Sidwell Friends welcomes Bryan Garman back to campus as Head of School.
In the late spring of 1998, Earl Harrison, who was completing his legendary tenure as Head of Sidwell Friends, invited me to his office. He must have had more pressing matters to address than making time to talk to a part-time teacher just completing his first year, but the School had offered me a full-time position, and Earl wanted to share some advice before his departure.
That was the first time I stepped into the Head’s office. I can recall few details from the conversation, but I have a clear sense of its tone, which left a lasting impact. An outstanding teacher, Earl created an atmosphere of trust and openness, demonstrating a palpable patience and genuine curiosity, conveying a deep intelligence and wisdom. We spoke for an hour and a half, beginning a conversation that, after I became principal of the Upper School, continued over several lunch meetings.
Those formative conversations were sadly truncated when Earl passed in 2004. As we expected, his memorial service was filled with heartfelt messages about his leadership and friendship, humor and kindness. Several hours after this remarkable tribute, in a moment that was neither explicable nor believable, I returned home and opened a copy of New England Yearly Meeting’s Faith and Practice, serendipitously turning to an excerpt from one of Earl’s speeches.
“In a Friends school, human development and human excellence take precedence over academic excellence,” he wrote. Elsewhere, he explained that great schools require “decades of caring. A wise and resilient faculty must be capable of delivering both academic subjects and what I call the ‘invisible curriculum,’ which shapes the school’s ethos.” For Earl, an essential component of that curriculum was demonstrating “that love is possible in a group significantly larger than the family.”
As I enter Zartman House, I am grateful to previous Heads and to generations of faculty, staff, administrators, students, parents, alumni, trustees, and friends for promoting human and academic excellence, for the thoughtfulness with which they have cared for the School and shaped its ethos. I am honored to care for their labors and legacy of love, and remain awed by the grace and intelligence with which they have navigated challenge, embraced opportunity, and nurtured the institution.
As we consider the challenges that face educational institutions today, SFS, the largest Friends school in the country, has an obligation to lead the conversation, to insist that the pursuits of human and academic excellence are not mutually exclusive; to demonstrate that positive relationships between students and faculty are fundamental to learning; to prepare our students to engage in intelligent and principled discussion; to teach them to use technology innovatively and responsibly, to care about one another, to prize diversity, to create a more just and peaceful society; and to engender, as Thomas Sidwell wrote, an “atmosphere of sincerity, simplicity, and friendliness” that encourages “the open mind, love of truth, and international understanding.”
We are fortunate that so many have cared for this community for so long. I am grateful to be part of the conversation again and, over the next months, look forward to listening and learning. Together we will, in the spirit of continuing revelation, nurture our tradition of excellence, enable Mr. Sidwell’s “Friendly influence” to flourish, and enable our faculty to care for our School and its students for decades to come.
Head of School