Head of School Search Nears Conclusion

Following the announcement from Head of School Fr. Donald Reilly, O.S.A. that he will be stepping down from his position at the end of the 2021-2022 academic year, Malvern’s search for their next leader is well underway.

Head of School Search Nears Conclusion

The process to find the next Head of School began in July of 2021. Mr. Joe Davis ‘90 P’21 T, Chair of the Board of Trustees, was tasked with assembling a team that would lead the search for the school’s next leader. 

In conjunction with the Prior Provincial, the team was made up of faculty and staff, parents, alumni, members of the Board of Trustee, and those of the Augustinian order. Davis selected members with extensive and qualified backgrounds to conduct the search process. 

One notable member of the search committee, Mrs. Neha Morrison P’23, Director of Human Resources at Malvern worked closely with the committee’s search firm, Carney Sandoe, during the search process. 

“My role has been to work closely with the Head of School search committee as our internal spokesperson and offer guidance as needed. I’m also working very closely with our search consultants, Carney Sandoe, to make sure, as we move along in the process, that our internal processes are covered,” Morrison said.

At the beginning of the school year, the search committee, with the help of Carney Sandoe, sent out a community-wide survey which was then used to compile information of what the main criteria would be for the next Head of School. 

“When Carney Sando first came on site, they had a lot of meetings with different constituents… to try and gauge a feel for Malvern and our culture. From there, with the help of the Head of School search committee, we designed a survey to go out again to all those constituents,” Morrison said. 

The survey encompassed questions regarding what Malvern values are most important, to the biggest opportunities for improvement, level of experience required in a candidate and what main challenges need to be addressed over the next three to five years. 

“From the survey results, we identified what our top criteria should be for the next Head of School. The position description was [then] created to help identify the criteria, requirements and characteristics that we’re looking for in the candidates,” Morrison said. 

Davis noted, “You need to be explicit in the criteria used to help identify who’s going to be best fit to be the next Head of School… Remarkably, the criteria that were identified by parents from what is most critical for our next Head of School were very similar to the faculty, which were very similar to alumni, which were very similar to the Board of Trustees.”

Over the next few weeks and months, Carney Sandoe was able to advertise the position through their national and international networking capabilities, garnering impressive interests for the job. 

“The benefit of having Carney Sandoe help us in the search is that they have a national and international network of educators and individuals who may be qualified to be Head of School at Malvern Prep. There was communication from Carney Sandoe out to their network of educators, thousands of communications were sent, from that, there’s probably hundreds of candidates of interest,” Davis said. 

After receiving significant interest from initial candidates, Carney Sandoe, given their expertise, would then review the candidate’s resumes and begin to narrow the list down to about sixty prospective applicants.

Using the criteria set by the Head of School search committee, based on community response from the initial survey, Carney Sandoe was able to narrow the group of candidates even further to about twelve highly-qualified individuals that were then referred to the search committee for deeper discussion. 

“From that twelve, we judged those [candidates] relative to the criteria that was set, based on experience and expertise. In the Head of School committee, everyone weighed in, our votes were transparent to each other, we discussed it and then from there, we selected the semifinalists,” Davis said. 

With each round of candidates, the search committee was able to get a better understanding of the individuals and how they might fit into the Head of School position at Malvern. The committee made sure that each candidate underwent a thorough evaluation before taking the next step in the selection process.

“Those six [semifinalists] were interviewed, one-hour sessions each [with] all members of the Head of School search committee and we asked each of the six candidates the same exact questions that were based precisely on the criteria,” Davis said. 

Based on each’s performance in the committee wide interviews and in depth group discussions, the search committee was able to select three of the six candidates to move to the final round of the selection process. The three individuals would then be brought to campus on individual, non-overlapping days in January to undergo an extensive, in-depth assessment from several groups of constituents in the Malvern community. 

“Each of the members of the Head of School search committee represent at least one if not many of the key stakeholder groups in Malvern, i.e. faculty, parents, alums, members of the board, and then those individuals are responsible for organizing platforms with the broader community,” Davis said. 

From a one-on-one interview for parents, to meeting with alumni, trustees, Augustinian’s, and more, the search committee made sure to keep community response at the forefront of the selection process and the primary focus when finalist candidates come to campus.   

“Marissa Cherian shared the Zoom [interview], so we tried to make it as accessible as possible to all parents. The alumni, Mike Meehan ’03 had a set of alumni who called in virtually and he led that session. Michael Riordan ‘73, who’s on the search committee, who is a former trustee, had other former trustees on the call, which is great. We as members of the Board of Trustees, I organized that they had a voluntary session that they could meet with each of the candidates. Then the Augustine’s, Father Rob Hagan from Villanova, he’s on the search committee, on our board, and he organized sessions with various members in order to ask questions,” Davis said.

Mrs. Marissa Cherian P’22 T, who currently serves as the Secretary of the Board of Trustees led the parent centered interview with each of the three finalists. The interviews were accessible to all parents and guardians at Malvern. Each session lasted one hour and incorporated questions ranging from long term ambitions, to short-term goals, current background, qualifications and reason for interest in the position. 

“One thing that was visible to the broader community was the parent forum where we solicited input questions from our parents and then asked questions representative of those to each of our finalist candidates,” Cherian said.

A priority for the committee during this search process was being transparent with the Malvern community and in turn, being open to their feedback and response. 

“We’re trying to get a sense of what’s important to our families in terms of what they are looking for. More specifically, in terms of a Head of School, giving the parents an opportunity to hear directly from those finalists on themes that are most important,” Cherian said. 

Also serving on the Head of School search committee, Mrs. Ann Coia, Upper School counselor, is currently serving in the position of Faculty Rep, a position she was elected to by the faculty and staff. Her role, as part of the search committee, has primarily been serving as the voice of the faculty during meetings and discussions.

“I’m sitting in on the discussions about the Head of School, [and] I’m sitting in on some of the interviews. I’m also holding a small faculty committee of fifteen members who represent various areas of campus, and we’ve had the opportunity to meet with each candidate to ask specific questions that pertain to faculty and staff,” Coia said.

The faculty and staff sub-committee serves as yet another hour-long meeting each finalist candidate has been vetted through during their time on campus. The faculty members on the committee were able to talk with the finalists and ask questions that pertain to the faculties interest and desires. 

Included amongst each candidate’s set of meetings was a discussion based meeting with a group of students, on campus, in which the finalists explained what their plans would be as head of school as well as being able to get a better understanding of the school they hope to lead. Students were then able to give feedback from those meetings to help the search committee make their final decision.

In addition to the many meetings and interviews each candidate has gone through, the finalists had to prepare a presentation they would present to the entire faculty and staff on their vision for the future of Malvern under their leadership.

“The presentations to the faculty were actually my suggestion and request to the finalists because I wanted to see two things. I wanted to see most importantly, ‘what is their vision for Malvern Prep over the next, roughly five years and with that, ‘what would be their plan to execute on that vision.’ In addition, another benefit is to see how they can present in front of a large audience… Interface with students, interface with faculty interface with a large group of parents that are representative of the school,” Davis said.

While he noted that both of those areas would be important to be seen, Davis’s primary motivation was “to assess conceptual thinking, and strategic vision, which gets back to the effectiveness of their leadership style.”

At the conclusion of each meeting, interview, and interaction, members of the community were given a survey, where they were then able to share their thoughts on the final candidates; their responses will ultimately factor into the decision of the selection committee. 

“Anyone who’s attended any of these sessions is emailed a link to a survey. Carney Sandoe helps run (the survey)… there is a short list of questions and then they can add any other responses… We as a search committee will see the aggregate results. So how does Candidate A versus B versus C compare? They are going to be inputs, we ultimately have to make the decision, but all voices will show up in the data that we see before we make our decision,” Davis said. 

Davis made sure to point out a clear distinction about the role of the selection committee that may often be overlooked. 

“The Head of School Search Committee in conjunction with the Prior Provincial of the Augustinian Order (Fr. Rob Hagan O.S.A. T) makes a recommendation to the Board of Trustees of who should be the next Head of School. It is the Board of Trustees who ultimately determines who the next Head of School will be,” Davis said. 

The Head of School Search Committee plans to have a final candidate for recommendation shortly after the final candidate’s on campus evaluation. From there, Mr. Davis and Fr. Hagan will present their candidate to the Board of Trustees for final approval in early February. Upon approval, the selected candidate will then take their position as Malvern Prep’s 15th Head of School after the conclusion of the 2021-2022 academic year.