In “The Art of School Leadership” Thomas Hoerr points out, “The best way for a principal to create an environment in which creativity and teamwork thrive is, no surprise here, by sharing her own mistakes and what she has learned from them.”
I’ve made more than my share of blunders since coming to UCC, but without a doubt the most painful one involved my recommending that we close boarding over two years ago. (No need to recount the resulting pushback from old boys on this, or the board’s prudent decision to not only keep but to improve the boarding program.) We eventually came to the realization that boarding is not so much a strategy as it is a key part of UCC’s identity.
There are a number of threads entwined in this mistake, but a key one involved process. Early on we decided that we would not announce that the board was conducting a review on boarding because we feared two things might happen: one, that the announcement itself might undermine our program, and in effect, poison the well. (Who would want to send his son to a boarding program that was contemplating closure?) We also thought, given the more competitive nature of day admissions at the time, that an in-depth and public discussion of this nature would be unfair to our boarding students.
Even though I’ve spent most of my adult life living in dormitories and working in boarding schools, some accused me of coming to UCC with a plan to close boarding. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. (I actually did my doctoral dissertation on boarding schools and character development!) But because I got the process wrong, I had a hard time convincing some of these folks that I was actually looking for the greater good.
If there is a silver lining in all of this, it’s that the discussion of boarding – and even the heated criticism of the initial decision – has sparked a renewed interest in the program. With a new emphasis on recruitment and program improvements, I’m convinced that boarding will experience a renaissance at UCC. Sometimes even a bad (initial) decision can lead to a good result.