Tributes

A Mid-Year Introduction To Our Interim Head, Steve Barker
by Abigail Browning

Stephen K. Barker grew up in Concord, New Hampshire. He went to a self-described “old-fashioned” public school through 8th grade, to which he could walk. From there, he enjoyed the rigorous academic life at St. Paul’s Episcopal School. His solid academic grounding led to acceptance to Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts where in 1971 Steve earned his degree in Government, which would now be called Political Science. During his years at Harvard, he met his future wife, Sallie, on a blind date. They married after graduation.

Straight from college, Stephen Barker found his first job as an educator at Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island. The independent PreK-12 Friends school with 750 students served as a strong foundation for his first years teaching Middle School English and History (he also coached hockey and lacrosse). However, following a strong desire to continue his education, Steve returned to Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) to graduate in 1974 with a hand-crafted degree in General Purposes, focusing on curriculum development, counseling and administration.

Following HGSE, Steve taught and served as Head of the Middle School at Moses Brown until he was recruited to Head the Salisbury School in Maryland, where he served as an administrator for nearly two decades. His wife, Sallie Barker, joined Steve as school librarian, and they raised their two children together at the school.

After being at the Salisbury School for the majority of his service as an educator, Steve intended to take a year off to meditate on the direction of his career. Instead, he received a call from SFS offering him the position of Interim Principal of the Middle School. Intrigued and thrilled with the ability to work as a division head again (with more interaction with faculty, staff, students, and curricular development), Steve became a key part of the SFS team for the 2003-2004 year.

Current math teacher, Nina Koltnow—the Assistant Principal of the MS during Steve’s appointment—reminisces: Working with Steve in the Middle School six years ago was a joy! He seamlessly managed the transition between two principals, gracefully comprehending the tone of the school and managing issues from the minute to the entire building project! I appreciate his good humor, sound mind, and open heart.

During the next five years, Steve Barker served as Head of Ruxton Country School in Owings Mill, Maryland. One afternoon, he received a telephone call from a consultant, asking him to consider the position at SFS as Interim Head for the 2009-2010 year. Steve was intrigued. He delighted in the idea of returning to Sidwell Friends, a place fondly remembered as having been an “invigorating and challenging experience.” On July 1, 2009, Stephen Barker joined the Sidwell Friends School community once again.

When asked how he felt about the title of “interim,” Barker mentioned that the limited time frame is helpful in focusing the charge of the Board of Trustees. He felt that his second time here allows him to develop and broaden relationships with many individuals with whom he worked during his time as MS Principal.

As interim, he explained, one is fortunate to be able to present new perspective and leadership for a short period of time. And, mindful of the term end, one must prepare to seamlessly pass the baton, transitioning the gap between two great educators, Bruce Stewart and Tom Farquhar. In his time here, he provides an adjustment period, a year to prepare for the new Head while institutionally soothing the rough edges for the change in leadership.

Specifically, Steve Barker is very intent on his involvement in the school itself. His personal interest is in “establishing the right climate in a school.” The optimal environment, he detailed, is to encourage a strong faculty to provide an atmosphere where students feel especially “safe, challenged, inspired and supported.”

After this year, Steve said that he will need to make a decision on whether or not he wants to be involved in Head searches. If so, he would be looking for an institution where he could serve a final Headship before retirement. Another option would be to find further interim placements. Always pursuing new challenges on the front of education, Steve also suggested that he would be interested in working in the non-profit world in foundation work. Ideally, regardless of institution, Steve intimated that he would like to stay in the DC area continuing his work in the educational sector.