6-7s Building Study: Progressive Education

MCS Search for a New Director

MCS Search for a New Director

 

After more than 20 years as Director of Manhattan Country School, and more than 30 years as a member of the MCS Community, Michèle Solá has decided to retire at the end of the 2019-20 school year. During her tenure, Michèle forged and strengthened partnerships that cut across the boundaries of institution and sector. With almost four decades of leadership and dedication, Michèle's presence and guidance will be sorely missed.

The Board of Trustees in partnership with the search firm Resource Group 175 (RG 175), will conduct a search to identify and hire our next Head of School. 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 coming months, the Search Committee with the search firm RG 175 will work to find the next Head of School. Please check this page for up to date information on the search.

Please Read the Position Statement

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 director-search@manhattancountryschool.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. 

In partnership,
Gisele


Dr. Gisele C. Shorter, ‘91
Chair, Board of Trustees
Manhattan Country School

Letters from Roxanne Leff, Head of the Search Committee

September 18, 2019

Dear MCS Families,

After two full days of meeting with nine semifinalists, the Search Committee is pleased to share that we have identified three finalists, one of whom will be our next Director! We had an impressive pool and, yet we coalesced around three candidates rather quickly. It became clear to us that the candidates possessed exceptional qualifications, knowledge and vision necessary to lead our school into the next phase.

The finalists are filled with excitement and eagerness to immerse themselves in MCS when they visit. Each finalist’s time at MCS will begin with a welcome dinner hosted by the Board of Trustees followed by two full days of meetings with parents, faculty, staff and students. 

Below are some key reminders regarding the final phase of the head of school search process:

  • Look out for a profile and writing sample forty-eight hours before each candidate arrives. Their candidacy remains confidential until that time.
  • Remember that we are interviewing the candidates AND the candidates are interviewing us.
  • During open meetings, candidates will begin with a brief presentation and then welcome questions. They will also question us.
  • Meet as many candidates as possible. Even if you can only meet one, that counts!
  • Refrain from comparing one candidate to another. Instead, consider the merits of each individual.
  • Complete feedback immediately (or within forty-eight hours) after you meet each candidate so that your impression of them remains fresh in your mind. It is important that we hear your voice in this process.
  • Remember that the board makes the final decision and seeks to incorporate feedback from our community during our decision making.
  • Enjoy the process and keep an open mind!

Confirmed Schedule

Finalist #1
Open Parent Meeting--Monday, September 23, at 8:45 a.m. 
Open Parent Meeting--Tuesday, September 24, at 6:15 p.m. 
Feedback form closed--Thursday, September 26 at 9:00 a.m.

Finalist #2
Open Parent Meeting--Thursday, September 26, at 8:45 a.m.
Open Parent Meeting--Friday, September 27, at 8:45 a.m. 
Feedback form closed--Sunday, September 29, at 9:00 a.m.

Finalist #3 
Open Parent Meeting--Thursday, October 3, at 6:00 p.m. 
Open Parent Meeting--Friday, October 4, at 8:45 a.m. 
Feedback form closed--Sunday, October 6, at 9:00 a.m.

I would like to thank the Search Committee, a rock-solid group of committed folks who truly care about the future of MCS. And, it goes without saying that we would like to thank Michèle Solá for the wisdom and leadership she has bestowed upon MCS during her tenure as Director. The benefit of that level of stewardship and support has informed our ability to recognize the most relevant qualities required to continue on our path of dynamic growth. We look forward to identifying our next Director together. We truly cannot wait for you to meet each candidate. 

June 22, 2019

Dear MCS Community,

Thank you for your participation and engagement during RG175’s (Tony Featherston and Bob Henderson) site visit in early May. Many of you spent time in-person with the search firm and 140 of you completed the survey. From those conversations and survey data, RG175 worked with me and the Search Committee to formulate a position statement that clearly characterizes what we love about MCS, the opportunities for the future, and the challenges that our school is working to overcome. Please read the Position Statement and feel free to share it with your networks.

During June, July and early August, RG175 will spend time recruiting candidates (many of whom were recommended by folks in the MCS community), evaluating resumes and conducting initial interviews. This confidential work will continue through mid-August, when Bob Henderson and Tony Featherston will formally present 12-14 candidates for review to the Search Committee. The Committee will select no less than 7 from that group and conduct formal (but still confidential) interviews. That group will be narrowed down once again and at least 3 of those candidates will become our Head of School finalists, who will then be invited to 85th Street for two-day interviews in the fall. At that point, the candidates will be made public and all members of the community will be invited to meet each one and offer feedback through online surveys.

You can expect another update shortly before the start of the school year, but you should feel free to go to the Director Search page on the MCS website for the timeline and answers to frequently asked questions. Please reach out to me or anyone on the Search Committee if you have questions.

Enjoy the last days of the 2019 school year and have a wonderful summer.

May 6, 2019

Dear MCS Community,

This is a reminder that we are gearing up to welcome our consultant team from RG175 to Manhattan Country School on May 7-9th (If you missed our previous email, about the director search, please see below). The focus of their visit will be to gather information about our school. Specifically, what is special about our MCS, challenges to keep in mind for our future, and the characteristics and skills we want in our next director.

The "discovery" process will be supported by survey feedback. All MCS constituents are encouraged to complete the survey. The survey should only take 10-15 minutes to complete and will remain open for one week until 8:00am on Monday, May 13th.Please note: survey responses are both confidential and anonymous and go directly to our consultants. They will use the feedback, along with the information from their many conversations at MCS, to inform the preparation of the opportunity statement, a job description of sorts that will be used to advertise the position widely. The results of the survey will be shared with the Search Committee as well.

Finally, please be sure to visit our Director Search page on the MCS website for the latest information on the search. Here you will find answers to all your questions about the process, members of the Search Committee, the timeline, and more. It will be updated throughout the process, as necessary. Or you can email questions or comments todirector-search@manhattancountryschool.org. You can expect to find a copy of the opportunity statement mentioned above sometime in early June.

Thank you, on behalf of the Search Committee, for completing the survey and your partnership during this process.

All my best,
Roxanne Leff​
Chair, MCS Head of School Search Committee
Co-Chair, Committee on Trustees

__________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

April 30, 2019

Dear MCS Community,

The Board of Trustees has many responsibilities, including hiring the head of school. To that end, we are organized and prepared to find an inspiring, insightful, and extraordinary leader.

I am honored to write to you as Chair of the Search Committee. My family has been a member of this special community since 2012. We enrolled our daughter Ava as a 4-5 (now she’s in 5th grade) on 96th St. and later our son Emory (1st grade) as one of the first 4-5s on 85th St. I am also the Head of a middle school in Brooklyn. Leadership transitions have been a part of my eighteen-year experience as an educator in five independent schools. All of that to say: I love MCS, I know our school and its programs well, and I embark on this journey with a clear understanding of all it entails.

The rest of the Search Committee is comprised of seven trustees who wear many hats at MCS including, parent, faculty, friend of the school, alumni and son of the founders. I have the pleasure of working with these committed Trustees:

  • Ricky Castillo ‘92 - Alumnus/Current Parent  
  • Leslie Watkins Cain - Current Parent/Parent Rep to the Board
  • Caroline Cotter - Friend of MCS
  • Reese Mason - 6-7s Head Teacher, Faculty/Staff Rep to the Board
  • Gisele Shorter ‘91, Alumna/Chair of the Board
  • Stephen Trowbridge ‘74 - Alumnus/Parent of Alum
  • Andrew Weinstein - Current Parent

In true MCS spirit, finding our new leader will be a collaborative endeavor. The seven other Trustees and I will lead the process of culling through potential candidate resumes, interviewing semi-finalists, presenting finalists to the community, and making a final recommendation to the full Board for consideration. We are also committed to an inclusive search process that considers input from all constituencies. There will be ample opportunity for everyone – from students and parents to alumni families to staff and faculty – to provide input and feedback along the way.

Search Firm details…
We have already selected Resource Group 175 (RG175) to work with us during the search for our next Head of School. RG175 is a search firm staffed by former heads of schools. This firm prides itself on being attentive to the needs of each school as they transition to the next phase of leadership. Our consultants are Tony Featherston and Bob Henderson. RG175 will be on 85th St. on May 7th and 8th and at the Farm on May 9thto meet with our community and learn from everyone what we are looking for in our next Director. If you would like more information about our consulting team, please follow the links below.

https://rg175.com/bio/tony-featherston

https://rg175.com/bio/robert-henderson​

Outline and Timeline for process…
An estimated timeline of the head search process is outlined below. This timeline is derived from best practices laid out in the NAIS Head Search Handbook.

May 7-9: Tony and Bob from RG175 will be on 85th St. to conduct their discovery visit and meet with current parents, faculty/staff, alumni families, and the Board of Trustees. This discovery visit will allow RG175 to gather information about what makes MCS special and our hopes for the future. Ultimately, this information will enable the search firm to create an accurate profile of our school to share with potential candidates. Please see below for meeting time(s) for each constituency group.

I acknowledge the short notice for the below meeting times. If you are unable to attend your group’s in-person meeting, please note that we will be sharing an electronic survey with the community soon via email and will also post to the Director Search page on MCS website. The survey prompts will be similar to the prompts used for the in-person conversations

Early June: The Search Committee (informed by discussions with the community and guided by our consultant) will produce a profile of our school and a position description that will be posted to generate a qualified pool of candidates.

Late Summer: Following a review of resumes, the Search Committee will conduct confidential interviews of a small group of semifinalists.

Early Fall: After confidential interviews with semi-finalists, the Search Committee will identify the finalists. Those candidates will be invited on a two-day school visit. Members of the school community will meet the candidates and share feedback after each candidate.

Late Fall: After finalists visit MCS, the Search Committee (with careful consideration of the feedback provided by all constituencies) will make a recommendation to the Board of Trustees for the third Director of Manhattan Country School, to be voted on during a special meeting of the Board. Shortly thereafter, the Board’s decision will be shared with the community.

We expect that this process will identify the ideal candidate to lead our school. We are confident that our candidate list will be impressive. In order to make the search process as accessible and inclusive as possible, we have created the Director Search page on our MCS website. Visit and bookmark the page; it will be the go-to site for the latest news and developments about the search for our new head of school.

Your interest in the process and participation throughout will be crucial to successfully identifying the next head of school that will lead us into the future that we envision. Ask questions, get involved, meet the candidates, fill out surveys… be a part of it!

All my best,
Roxanne Leff​
Chair, MCS Head of School Search Committee
Co-Chair, Committee on Trustees

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.

With gratitude,

Michèle

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: 

April 2019

  • Announce the search to MCS community

May 2019

  • 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

June-August 2019

  • Search firm recruiting and interviewing of candidates
  • Search committee selects semi-finalists and conducts interviews 

September - October 2019

  • Finalists selected
  • Finalists visit the school 

October 2019

  • Board decision on the new director
  • New director announced 

January–June 2020

  • Transition meetings between the new director and Michèle will take place. The new director may attend certain MCS events.

June 2020

  • Michèle’s tenure concludes

July 2020

  • New director starts
Snapshots of Michèle's Leadership at MCS
1997: Michèle Solá appointed MCS director
2002: MCS’ 35th anniversary
2012: MCS' 45th anniversary
2015: MCS hosts Progressive Education Network Conference
2016: The first day of school of the 2016-2017 school year at our new westside home.
2016: Ribbon cutting during Farm Festival 2016
2016: Michèle speaks at an assembly during the 2016-2017 school year, the first in our new westside home.
2017: MCS launches $15 million Expanding Purpose: The Campaign for the Future of Manhattan Country School at Big Night Out!