View Full Version : All NYC New Head at Ethical Culture Fieldston School Is an Unconventional Choice

09-23-2011, 08:26 AM
From N.Y. Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/23/nyregion/new-head-at-fieldston-school-is-an-unconventional-choice.html) by Rachel Ohm and Jenny Anderson:
Sitting amid unpacked boxes in his office overlooking Central Park this month, Damian J. Fernandez, the new head at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School, took a moment to reflect on Felix Adler, the educator and social reformer who founded Fieldston in 1878 as a tuition-free school for workingmen’s children.

“My job is about delivering the promise of Adler in the 21st century,” Dr. Fernandez said. “I’m Adler with an iPhone, iPad and Latino accent.”

After an unsettling and prolonged period without a permanent leader, the school has made a somewhat unconventional choice. If Adler had an innovative approach to education in the late 19th century — he believed that diversity enhanced education, that ethics should be taught alongside academics and that children learned by doing, not listening — then Dr. Fernandez may be a logical successor.

His pedigree is distinctly not East Coast elite. Dr. Fernandez, 54, was born in Cuba and raised in Puerto Rico. He has never run a secondary school, and he last taught high school students more than 30 years ago, at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. His most recent job was provost at Purchase College, part of the State University of New York system.

“I’m definitely not a traditional candidate,” Dr. Fernandez said, his brown eyes dancing behind horn-rimmed glasses.

He has vowed to stay for 9 or 10 years, a promise that was well received by the school community, which has had five heads since 2007, including interims; two expensive head-of-school searches in the past few years; and a string of other high-level departures.

Students who met with Dr. Fernandez last year said they admired his enthusiasm as well as his apparent commitment. “We obviously haven’t had a committed head of school before, and he seemed into it and dedicated,” said Arabella Uhry, who is in the 10th grade. “That convinced us.”

Academically, he hopes to strengthen the foreign-language program, to start students earlier and require fluency. He wants to strengthen the high school science and math programs, he said, “in a way that enhances creativity and problem solving,” and bring ethics — a core Fieldston subject — “back to its right fullness.”

“I don’t buy this whole notion of two cultures, of an artistic and scientific culture, and the two shall never meet,” he said. “I believe the creative spirit is critical for posing questions, for the leeway to explore, and I think that the creative spirit is necessary for today’s world, for the creative economies of the 21st century.”

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