Been Quite a Week for Me

Following a special announcement from the Board of Trustees on April 7, Director Vince Durnan shares more details on what the next year will look like for him and USN as the search for his replacement begins.
At the very conspicuous risk of waxing too autobiographical, it does occur that some news I shared a couple days ago may have escaped your attention. Fact is, next year will be my 22nd and last at USN as Director, a run that may register as inordinately long to many, somehow too brief to others, and just right to me. The resulting departure sequence, the protracted goodbye typical of our K-12 sector, probably benefits from some explanation to diminish any understandable incredulity — fifteen months? Really? So here goes:

First, a little context. School head jobs like this one clock in with an average tenure of about a decade, with longer runs at stronger schools and shorter stints at places in turmoil — and at international schools barely four years. To exceed a couple decades says a lot about USN as a plum place to be. It surely has been for me — as the only head of school position I ever interviewed for, served in, or anticipate ever holding. It’s
that simple.

I’m especially grateful for the support along the way and in this moment of sharing a decision — reading the many messages from constituents generated a surreal kind of reflection. Only two in that stack expressed concern that perhaps I was being pushed out, a direction that had not crossed my mind but expressed a different dimension of compassion. My response in those cases, after confirming that in fact the request to finish out in this role was mine, was that it sure would be a slow push, inching incrementally toward July 2022.

Which gets to the question of why this transition takes so long. Didn’t the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill just replace a Hall of Fame basketball coach in barely a week? Chalk it up to gentility and a deep commitment to process on this end. By contract and culture, I needed to share my intentions in advance of a whole school year even happening to avoid creating a turbulent rush. What then predictably follows for our hardworking Board of Trustees, from whom you’ll be hearing regularly, is the task of forming a search committee to coordinate each step in an inclusive, thoughtful process — including identifying the right search firm to help at every turn.

This months-long progression leaves room for some form of surveying sentiment from all constituents, listening in for people’s priorities and aspirations for USN. It provides a chance to solicit individuals’ interests near and far, in part through a formal statement about the opening and the current state of the school. And, it offers time to work from the long list of candidates that I’d expect to come knocking to the short stack of those who seem especially right for this moment and for our community.

Having only done this once myself, I’m hardly the expert on this general topic — it has actually been great to watch others from a healthy distance over the years. But those tend to be the basics, culminating in an announcement sometime in the late autumn of the year in advance of a July 1 start. I know, that means a long wait to a successor to begin. But in order to be fair to the school from which the new head may be coming, that
seems the right path for institutions like ours. The memories of that hiatus, the excitement to start tempered with not overstepping too eagerly and too early, are indelible for me.

You’ll begin to hear about the specifics of these steps in due time, as I appropriately step back to let the leaders lead on this weighty and exciting task. My time will go to keeping us otherwise running at full blast and doing those things that this singular time will make possible for me as the head cheerleader.

One example that won’t surprise you is keeping us COVID-19 safe while our vaccination numbers continue to climb — even as we’ve seen a few more cases click on our tracker. Much as we wish it were otherwise, it’s not done yet. Expect our mitigation protocols to remain rock solid through May, even as we prepare for a busy summer of camps and programs.

Let me add word on recent security issues in the neighborhood and the general area — we're fortunate via our partnership with Vanderbilt University Police Department to receive real-time word on anything of concern anywhere near campus, and that continues on a daily and hourly basis. We remind students to walk with a buddy, walk with a purpose, avoid distraction via a cell phone, and keep the Vandy Safe app available to report any concern or worry. Those steps continue to prove both helpful and effective.
 
With all that being said, a dinner table conversation about any roaming around that your young ones may choose to do after school hours will certainly be time well spent. Learning to navigate a busy neighborhood can be one of the secondary benefits of time at USN — in an age-appropriate, well-supported way. And just as an editorial comment, let's not ask those dear ones to grow up too soon.

Thanks for making time to read, thanks for the raft of heartwarming sentiments, and thanks for making USN a place where a person could serve as Director for a generation.

Now back to familiar the tasks at hand with a renewed sense of appreciation,
Vince Durnan
Director
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