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Legacy of Leadership

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Honoring Alan Sparrow

After an extraordinary 28 years at Rowland Hall, “headlearner” Alan Sparrow is putting the finishing touches on his career. As a tribute to Alan, we’ve established the Alan C. Sparrow Scholarship.

Alan arrived at our school in 1992, deeply committed to excellence in education, and he will leave us with a legacy of leadership that has nurtured our community across generations. As learners, educators, families, alumni, and staff, we’re eternally grateful for his service.

Four Key Highlights of Alan’s 28-Year Career

Grown our faculty and staff professional development fund to invest in our teachers.

Increased the school’s financial aid budget, greatly improving diversity at the school.

Prioritized building a diverse and inclusive community where everyone is welcome.

Put Rowland Hall well on the way to uniting back on one campus for the first time since 1984.

Honor Alan With a Gift

The Alan C. Sparrow Scholarship is an endowed fund that will offer the gift of a Rowland Hall education to a deserving student or students, annually. Alan is a great believer in creating a path where there is seemingly no access. This fund will make a Rowland Hall education a reality for students in need.

Give Now

Alan Through the Years

Alan Sparrow as a young boy.
Alan Sparrow as a young boy.
Alan Sparrow in graduation cap and gown in 1968.
Alan Sparrow with a surfboard.
Alan Sparrow in his Brown soccer uniform.
Alan Sparrow headshot.
Alan Sparrow teaching in 1978.
Alan Sparrow in coach mode.
Alan Sparrow hiking.
Alan Sparrow with Roary the lion and young students.
Alan Sparrow playing basketball with young students.
Alan Sparrow eating with young students.
Alan Sparrow with young students.
Alan Sparrow reading to young students.
Alan Sparrow in funny family portrait.
Alan Sparrow hiking.
Alan Sparrow on a boat.

Save the Date

All-Community Celebration Honoring Retiring Head of School Alan Sparrow
6–9 pm Friday, April 24, 2020
McCarthey Campus Field House
Details Coming Soon

Stories About Our Retiring Head of School

Alan Sparrow and puppet greeting Lower School students.

By Max Smart, Class of 2022

In fall 2018, then-freshman Max Smart interviewed Head of School Alan Sparrow about his years of service to Rowland Hall for the Upper School’s student newspaper, the Rowland Hall Gazette. As part of our ongoing celebration of Alan, we’re proud to share Max’s piece with our larger community.

On November 27, 2018, I sat down with Alan Sparrow to discuss his upcoming retirement at the end of the 2019–2020 school year and his reflections on 28 years of service to Rowland Hall as the head of school. I wanted to know what words of wisdom Mr. Sparrow had to share. He told me that his real title, the title on the nameplate on his desk, is head learner. Mr. Sparrow recalled, “When I first got here, people asked whether I wanted to be called headmaster or head of school, and I said neither. I told them that I want to be called head learner.”

He explained, “If I’m the number-one learner in the school, then it sets up a model for everyone learning in our school, not just the students. That’s a culture I have supported at the school. It was here when I arrived, but I’ve continued to nurture it . . . and that’s something I’m proud of.”

Mr. Sparrow’s insights into education could be considered surprising because they come from a man who spent part of his youth sporting long hair, surfing, and running rock concerts for headliners including Janis Joplin, Tina Turner, Gordon Lightfoot, James Taylor, and Taj Mahal, but Mr. Sparrow’s rock-and-roll surfing days and his current position are entirely consistent with one of the fundamental principles he told me he teaches and follows: “Don’t assume things about people.”

Alan Sparrow reading to a Lower School class.

Next, I asked Mr. Sparrow about his puppets, which were a cornerstone of my Lower School experience at Rowland Hall. Mr. Sparrow said he initially decided to greet students on the Lower School campus with a handshake every morning. However, in the winter months, “if 300 kids come in from the playground and shake your hand, guess what happens: your hand gets pretty cold.” When former board chair Peggy Olwell brought about 25 or 30 puppets for a school project, the kids loved the puppets. Mr. Sparrow asked if he could use them to greet the kids. It was great, Mr. Sparrow said. “The kids loved it and my hands were warm!” After returning Ms. Olwell’s puppets, Mr. Sparrow used his own Kermit the Frog and Winnie the Pooh puppets. He explained that this “started a tradition of people going off on spring break and seeing a puppet in the store or at the zoo they liked and bringing it to me.” Mr. Sparrow now has 110 puppets! All but two of them were given to him by students, their parents, or a local bishop. To this day, Mr. Sparrow has “alumni coming back asking, ‘Do you still greet the students with puppets?’”

Mr. Sparrow's top advice for students: live a balanced life and remember to enjoy the moment.

I was personally interested to hear what advice Mr. Sparrow has for students because he knows Rowland Hall better than anyone. So I asked Mr. Sparrow this question, and he said, “To live a balanced life and to remember to enjoy the moment.” Though this may seem surprising coming from the head of a competitive academic school, Mr. Sparrow truly wants students to enjoy their lives and not feel overly stressed by school. He said, “You’re not going to regret not going to one more meeting.” However, Mr. Sparrow said, “you may regret not spending as much time with your family or with your friends.” He believes that although one should “work towards the future,” it’s not good to place too much focus into any one thing, whether it is work or play. Mr. Sparrow believes that focusing on one's family and friends is a necessity for happiness.

Alan Sparrow with Upper School students.

To get a nice summary of Mr. Sparrow’s work at Rowland Hall, I asked him what he believed his greatest accomplishment at the school is. He replied, “A lot of people would see my greatest accomplishment as the building of the McCarthey Campus.” Mr. Sparrow also believes that is one of his greatest accomplishments. He is also very proud that he raised the teacher salary at Rowland Hall from “20% below [that of] the Salt Lake City School District to 100% of the Salt Lake District.” This has certainly helped the school keep its great teachers and get many new talented teachers.

Mr. Sparrow has spent his years at Rowland Hall building and nurturing a strong and kind community where learning flows freely among faculty, staff, and students.

But Mr. Sparrow actually believes his greatest accomplishment is the ombudsperson program. The ombudsperson program was Doug Wortham’s idea and was started by Mr. Wortham and Mr. Sparrow. To this day, it is still overseen by both of them. Mr. Sparrow explained the program as follows: “When a teacher is struggling, it’s a system to help that teacher in a very supportive way.” It is also used to “to help a teacher achieve and be able to become an excellent teacher.” The ombudsperson program helps teachers who may be in an uncomfortable situation by giving them a mediator and a safe space to work out any kinks in their daily life at school.

I’m sad to see Mr. Sparrow go, but I’m happy for him because I’m sure he will enjoy spending more time with his family and being an independent executive coach on the side. Mr. Sparrow has spent his years at Rowland Hall building and nurturing a strong and kind community where learning flows freely among faculty, staff, and students. Mr. Sparrow and his time at Rowland Hall will always be remembered.


Smiling kids wearing sock puppets on hands

On Friday, May 5, Lower School students quietly gathered on the quad, armed with sock puppets they had made, and waited to greet Alan Sparrow. It was a role reversal—he loves to welcome young students with puppets every morning—but one that had been secretly planned for weeks. They waited for Alan to walk out the doors of the lobby, and then they burst into a chorus of "Happy Birthday."

However, the fact that May 5 is Alan's birthday was incidental to the real reason for the celebration. Students, faculty, staff, and Board of Trustees Chair Jennifer Price-Wallin came together to honor Alan's 25 years of service to Rowland Hall, and declare May 5 as Alan Sparrow Day. Photo boards displayed images of Alan throughout his life, marking significant events, as well as evolving fashion trends and hairstyles. In addition to the morning gathering at the Lower School, students on the Lincoln Street Campus celebrated at lunchtime with pizza and live music. Both events included remarks from school leaders about the contributions Alan has made during his tenure as head of school.

Alan was both surprised and moved by the day and said it's the students that give him energy and make the job rewarding. "I don't like to think of it as coming to work every day," he said. "I come to school every day." For Rowland Hall's head learner, that sounds just about right.


Rhoda Sparrow

“And your old granny can sit on a pin!”

This unlikely line from The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs, a humorous retelling of the classic fable, spurred a treasured tradition shared by Rowland Hall Head of School Alan Sparrow; his late mother, Rhoda Sparrow; the class of 2013; and most third, fourth, and fifth graders since 2003.

Alan became head of school at Rowland Hall in 1992, and since then has read The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs to nearly every third- through fifth-grade class as a way to get to know students. In the book, the narrator wolf claims innocence—he merely visited the pigs to borrow sugar for his granny’s birthday cake. Toward the end of the story, the third pig rebuffs the wolf and yells the line: “And your old granny can sit on a pin!”

At this point, Alan hams it up (pun intended) with the students. The children laugh at the “pin” line and—fully committed to the wolf character—Alan feigns fury. As the book reads: “Now I’m usually a pretty calm fellow. But when somebody talks about my granny like that, I go a little crazy.” Alan jumps up and down and hoots and hollers at the kids, and they’re in stitches.

Something special happened after Alan read the book to one third-grade class in 2003. After cracking up at the expense of the wolf’s granny, the children wanted to call the head of school’s “granny”—or in this case, Alan's mother—to apologize. So Alan called his mom and explained the story to her. The kids apologized, and Mrs. Sparrow accepted their apology. Scout Swenson ’13, one of the students in that class, remembers joking to Mrs. Sparrow that she and her classmates gave Alan a detention.

From this silly interaction, a heartwarming tradition was born. After nearly every 3 Little Pigs reading that followed the one in 2003, Alan called his mom with the third, fourth, and fifth graders. And Scout and an evolving group of her class of 2013 peers called Mrs. Sparrow every year around the holidays to wish her a merry Christmas and happy birthday—New Year’s Day, for Mrs. Sparrow. Deepening her ties to the class of 2013, Mrs. Sparrow even talked via speakerphone at their fifth-grade, eighth-grade, and twelfth-grade graduations. During the ceremonies, Mrs. Sparrow would always congratulate the class and say how much she appreciated their chats over the years, recalled Scout, now a senior at the University of Southern California majoring in international relations. “It was a great experience for us to bookend our relationship at Rowland Hall,” the young alumna reflected.

Rhoda Sparrow, 101, passed away February 5, 2017, at her home in Bellport, New York. She was a “strong, independent woman,” who lived a full life—she was a devoted wife, loving mother, Harvard-educated biologist, librarian, master gardener, and more, as profiled in her obituary. Though Mrs. Sparrow is gone, she’ll endure in the memories of hundreds of Rowland Hall alumni who experienced her funny, charismatic, and easygoing personality, as described by Scout.

The fact that a jocular, impromptu phone call turned into a 15-year tradition speaks to the uniqueness of Rowland Hall, Scout added. “It’s so special to have an experience like that,” she said. “Things like that are what I think make a community for the students.”

The consistent communication meant a lot to Mrs. Sparrow, too. Last year when she turned 100, then-fourth-grader Alex Yamaguchi and Maxwell Sueoka ’16 illustrated 3 Little Pigs-themed birthday cards signed by hundreds of students. “My mom, who was more and more homebound, really appreciated the contact with the kids,” Alan said. The phone calls also furthered Alan's reputation for being a down-to-earth “head learner”—he liked reading the story and calling his mom to show students he’d joke with them, and that ultimately, school is supposed to be fun.

Since Rhoda Sparrow passed away, Alan Sparrow has received an outpouring of sympathy and support. “I can't tell you how much my kids always enjoyed your mom's phone calls,” one parent wrote. “She meant a lot to me as well as the Rowland Hall community,” a young alumni emailed. And in one card, another parent expressed simple, poignant gratitude: “Thank you for sharing her with our children.”


You Belong at Rowland Hall