Letter from the Board of Trustees
April 18, 2019
Dear Manhattan Country School Community,
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I write to inform you that Michèle Solá, our Director, has decided to retire her role as Head of School at the end of next academic year (2019-2020). We are fortunate Michèle has given us almost four decades of transformational leadership and dedicated service. We ask the full Manhattan Country School community to join the Board in expressing our deep appreciation for her inspired stewardship of our mission and accomplishment.
The Board hired Michèle in 1997 to become the second Head of School to lead Manhattan Country School. During her tenure Michèle forged and strengthened partnerships that cut across the boundaries of institution and sector. One of the hallmarks of her leadership has been to invest in teacher leaders to advance our public mission, seeding innovations in progressive education. Through her stewardship MCS has been elevated as a model that is proven to advance equity in student experience and academic outcomes. Some of the initiatives/elements of the school model that have come to be defined as the MCS way have emerged under Michèle’s direct leadership, including:
- Integration of the farm experience and curriculum into a codified scope and sequence that has become core to the MCS educational program;
- Development of the Student Activism Program, a unique and much lauded student-led project-based learning platform;
- Developing and strengthening connections between community stakeholders--linking multi-generational alumni and educators who have apprenticed at MCS to current students, families and faculty to advance our shared values;
- Partnering with the Board and a representative body of stakeholders to develop, launch and implement the MCS 2020 strategic plan; and
- Successfully relocating to the West 85th Street campus and doubling the lower school student body, while maintaining our fundamental identity and culture.
Manhattan Country School is at an inflection point, an ideal moment, for new leadership to take the helm. Our growth trajectory is strong and we are well-positioned to meet educational demands for resources that advance both equity and the development of young people’s integrated identity. The board is committed to that trajectory. We will continue to build and expand upon the many opportunities ahead. Our mission will not change—and it will continue to serve our community for generations to come.
The timing of Michèle’s announcement leaves the school well positioned to recruit the next Director, to begin July 2020. Over the next few months, the Board in partnership with the search firm Resource Group 175 (RG 175), will conduct a search to identify and hire our next Head of School. We are elated to inform you that the Head of School Search Committee will be chaired by Roxanne Leff, Co-Chair of the Committee on Trustees. Roxanne is a longtime educator and current Head of Middle School at Brooklyn Heights Montessori School, she and husband Ben Leff are parents of Ava Jae Leff ‘22 and Emory Leff ‘26. She has previously served as 6-7’s class representative and Co-Chair of the PA Nominating Committee. Over the next week please look for an email from Roxanne and the search committee outlining the search process, opportunities for you to engage and the projected timeline.
If you have any questions or concerns during this transition process, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Search Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the dedicated page on the MCS website [https://www.manhattancountryschool.org/about-mcs/directors-message/director-search].
The Board thanks Michèle for the passion, commitment and energy she has given Manhattan Country School over the past 37 years. She will be greatly missed by so many. We look forward to following the success of her career and are excited for the next chapter of Manhattan Country School.
Please join me in thanking Michèle for her leadership (see her letter below). She has nurtured many in our community, including me, to become the best version of ourselves.
Dr. Gisele C. Shorter, ‘91
Chair, Board of Trustees
Manhattan Country School
Letter From Michèle Solá
April 18, 2019
Dear MCS Community,
After more than thirty years in a place I admire and love, I will retire as director in June 2020.
As many of you already know MCS is a pearl in a haystack for families who want their children to have an excellent education in an intentionally diverse, nurturing community. It stands out as an independent school where social justice is central and economic diversity is motivated by equity. It is a beacon for educators that are inspired by our half century leading the way and staying the course. It has been a privilege to help such a place grow and I am confident it will continue to thrive.
In 1982 my first job at MCS was part-time, as upper school Spanish teacher. I was a graduate student intent on making public schools work for bilingual kids in multicultural communities. My training for high school didn’t fully prepare me for fifth graders. I had much to learn about early childhood and progressive education. Being among colleagues who aspired to impact public education made me stay. My dissertation, “You’re White, You’re Black, I’m Tan,” compared 6-7s stories to debates within MCS about identity. I read extensive MCS archives. Gus Trowbridge had a testy but eager listener to his stories about early racial conflicts, reforming the tuition system, raising money, and the guidance he found in Martin Luther King, Jr.
I’ve learned a lot about building a community and withstanding the disharmony that come from difference. Talented teachers enable children to engage complex topics by listening to them talk. As progressive educators we make intentional choices to stand by learning through play, time in Central Park, mixed-age groupings, and opportunities to learn from mistakes. Community conversations inspire thoughtful changes in the food program, launch new sustainability initiatives and Parent Led Forums. MCS trains a diverse group of teachers respected by our partners in higher education.
In 1997 when I became director, a graduate shared this critique of her MCS education, “We learned about the Civil Rights Movement and Martin Luther King, but it was only talk, no action.” That became a challenge and strong motivation to put students at the center of a contemporary activism program, with lobbying trips to Washington DC, the whole seventh and eighth grade in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. Today, our whole community rallies as students educate and urge us to take action on the school-to-prison pipeline, LGBTQ rights, Islamophobia, immigration, domestic violence and climate change.
Planning strategically for MCS’ future led to close collaboration with the board of trustees in shaping the MCS 2020 plan. A Farm Task Force considered the real benefits of bringing the Farm out of the shadows and more meaningful integration between the programs at MCS and the Farm. Our new Farm on Lower Meeker Hollow Road is a work in progress waiting to be designed and built with a vision for the expanded impact MCS Farm can have on teachers in training and public school partner schools in the Catskills and beyond.
Eighth grade Farm essays capture the new possibilities I see in the world...
“The Farm is like a stitch in time. We board a school bus; drive for hours and then everything slackens. It's like a different dimension, like losing my glasses and finding a new pair that illuminates the world more clearly.” (Kai ‘12)
I look forward, in these next fifteen months, to working together guided by MCS 2020 goals. Thank you for understanding that this is the right time for transition and new possibilities and an ideal time to choose the next MCS director. As I contemplate the days after June 2020, I am feeling grateful for the opportunities I’ve had and anxious to spread the word about MCS, through writing and teaching. There will be plenty of time to pick out the new set of glasses, knowing that MCS will be in good hands.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: How will the MCS community be kept informed about the search?
A: Updates about the search will be posted to the MCS website, in Nuestra Semana and through email. We will keep the community informed, but the process cannot be completely transparent because confidentiality must be maintained until the final candidates are invited to the campus in fall 2019.
Q: What is the anticipated timeline for the search?
A: The search process began in April 2019 and is expected to conclude in October 2019.
Q: What is Michèle Solá’s last day?
A: Michèle will continue to lead Manhattan Country School through the 2019-2020 school year, until her official last day on June 30, 2020. Michèle and the Board of Trustees have carefully planned her transition and have ample time to conduct a comprehensive search for the next MCS director.
Q: Where can I find the position description?
A: A position description is the main marketing document used by the search firm; it includes description of the school, opportunities and challenges of the position, and key qualities we are looking for in candidates. The search firm will develop a position description after gathering information from the MCS community. It will be posted to the MCS website, search firm’s website and other outlets.
Q: How can members of the MCS community provide input for the search?
A: The search process will be as inclusive as possible, enabling everyone who wants to provide input to do so and offering a variety of ways to participate:
- The search firm will host a two day “discovery visit” to the NYC campus to interview individuals and focus groups of students, faculty, board, parents and alumni. The committee will also visit the Farm to meet with members of our Farm staff and community.
- A survey will be widely distributed after the discovery visit; all members of the community are welcome to participate.
Q: How can community members get involved in the search process?
A: There will be opportunities for the community to meet the finalist candidates during open forums. A feedback form will be sent to the community after each candidate’s visit. The community feedback will be weighed by the search committee
Q: Who is on the search committee?
A: The committee is comprised of members of the Board of Trustees, including alumni, parents, teachers and friends of the school: Ricky Castillo ’92 (current parent/parent of alum), Caroline Cotter (friend), Roxanne Leff (search committee chair, current parent), Reese Mason (current staff), Gisele Shorter ‘91 (alum), Stephen Trowbridge ’74 (alum, parent of alum), Leslie Watkins (current parent), and Andrew Weinstein (current parent).
Q: What is the role of the search committee?
A: The Board of Trustees established a search committee, a group of Trustees with deep experience within the MCS community and expertise in assessing leadership. The committee is responsible for working closely with the search firm and managing the overall search process. This includes interviewing candidates and making a final recommendation to the Board of Trustees.
Q: What is the role of the search firm?
A: The MCS Board has retained Resource Group 175, a well-respected, small, national search firm founded in 2002 and led by former heads of schools. RG175 was selected based on their deliberate, collaborative and individualized process, as well as their consultants’ knowledge of progressive education and Manhattan Country School. The firm’s responsibilities are to manage the complicated and laborious head search process, advise the search committee, and tap their extensive networks and expertise in school leadership. Their responsibilities include information gathering from the community, developing the position statement, marketing the position, targeted and broad recruiting, interviewing candidates, reference checks, organizing interviews and candidate visits, and preparing candidate dossiers.
Q: How will the final hiring decision be made?
A: Following a thorough search process and careful consideration of finalist candidates, the search committee will make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees who are charged with making the final decision on the new director.
Director Search Timeline
The new director will start in July 2020. The following are highlights of the search timeline:
- Announce the search to MCS community
- Consultants’ two-day “discovery” visit to MCS and one-day visit to the Farm
- Online survey posted for all MCS community
- Position statement disseminated by search firm
- Search firm recruiting and interviewing of candidates
- Search committee selects semi-finalists and conducts interviews
September - October 2019
- Finalists selected
- Finalists visit the school
- Board decision on the new director
- New director announced
- Transition meetings between the new director and Michèle will take place. The new director may attend certain MCS events.
- Michèle’s tenure concludes
- New director starts
Snapshots of Michèle's Leadership at MCS