On January 17, 2019, when Peter Bachmann announced he would retire as Prep’s Headmaster as of June 30, 2020, the moment was as deliberate and thoughtful, as warm and reassuring, as any other speech or decision in his tenure. Bachmann spoke of the process that led up to his decision, the careful way the Board of Trustees had considered his transition, beginning as far back as 2014, and his deep, long-standing ties to the community that will not—cannot—be erased by retirement.
Bachmann noted that he will transition to the role of Head Emeritus at the end of his term as Head. He first told his colleagues (nearly all of whom he had hired) in a regular afternoon faculty meeting. There were smiles, a few tears, a standing ovation and, at the traditional post-meeting library happy hour, a toast. His announcement was not unexpected, but it was extremely bittersweet for everyone, from the retired teachers in the room to the newest faculty members.
Madeline Barraclough, Prep’s front office manager, started working at Prep in 1991, when Bachmann was appointed Headmaster. “He’s become so amazing…we have all grown up together, but he’s the elder statesman,” she said. “We’ve become a true family here under Peter’s leadership. This is a place of learning and tradition, yet we’re always doing something new and different. Peter has kept Prep moving forward.”
Michael Roffina, Director of Human Development, remarked, “The wonderful thing about Peter Bachmann’s leadership is that he’s prepared us for this in really lovely ways—through his interest in collaborative work, in empowering others, in truly listening. At the center of this is the kids we teach, and our job as a faculty is to continue to come here ready to give our best every day, like we always have, like Peter does. We’re in good hands; he wouldn’t have it any other way.”
“I respect Peter’s desire to sit down and eat lunch with the faculty on the patio, I respect his rapport with the students, and I really respect that he stays until the very end of every faculty happy hour, talking books, travel and life!” says English teacher and 8th Grade Dean Megan Burton. “He’s always game for anything; in fact, I just watched him dress up as Doc Brown and pose with a DeLorean to shoot a video with students. Peter gets a lot of pleasure out of our love of Prep, and that feeling is contagious.”
“Not to take anything away from the winners of the annual Mr. Flintridge Prep contest,” said English teacher Mark Salzman, “But I think we all know who the real Mr. Flintridge Prep is. Have we been lucky, or what? How often does this happen—such a perfect alignment of one person’s gifts and strengths with a set of circumstances and opportunities, and with such delightful results?
“In his books, Standing on Shoulders and Advancing Confidently, Peter uses quotes from student essays, classroom comments and interviews to tell Prep’s story. I doubt he had this in mind when he chose those titles, but they also tell the story of how the school will respond to his retirement: Prep will be standing on his shoulders, but will also be advancing confidently. That’s the legacy a real leader wants. I ask again: have we been lucky, or what?”
An email from Bachmann to Board Chair David Codiga, and Codiga’s response, went to the whole Prep community the evening after the announcement to the faculty.
Bachmann wrote, “As a charter member of ‘Prep for Life,’ I will, of course, remain tied to the community, particularly with alumni and their parents. As Head Emeritus, I will serve and support the school, board and my successor in all ways appropriate… But I’m getting ahead of myself. We still have a lot of work to do together in the next 18 months, and I plan on savoring every moment.”
Codiga’s letter continued, “Peter will not be an easy act to follow. We are so grateful…for his leadership over the past decades, but in particular, for the way he leads, with compassion and inclusion, both strategic and mission-focused, always with humility and kindness. Peter has helped to make all of us better listeners, better students, better educators and a better Prep community.”
Bachmann spoke to students at the Friday Morning Meeting, reminding the junior class that he’ll be “graduating” with them in 2020.
Shant Armenian ’20, who will graduate with Bachmann and whose sister, Sareen ’22, will graduate with the new Head of School, was sentimental in his assessment. His mother, Christine Stepanian Armenian ’91, graduated with Edor Anderson the year that it was announced that Bachmann would be the new headmaster.
“We students all know we have Mr. Bachmann’s backing and his interest,” Shant said. “That seeps down to us, so we step up and try to excel. There’s this idea that we are a community, and he makes us feel that by actually putting it to work.
“For our family, it’s kind of full circle. My mom was emotional about Mr. Bachmann’s retirement—we all talked about it at dinner and felt it will be the end of a chapter. As a family, we’ve really appreciated what he’s done for the school and for us. Even outside Prep, people understand he’s a great leader; they hear he’s made a great school from both students and parents. I hope that the next head of Prep will be as personal, involved and authentic as Mr. Bachmann—someone who shows through actions that they care about students.”
Kris Leslie is Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees and Chair of the Head of School Search Committee. She previously served as Chair of the Flintridge Prep Board from 2012 to 2014, and was a co-chair of Phase I of the capital campaign. Leslie served as CFO of DreamWorks Animation SKG from 2004 to 2007, prior to which she oversaw the company’s strategic planning, finance functions, banking and investor relations. Since retiring from DreamWorks, Leslie has served on a variety of boards, including Blue Shield of California, Citizens Business Bank, Orbitz and Glassdoor. She also served on the Board of Saint Mark’s School (2000–2008). She and her husband, Reid, are the parents of three Prep alumni, Ryan ‘11, Michael ‘13 and Robbie ‘16.
PrepTalk: What would you like the community to know about the search for a new Head of School?
KL: Transition planning began over four years ago, under Mohan Chandramohan’s leadership of the Board; the Board has worked closely with Peter and studied transitions at other independent schools. Peter is an extraordinary leader, and the school is the strongest it’s ever been as a result. We’re taking our lead from Peter’s example and putting school culture at the heart of every decision.
The Board has retained Carney Sandoe & Associates (CSA), a leading national search and consulting firm for independent schools, to oversee the search process. CSA has helped Prep hire many teachers in the last few years. We are thrilled with our CSA team of Bob Fricker and Jennifer Wong Christensen. Bob is the Practice Leader for CSA’s Domestic Head of School Search and has conducted more than 110 head searches across the US. Jennifer is a former South Pasadena resident and spent two decades in college counseling and admissions.
We are committed to finding a leader who both embraces what is best in the Prep culture and possesses the tools and vision needed to guide us forward in our next chapter.
PT: Can you tell us more about the Search Committee?
KL: The committee consists of six current trustees, all of whom are either current or past Prep parents. One of our current parents is also an alum from the Class of 1985. Each of these trustees has demonstrated leadership and a deep commitment to Flintridge Prep. Three of us are serving as trustees for the second time, and as a group we possess deep board and governance experience beyond our roles at Prep. The work of a Search Committee is intense and extremely time consuming, so selecting trustees who were in a position to devote the time needed was also taken into consideration. The committee members are listed on the website.
PT: How does the search process work?
KL: The process has already begun. CSA spent several months studying Prep, culminating in a three-day site visit in early February, during which they had a chance to meet with faculty, staff, parents, former trustees and alumni. They conducted a survey, which the whole community received in February. The goal of this effort was to help CSA understand what is special about Flintridge Prep, what our opportunities and challenges will be going forward and, therefore, what qualities and skills will be important for our next Head of School. Using this information, CSA created a position description, which is posted on the school website.
For the next several months, the process will remain confidential to protect interested candidates who are likely in leadership positions at their current institutions. We expect that in the fall we will bring two or three finalists to campus to meet the Prep community and complete the interview process. In addition to opportunities to engage across all key community constituencies, at that time we will assemble an Interview Panel, which will be made up of faculty, staff, parents and alumni. This panel will interview each of the finalists and provide feedback to the Committee. The Committee will recommend a candidate to the full Board of Trustees and it is our expectation that we will be able to announce our next Head of School before Thanksgiving 2019.
Between now and the summer of 2020, Prep has a lot to accomplish, including successfully completing our recently announced campaign and the Bachmann Collaboration Building. Nobody is more energized and driven to accomplish our ambitious goals than Peter. Don’t expect him to slow down—Peter has a lot of work still left to do!
PT: If community members have questions about the process, thoughts on potential candidates or input beyond the survey, who should they contact?
KL: Anyone with questions or input can email me at email@example.com. For information about the search, visit www.flintridgeprep.org/head-search. Direct queries about the position to Bob Fricker (bob.fricker@ carneysandoe.com) and Jennifer Christensen (jennifer.christensen@ carneysandoe.com).
PT: Do you have any other information you’d like to share with us about the search process?
KL: I’d like to thank the entire Prep community for their invaluable input thus far in the search process and encourage everybody to continue to reach out with questions and thoughts in the coming months. Though a bit uncertain, this is an incredibly exciting time for Prep, as we both honor Peter Bachmann and look ahead to the future. PT: What happens after we
choose a new head? KL: We have already begun to look at the transition to support the new Head. For the last several years,
a Transition Committee, currently chaired by trustee Carol Ramsey, who has extensive experience in independent school governance and management, has been leading our efforts and plans to prepare for the search and ultimate transition. To date, this committee has been made up primarily of current and past trustees and Board Chairs with deep institutional knowledge. As we get closer to the actual transition phase, when the tasks and responsibilities shift, we expect to broaden this group to include additional members of the community.