Ben Thompson, Gerstell Academy’s Assistant Head of Middle School, said being promoted to Head of Lower School is an opportunity to teach young people the necessary skills they will need later in life.
“There’s an opportunity to help really build a strong foundation of student leaders,” he said.
Thompson, 36, said it can also be a challenge. But it’s a challenge he’s willing to take. And one his colleagues said he is ready for.
After working at Gerstell for the last seven years, Thompson, a middle school administrator and boys basketball coach, will lead Gerstell’s lower school starting July 1.
Carey Wargo, Gerstell’s head of middle schools, said she shed a few tears after learning Thompson would no longer be her direct partner. But she’s thrilled for his new opportunity.
“Mr. Thompson is one of the most even-keeled people I have ever met,” she said. “He just has a very calm demeanor and temperament so he is able to take challenges and strive and handle them very professionally and efficiently.”
Wargo added he utilized technology to help lead the school through the pandemic and she knows he will “enrich the lower school curriculum in that regard.”
Thompson gave credit to Wargo for the promotion.
“I owe her a lot of things because I believe she prepared me to lead in this role,” he said.
John Polasko, president of Gerstell, said the school had a thorough search for a new head of lower school and Thompson went up against strong candidates.
“Through that process though, what we saw in Mr. Thompson was a love for children and an understanding of the importance of teaching and learning,” he said.
Polasko added that Thompson understands children need to be engaged and active learners. He said later Thompson understands the school’s leadership model and wants to make a difference in student’s lives, which is what Gerstell is all about.
Thompson is originally from outside Charlottesville, Virginia. Although Thompson wasn’t far from the University of Virginia, he chose to attend Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond to be around a more diverse group of students.
He initially planned to work in business administration. Though he tried to be well-rounded during his time at VCU. While in school, he worked at an elementary school and tutored kids after class.
“I grew to enjoy education,” he said.
Soon after, he minored in education and communication and later received his Masters degree. After graduating, Thompson said a friend recommended Gerstell to him when he was looking for places to coach the boy’s basketball . He had plans to teach at another school. However, a position at Gerstell opened up.
He taught leadership to middle schoolers for two years before being promoted to assistant head of middle schools. He stayed in that role for the last five years. As an administrator and boys varsity basketball coach, Thompson also chairs the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee where both students and faculty are part of. He said he’s proud of the various races, religions, genders and sexualities that are represented.
To add to the list of ways Thompson caters to students, he started the Leadership Commendations program. He wanted to create a system that compliments students for their academics, leadership, improvements or simple random acts of kindness. In the examples Thomas showed, one teacher credited a student who “stepped up in lowering the flag.”
A news release from Gerstell announcing Thompson’s promotion also listed his accomplishments, including the significant role he played in advancing the school’s educational technology program. The school was able to remain consistent during the pandemic because of the use of technology in the classroom. This school year, Thompson spearheaded a collaboration with Microsoft that gave all sixth-graders a Microsoft Surface.
“I’m hoping to translate that to the lower schools,” he said.
Thompson said he felt empowered as a middle school administrator and always had the mindset of a leader.
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“I usually tell people, I acted like an assistant head,” he said, “but I think like a department head.”