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Two St. Paul's schools eyeing more collaboration

Despite sharing a campus in Brooklandville, St. Paul's School and St. Paul's School for Girls operate almost entirely independent of one another after the schools split off by gender at the middle school level.

But with new heads of school at each institution — David Faus at St. Paul's and Penny Bach Evins at SPSG — both new leaders feel they have an opportunity to bring the single-sex schools together and collaborate more efficiently and effectively than ever.

"I hope to be known as the head of school with whom the St. Paul's schools, along with Dave Faus, have reached a period of flourishing around coordination," Evins said. "We will be known as that. That is not only my goal — That will be the reality of our time here."

What that collaboration could look like differs, depending on which leader you ask, but the schools' respective boards say the two new leaders with decades of independent school leadership between them are well equipped to find ways to preserve their single-sex mission while broadening opportunities for the schools' students.

Evins, the 10th head at SPSG, came to the school after stints at several independent schools in the South. She got her first independent school job at the Webb School in Knoxville, Tenn., where after just five months as a guidance counselor she was asked to become the head of the middle school. She later moved to Atlanta to serve as a counselor at the Lovett School, where she met her husband on lunch duty.

Most recently, she served as head of the lower school at her alma mater, Isidore Newman School in New Orleans. Clifford Lull, chairman of the SPSG board, said Evins is a "star."

"She is clearly an independent school thought leader already," he said. "She has terrific leadership skills and an ability to articulate a strategic outlook for the school. … Everything we learned about Penny from her days at Newman was she stayed very close to her students. It was a very student-centric school, and I anticipate that'll be the same at SPSG."

Evins' counterpart, Faus, arrived at St. Paul's this summer from Cape Cod, where he had served as headmaster of Falmouth Academy since 2005. His independent school career began at Landon School in Bethesda, and was followed by stints at the Hun School in Princeton, N.J., the Hackley School in New York, and St. Stephen's and St. Agnes School in Alexandria, Va.

St. Paul's School board of directors President Dennis Kurgansky served on the Search Committee, and said Faus was an "ideal fit."

"He kind of had everything," Kurgansky said. "He had the academic experience and leadership. He's run schools before. When we talked to him, he realized it's so important to make the educational experience … all about the kids, and all about the mission."

When he visited St. Paul's, students told Faus of a school that aligned with his own educational values. He said students told him St. Paul's was "a place where I really feel like people care — care about me, care about how I do, and are willing to work with me where I am to get to the next spot."

One aspect on Faus' résumé that stood out to Kurgansky was his experience as assistant head of school and upper school director at St. Stephen's and St. Agnes, which were initially single-sex schools but merged shortly before he arrived. Faus was charged with combining the two at the high school level.

That experience could prove useful as he and Evins search for the "low-hanging fruit" early in the process, such as collaboration between the two student governments.

"What we know is our geography alone provides us with a really unique opportunity to partner in appropriate ways without giving up our values," Faus said.

Faus pointed to professional development and the schools' separate libraries as areas where they could collaborate, while board chairmen Kurgansky and Lull anticipate a wider variety of curriculum choices for students at each school.

"I think for a long time, the schools have done a good job of coordinating arts programming … but it's really the curricular piece that has the greatest amount of promise for us," Lull said.

Evins said that with the St. Paul's Plus preschool, the coed elementary school, and the separate middle and upper schools, "we are staged for the exact right cake to be baked."

"All the ingredients are right there," Evins said. "Dave and I have the easy and challenging part of helping everyone else be ready to mix it, and stir it and cook it. That's our job.

"It's not our job to do it. It's our job to empower everyone else to take those risks.

"The parents are ready. The faculty is ready. The girls and boys are as ready as they can be, and I think the world is beyond ready for that."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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