By Mel Malmberg
Where to begin to sum up the legacy of Peter Bachmann at Prep? Perhaps with his vision, as expounded in the fall of 1991, when he was installed as head of school.
Having already been a Flintridge Prep teacher, college counselor, dean of students, and assistant head in his first ten years at the school, Bachmann looked ahead, building, like a castle in the air, a vision for Prep that was founded on civility, growth, communication, enthusiasm, and empathy. It was all based on his own recipe for the good life: a life filled with love, and a community engaged in a shared commitment to intellectual growth and support for one another.
After dedicating 40 years as a teacher and 30 years as head of school, Peter Bachmann retired in June 2020 and serves in a new role as Head Emeritus. Avid for knowledge, he exemplifies a lifelong love of learning and embracing challenge and growth. Bachmann is a leader who listens and is always genuine—genuinely kind, genuinely dedicated, and genuinely generous.
Sharon Kwan, parent of Harrison Chen ’17, Winston Chen ’19, and Preston Chen ’24, wrote in a tribute letter penned ahead of Bachmann’s retirement that it was his generosity “with time and patience” that resonated with her as a Prep parent. In her letter, Kwan praised Bachmann’s strong leadership and understanding of the Prep community.
Prep’s culture of involvement, Kwan wrote, created “a sense of belonging, particularly for parents like me who aren’t born in this country, but have children who are.” That involvement was a hallmark of Bachmann’s own dawn-to-dusk engagement with Prep students that extended far beyond graduation. From Morning Meeting to CIF playoffs, from faculty meetings to parent coffees, from alumni reunions to wedding receptions, Bachmann spent much of his time taking part in the lives of the Prep community. His “passion and exuberance for the students,” according to Kwan, directly affected her sons’ blossoming “confidence, ambition, independence, and consideration.”
Kwan wholeheartedly supports Prep and generously donated during the Enrich, Inspire, Ignite campaign to help complete Prep’s Master Plan. It was Bachmann’s passion that inspired her. “He taught me to be more giving, to make an impact, and to be optimistic about the contributions that the younger generation can make,” Kwan said.
Karen (Dongyun) Zhang, another Prep parent and dedicated donor, agrees. She feels that Prep gave her daughter, Melody Liu ’20, an opportunity to grow and prosper, develop values, and embrace integrity, diligence, dedication, and kindness—the same values, she says, Bachmann exhibited daily. “My daughter was so fortunate to be under Peter’s leadership,” Zhang wrote. “He consistently envisioned a better future and made it his mission to ensure the wellbeing for all Prep families for the past 40 years.”
Zhang was a key supporter of the Bachmann Collaboration Building. “It’s a physical representation of Peter’s legacy,” she said. “The values and principles he instilled into us all will continue to run through generations.”
The generations agree; Bachmann’s legacy reaches backward in time as well, and families have called Prep “home” for generations.
Wendy and Rick Drewry ‘57 sent their three boys, Bill ‘82, John ‘85, and Dave ‘88, to Prep. Rick Drewry is not only an alum and a parent, but also a longtime supporter of Prep in many guises: he was president of the Flintridge Prep Alumni Association from 1978-1980, and served as trustee from 1981-1986 and again, with Bachmann as head, from 1994-1996. “The core values and principles of the school did not change much from the all-boys school era of my father to the coed experience of me and my brothers,” Bill says.
Bill enrolled at Prep two years before Bachmann became a faculty member and has been a fan ever since. “Peter’s ability to engage faculty and students alike was unique, starting with his role as a teacher.
As head, he added parents, donors, and alumni to the list of people who respected his leadership style,” explains Bill. “Peter rarely forgot a name, and always greeted with a warm smile. He was balanced, fair, intelligent, and kindhearted.”
Prep and Bachmann have been a major part of the Drewrys’ lives, and this long-lasting legacy and connection spurred their decision to wholeheartedly support the school’s future through the Bachmann Collaboration Building.
The entire Drewry family observed with pride, Bill says, as “Bachmann took the school to another level—in physical plant and reputation—and it became the educational powerhouse it is today.”
A TEACHER’S HEAD PUTS PEOPLE FIRST
At Prep, Bachmann created an alchemy of support, balance, and intellectual challenge. “It all came from being a teacher’s head,” Bachmann says. Bachmann is, at his core, a teacher. He began at Prep as a history teacher, master’s degree in hand, intending to stay only a few years. Instead, he found a community he loved, and he stayed, nurturing it and growing it. One of the hallmarks of his headship was his teaching. Seniors wrestled with philosophers (and maybe sometimes Bachmann himself) in his Great Books class, debating what entailed the “Good Life.” Bachmann identified so strongly with his students’ ideas that he wrote two books, Standing on Shoulders and Advancing Confidently, expounding on what they, and he, learned from encountering the world’s greatest thinkers. He also advised on students’ independent studies, guest lectured in literature and history courses, directed plays, and was a member of the faculty who guided seniors in the Identity course.
Bachmann says his favorite times in class are when he and his students are in the flow, “where we don’t know what time it is, we are just in the give and take of ideas.”
In a retirement tribute to Bachmann, Lisa Bierman ’03 wrote that Bachmann was “proof positive that good teachers never lose their sense of curiosity, or their delight in learning with their students.”
Prep alumni look back on the education they received, and recognize Mr. Bachmann, as they mostly call him, as the architect of a creative, inspiring faculty and nurturing campus, and a superb teacher and mentor. Many of his students have become teachers and school administrators.
Danny Kim ’91 wrote in a tribute that Bachmann influenced his career path. “One of the reasons I am an educator and administrator of a school here in San Francisco is because of Peter’s influence and modeling,” Kim said. “He saw in me, and countless others, something we could not see ourselves—the person we could become with love, hard work, and community, making space and room for us to grow while providing the support and security needed to take risks and develop in this way. I have educated thousands of students, and the legacy of these students’ lives are, in part, Peter’s legacy.”
For Bachmann, and many Prep teachers, students, and alumni, relationships are at the heart of the Prep experience. “Concentrating on the human side, the people side, brought us to where Prep has come,” Bachmann says, citing the extraordinary faculty, Prep’s embrace of the honor code, and programs that emphasize social and emotional learning and leadership.
“I’ve always believed that a strong and empowered faculty would lead to strong and empowered students—who then become strong and empowered adults,” says Bachmann. He modeled a culture of teachers who engaged their students through hands-on leadership, involvement, and deep connection. “I wanted to be approachable as a head,” says Bachmann. “I crossed what many might have considered boundaries, all between breakfast and lunch, from a Board meeting to a curriculum meeting to seeing students on the patio. I tried not to create a moat around the headship, or around myself.”
Teachers from four decades call him an inspiration, a role model, a mentor, and a friend. Current and former faculty say that the Prep community is “beautifully rich” and an “inspiring and passionate collective of educators and students,” ascribing it to Bachmann’s leadership.
“Nowhere else would I feel so much joy and connection, growing, playing, laughing, complaining, eating, and learning to be a better scholar, parent, and human,” says French teacher Dr. Lauren Van Ardsall.
Math teacher and college counselor Eric Hallett notes that Bachmann “maintained good humor in the face of difficult situations, showed a willingness to embrace debate, and—perhaps most importantly—found the joy and fun in education and shared it with all of us. We’re all here and proud to call this place our second home because he believed in and took a chance on every single one of us, and that is a truly spectacular legacy.”
The community of caring came from the top and permeated the campus. “His generosity of spirit and human wisdom have helped me, my family, our colleagues, and our students more times than I can count over the years,” sums up Assistant Head for Academic Life Sarah Cooper.
BUILDING A PLACE FOR COMMUNITY
Bachmann and the Board continually and successfully collaborated on supporting Prep faculty, and the next step in nurturing this community was to create physical spaces and bolster the school’s financial strength so teachers and students could thrive and grow for generations to come.
During his tenure as head, Bachmann embarked upon several fundraising campaigns. Beginning in 2000, the campus expanded and evolved through new construction including the Randall Building, with studios and classrooms for the new Performing Arts programs, and the Chandramohan Library, with its free-flowing collaborative spaces on the first floor and its quiet books stacks on the second floor. Both places sought to physically symbolize, nurture, and enhance the flow of ideas, while keeping Prep’s green spaces intact.
In 2011, the Enrich, Inspire, Ignite campaign began. While also buttressing the endowment, its funds provided needed overall renovations and capital improvements in the gym and classrooms, technology upgrades, revamped science labs, lights for the athletic field, and the enclosure of the sparkling Atrium in front of Norris Auditorium. The campaign concluded in 2020 with its crown jewel, the Bachmann Collaboration Building. Brand new from the ground up, the building houses the school’s STEAM, Global Studies, and Leadership programs—which all sprang from faculty initiatives over the years.
It was all Bachmann’s vision, to build a school that honored people and relationships first, and then give them places to learn, connect, and grow. Bachmann notes how gratified he was to see the word “collaboration” as part of the name and on the signage of the Bachmann Collaboration Building: “Prep is first and foremost a collaboration—that’s what we do best around here.”
Even the design of the building was a collaboration, with input from faculty in all divisions, alumni, and parents. Rooms on all three floors change fluidly, allowing teachers to configure their setups for group projects, seminars, lectures, and virtual conferences. With a makerspace, art studio, and Prep’s largest science lab on the first floor, Global Studies classrooms headquartered on the second, and spaces for student leadership on the third floor, one can imagine student leaders on the top floor becoming passionate advocates for global issues, or learning to advance scientific inquiry, while an artist helps design a poster for Student Senate.
For Bachmann, and for many community members, the building is a “grand statement—across the campus, across the generations, across constituencies.”
THE PRACTICE OF COLLABORATION
Bachmann announced his retirement in 2018, with planned celebrations in summer 2020 to celebrate his years at Prep. David Codiga, parent of Jackson ’15, Hope ’19, and Sasha ’19, was the chair of the Board of Trustees from 2018–2020 and had been with Bachmann every step of the way for two years working on a thoughtful leadership transition, a successful campaign completion, and the opening of a new building. But then came COVID-19.
“Sometimes you can only appreciate the depth and strength of a leader when it seems like there isn’t one more thing a person could possibly handle, or deal with, at the same time,” says Codiga. “Right away, Peter stood up taller than ever, and with a calm, almost monastic determination, he set off to assess the health and safety of our community, work with his administration to develop protocols, communicate with the Board, his successor Jim Pickett, and the entire community, and then guide us safely and confidently through the remainder of the school year.”
During his last semester, Bachmann zoomed into Morning Meeting and invited the community to share “Walden Moments” of reflection and connection, harkening back to his Great Books course. Meanwhile, he was meeting bi-weekly with other heads of Pasadena schools to understand and implement COVID-19 pandemic procedures. Bachmann also placed his confidence in Prep’s dedicated administrators and staff, creative and tireless faculty, and engaged students to pull together in the unprecedented, real-time experiment of online learning.
“Our teamwork and leadership were years in the building,” Bachmann says. “But we could rely on each other. That confidence radiated. When you get buy-in on mission and values, you have the team glue, and you can build and rely on trust.”
That trust in the school and in its values has always resonated with families and inspires their involvement over years. Like many in the Prep community, Dale and Ayako Okuno, parents of Derek ’15 and Tomi ’12, saw their relationship with Prep, and Bachmann himself, deepen over time.
“When our kids started, I just admired him, and his consistent record, and his support for students,” Dale says of Bachmann. Derek, who played football all four years of high school, says he and his team appreciated that Bachmann was at every game. “It was great knowing the head of the school cared about everyone on campus,” Derek says. “At some schools, students feel misunderstood or misheard by the administration but because Mr. Bachmann was so proactively involved with everyone, that never was an issue.”
Ayako notes Bachmann’s listening skills and consideration of input were key: “He never gave a
glib answer or said, ‘that’s the way we’ve always done things.’ He is a real collaborator—friendly, accepting, open-minded.”
“When we had a chance to take the summer Great Books class along with Tomi, we jumped at it,” says Dale. “We always thought it was great that Peter kept his foot in the door as a teacher. What teachers do is collaborate, help students experience and discover, and he’s a natural at that. He acknowledged us, challenged us to think, and heard us out.”
Now, Tomi, who teaches kindergarten on a team of three teachers, is benefitting from the seeds planted during her schooling. She teaches her students, explicitly, to tackle problems together as a foundation of their social and emotional learning and working as a team to respond to online teaching was key. “By putting together our ideas, experiences, and levels of technological fluency, we were able to re-imagine kindergarten and restructure our program in time for fall,” she says. “It’s not perfect, but it would have been impossible without a team. I feel like the true meaning of collaboration is finally sinking in for me as an adult.”
Currently Dale and Bachmann are working in concert, both serving on the Board of Trustees of Alliance College Ready Public Schools, which is the largest charter school group in the Los Angeles Unified School District. “We are fortunate to have Peter on our board where his character, experience, and insights are invaluable in improving the educational outcomes and lives of socially and economically disadvantaged neighborhoods in LAUSD,” Dale says. “We all admire his credentials and knowledge, but especially, how he shares it.”
Why did the Okunos, already loyal and consistent donors, step up to help with the completion of the Bachmann Collaboration Building? “It had Peter’s name on it; it honors his devotion to Prep and what he made it into. He was at every function, every week, year in and year out, dedicating his life for the good of Prep, always wanting what was best for the school. He was so generous; we felt we could be too,” says Dale.
Tomi, who may be teaching some of Prep’s future students (think Class of 2033), feels there is much more to discover about nurturing academic collaboration. “I’m excited to see Prep taking this bold step in that direction,” she says.
Prior to COVID-19, Bachmann was celebrated by alumni and parents at six regional events across the country. In June 2020, he was fêted by the Board in a virtual ceremony that was viewed by community members across the country. Now head emeritus, Bachmann plans to teach Great Books in the spring of 2021. He’s working on a collaboration project funded by an EE Ford Foundation grant that will bring eight newer independent school heads at California schools together with eight experienced ones to create a network of support, with hopes of making it a national model.
He’ll also enjoy time with his wife, Molly, and son Rob, whose new daughter, Noa, has just turned a year old. He’ll join his golfing buddies John Ruch, Vatche Hagopian, Alex Rivera, and Glen Beattie more often, and generally enjoy life.
“I’m moving from authority to influencer, from chief to medicine man,” he says of his long-planned retirement. “But I am Prep for Life. My answer to the good life question, ‘what do I need for my good life?’ has always been ‘love.’ And I have loved my time at Prep.”
To watch our special June 2020 virtual retirement ceremony for Peter Bachmann and view the many tributes, slideshows, and videos our community made for him, visit www.flintridgeprep.org/peterbachmann.