear St. Martin’s community members,

On behalf of the Head of School Search Committee, we are pleased to announce that finalists will visit our campus in mid-September. These individuals have been selected from an initial list of candidates which was narrowed to semifinalists. Semifinalists were interviewed, and we then selected finalists.

Candidates will spend parts of three days in meetings, with one day being a full day on campus. Those dates are:

September 12

September 14

September 16

Each semifinalist will have two opportunities to meet with parents on each of these days. The meetings with parents will take place in the Dan and Frances White Chapel from 8:15 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. Parents should choose to attend only one meeting for each finalist.

Faculty will also have the opportunity to meet with each day’s candidate from 3:45 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Dan and Frances White Chapel. Please note that employees who are also StM parents should only attend the meetings reserved for faculty.

The identity of each finalist, along with a brief biography, will be released a few days in advance of each visit. Everyone who meets a finalist will be provided with a link to an anonymous feedback survey to share their thoughts with the search committee. Although the search committee has the sole authority to recommend one candidate to the Board of Trustees for election, we will consider feedback from all constituents in our deliberations.

Thank you in advance for your commitment to this important stage of the search process, and thank you for putting our best St. Martin’s foot forward as we welcome these individuals.

J. Kelly Duncan

G. Bruce Parkerson ’75

Co-chairs, Search Committee


July 1, 2022 Update

The Head of School Search Committee would like to provide you with an update on the progress of the search.

Our search firm, The Education Group, received strong interest in our Head of School position, which is a testament to the strength of our school community, our opportunity, and our rich history. The surveys you took and meetings in which you participated have been instrumental in helping the Search Committee better understand the most important traits for our next Head of School and for the future of the school that we love. The input that you have provided will help us narrow the field as we progress.

The Education Group vetted the applicants including conducting Zoom interviews and speaking to references. They provided recommendations of an initial group of highly qualified applicants. From there, our Search Committee reviewed a substantial amount of information about each person in that group and narrowed the field to a slate of semifinalists.

In July, the Search Committee will conduct in-depth interviews with the semifinalists. Based on those interviews, we expect to narrow the semi-finalists down to a much smaller group, each of whom we will invite to visit the campus after the start of school in late August or September.  Once those finalist prospects are selected, we will set up in-person campus visits and update you with opportunities for parents and faculty to interact with each candidate while they’re on campus.

In summary, the search process has made substantial progress; we feel blessed to meet with these candidates to discuss the wonderful career opportunity St. Martin’s presents.

Thank you all for your continued support throughout this process,

Kelly Duncan and Bruce Parkerson
Search Chairs on behalf of the Search Committee of St. Martin’s Episcopal School 

November 5, 2021 Update

Dear St. Martin’s family,

We are members of the Board of Trustees and are now serving as co-chairs of the Search Committee. As you know, in May, Merry Sorrells announced her decision to step down as Head of School. The Board of Trustees accepted her resignation with appreciation and announced that Ford Jones Dieth Jr. ‘89 would serve as interim Head of School.

Since that time, the Board asked us to co-chair the process that would identify our next permanent Head of School. We researched and interviewed several national search firms experienced in leading search committees in recruiting heads of school. After conducting Zoom interviews and checking references, we recommended and the Board approved hiring The Education Group (TEG).

TEG was founded over thirty years ago and includes twenty consultants, many of whom headed Episcopal schools. Although we have access to the entire TEG team, Dave Davies and Jay Philpott will be working most directly with us. Dave is a former Episcopal school Head and senior administrator who has successfully led eleven searches in his three years with the firm. He is also leading three strategic plans and has presented numerous Board governance training sessions. Jay is an experienced Episcopal independent school and liberal arts college administrator who has been with TEG for a year. He is currently leading a head search at an Episcopal school in Tennessee.

After consulting with Dave, Jay, and Katherine Stuart, President of TEG, the Search Committee recommended to the full Board that the new Head would begin in July of 2023 and that Ford Dieth serve as interim Head for two years. TEG advised that the optimum window for recruiting the top candidates for 2022 had already passed by the time we were selected as co-chairs. The Board has begun the process for a new head of school in July 2023.

TEG recommends an inclusive process where all voices in the St. Martin’s community will have input in the process. The search committee ultimately will recommend one candidate for Board approval, but they will take into account many community perspectives and opinions. The Education Group has a thorough process and has already begun its initial work.

A Search Committee has been selected. These enthusiastic supporters of the mission of St. Martin’s are dedicated to finding the best possible candidate for our next Head of School. The other members of the Search Committee are as follows:
 

  • Laura Akers, Board member and current STM parent
  • Liz Martin Armstrong ’78, Board Member
  • Stephen Huber ’89, Former Board Chair and current STM parent
  • Ana Ortega, Former Board Chair and current STM parent
  • Bishop Morris Thompson, Board member and bishop of Louisiana
  • Bert Wilson ’77, Board member and parent of alumni

Over the next few months, TEG will be conducting their “discovery” process of St. Martin’s. Dave and Jay will be meeting virtually with Board leaders, the interim Head of School, senior leadership, faculty, and parents to understand the school and our desired direction. They will conduct two surveys - one of the Board members and one of the community including all constituents. Dave and Jay will also visit the campus, most likely in January, to conclude their research. The culmination of this stage of the process will be the publication of the position profile, a detailed document that includes the Board-determined qualifications for the position and requirements for candidates who wish to apply. This piece becomes the chief marketing document for the recruitment of candidates.

From there, Dave and Jay will vet and interview applicants and conduct reference checks, after which they will present a slate of candidates for the committee to review. Semifinalist selection, choice of finalists, finalist visits to campus, and the ultimate selection follows. We expect to name our new Head in early fall 2022 to begin in the summer of 2023.

We will be creating a “Head of School search page” on the school’s website, and updates will be posted there from time to time. A means of sharing input with the committee will be posted there along with the position profile once it is approved.

Selecting a Head of School is one of the Board’s most important duties. The school is well positioned for its immediate and long term future during this transition. Thank you for your patience and support as we navigate this important process. We welcome your questions and input.

Sincerely,

Kelly Duncan '72

Bruce Parkerson '75


Letter from the Board of Trustees:

In May of 2021, Merry Sorrells announced her decision to step down as Head of School. The Board of Trustees accepted her resignation with appreciation and announced that Ford Jones Dieth Jr. ‘89 would serve as interim Head of School.

Since that time, the Board has appointed Kelly Duncan ‘72 and Bruce Parkerson ‘75 as the co-chairs of the process to identify our next permanent Head of School. They researched and interviewed several national search firms experienced in leading search committees in recruiting heads of school. After conducting Zoom interviews and checking references, they recommended and the Board approved hiring The Education Group (TEG).

Selecting a Head of School is one of the Board’s most important duties. The school is well positioned for its immediate and long term future during this transition. Thank you for your patience and support as we navigate this important process. We welcome your questions and input.

Sincerely,
St. Martin’s Episcopal School Board of Trustees


Search Committee Members:
 
  • Laura Akers, Board member and current STM parent 
  • Liz Martin Armstrong ’78, Board Member
  • Troy Heytens, Board Member and current STM parent
  • Stephen Huber ’89, Former Board Chair and current STM parent
  • Ana Ortega '85, Former Board Chair and parent of 2 alumni
  • Bishop Morris Thompson, Board member and bishop of Louisiana
  • Bert Wilson ’77, Board member and parent of alumni
     

The Education Group (TEG): https://www.educationgroup.com/about

The Education Group was founded over thirty years ago and includes twenty consultants, many of whom headed Episcopal schools. Dave Davies and Jay Philpott will be working most directly with us to conduct this search process. Dave is a former Episcopal school Head and senior administrator who has successfully led eleven searches in his three years with the firm. He is also leading three strategic plans and has presented numerous Board governance training sessions. Jay is an experienced Episcopal independent school and liberal arts college administrator who has been with TEG for a year. He is currently leading a head search at an Episcopal school in Tennessee.

After consulting with Dave, Jay, and Katherine Stuart, President of TEG, the Search Committee recommended to the full Board that the new Head would begin in July of 2023 and that Ford Dieth serve as interim Head for two years.

TEG recommends an inclusive process where all voices in the St. Martin’s community will have input in the process. The search committee ultimately will recommend one candidate for Board approval, but they will take into account many community perspectives and opinions. The Education Group has a thorough process and has already begun its initial work.