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Holmgren's first job as headmaster is at prestigious Calvert School

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A moving truck was parked outside the headmaster's house as Andrew Holmgren started his new job as leader of the prestigious Calvert School on July 16.

"I'm a firm believer in doing things when you're ready," said Holmgren, 40, who is a headmaster for the first time in his career. "I'd be foolish if I wasn't a little nervous."

Formerly head of the middle school at the Collegiate School in New York, Holmgren becomes the seventh headmaster of the 116-year-old Calvert School in Tuscany-Canterbury. He succeeds Andrew Martire, a Calvert School graduate, who was headmaster for nine years and left to become headmaster of the Kinkaid School in Houston.

Holmgren was chosen unanimously from several hundred applicants and three finalists in February after a national search, according to the board of trustees.

"As a result of this process, Mr. Holmgren emerged as the clear choice for Calvert's future," Carville Collins, chairman of the board, wrote in a Feb. 7 letter to the Calvert School community.

Originally from Brockton, Mass., Holmgren graduated from the Roxbury Latin School, in Boston, where he played football and baseball and was captain of the Foxes football team. He coached football, among other sports, at the Collegiate School and Fairfield Country Day School in Connecticut, where he was dean of academic affairs and director of admissions. He previously taught Latin at Fairfield.

Holmgren graduated from the University of Notre Dame, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree with a concentration in medieval studies, and earned a Masters of Arts degree from Fordham University.

Unlike his predecessor, Holmgren has no personal connection to Calvert School or to Baltimore. Before he got his new job, he had never been to Baltimore other than passing through on his way to Washington for field trips with students from previous schools where he worked.

But he said he knew of Calvert School by reputation and that very few pre-kindergarten through eighth grade schools are nationally known.

"Calvert School is one of them," he said.

Calvert was also internationally known for its distance learning business, Calvert Education Services, which it sold early this year to a Baltimore-based private equity firm.

Holmgren said Calvert School is a lot different than the K-12 Collegiate School, which is located in a high-rise on the upper west side of Manhattan.

"We were literally on top of one another," he said. A closet at Calvert "would be a classroom at Collegiate."

And since there are no athletic fields near Collegiate, so sports teams played at Randall's Island in the East River, or in Central Park, he said.

Now, at Calvert, his office is a short walk from the school's athletic field.

"You can walk out the back door and you're watching girls play softball," he said. "That's a dynamic I'm very much looking forward to getting back to."

However, both Calvert and Collegiate emphasize rigorous academic programs, a dynamic Holmgren said he also likes.

Though he described himself as "a stickler for fundamentals," he doesn't want to be an overbearing educator and sees himself as laid-back, not button-down.

"Some schools take themselves too seriously," he said, wearing a tie, but no jacket. "I never lose sight of the fact that I'm dealing with little boys and girls. They're allowed to make mistakes."

He likes being at a K-8 school, where Calvert's 607 students can grow and "reinvent themselves," without seeing the same students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

His goal for students is to "take responsibility for your own learning," he said.

He doesn't want to throw his weight around too much and promised to "not get worked up about little things."

"If I can be invisible in terms of the day-to-day operations, fantastic," he said.

Holmgren was already involved at Calvert before his official start date of July 1. He attended an open house April 1 and spoke to parents in the school's new middle school assembly hall.

In June, he held a three-day retreat for administrators in St. Michael's on the Eastern Shore.

"It was an opportunity for them to educate me," he said.

Even so, he has no major changes planned in the immediate future, and said, "My priority right now is to get to know the school."

Continuing a longtime Calvert School tradition, Holmgren and other administrators will shake each student's hand as they walk into school each day.

Holmgren comes to Calvert at a time when the school is winding down an expansion program in recent years and expects to open a new lower school early education wing in time for the start of school Aug. 28.

Calvert is also in good financial shape, buttressed by a $3 million grant in 2003 from the Carey Foundation — whose namesakes, brothers Frank and the late William Carey, both graduates of Calvert.

The school in the midst of a $20 million capital campaign, its first in a decade and third in its history, called "Building on Strength," to increase its endowment, student financial aid and professional development for teachers, and pay for recent construction projects. The campaign has raised $14.7 million so far, spokeswoman Stephanie Coldren said.

"I'm a very lucky person," Holmgren said. "I'm coming into a school that's on very solid footing and is turning out good kids," most of whom go on to other independent high schools in the area, including Gilman, McDonogh, Bryn Mawr, Friends, Park School, Roland Park Country, and the Baltimore School for the Arts, according to Calvert School placement statistics.

The former football lineman hit the ground running July 16, even after staying in the Colonnade Hotel on University Parkway the night before with his wife, Peggy, their sons, Aidan, 12, Owen, 10, and William, 6, and their dog, Max, a 2-year-old labradoodle.

"We met the movers today," he said, adding that he spent the morning at home and then came into work.

He is looking forward to being a Baltimorean, including following the Orioles, although his heart is with his home teams, including the Boston Red Sox, the New England Patriots, the Boston Celtics and the Boston Bruins.

"I like the Orioles," he said. "I'm very happy to see them do well. I'll root for them to be a wild card team in the playoffs."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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