Legacy of Leadership

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Honoring Alan Sparrow

After an extraordinary 28 years at Rowland Hall, “headlearner” Alan Sparrow retired in June 2020. 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 left 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

Gifts received in Alan's honor will establish the Alan C. Sparrow Scholarship, an endowed fund to support students in need of financial aid. Your support will help make a Rowland Hall education a reality for students who may not otherwise be able to attend the school.

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.

Stories About Our Retired Head of School

Alan Sparrow with students and colleagues at the 2018 People of Color Conference.

When Alan Sparrow arrived as Rowland Hall’s head of school in the summer of 1992, no one could have known that he was beginning a nearly three-decade-long journey that would be marked by an impressive list of achievements, from capital expansions to professional-development investments that kept the school on the forefront of educational best practices.

For the faculty and staff who worked by Alan’s side during his 28 years at Rowland Hall, his final year has been a time to reflect on these achievements, as well as the many ways his leadership has fostered a culture that will continue on after his retirement. Upper School French teacher Doug Wortham, who has been on Rowland Hall’s faculty since 1978, has had the unique opportunity to view Alan’s entire headship and admires him for always having shown a desire to move the school forward, often through creative solutions.

He has always been very open to innovation, and that is easily borne out through his 28 years.—Doug Wortham, Upper School French teacher

“He has always been very open to innovation, and that is easily borne out through his 28 years,” Doug said.

Director of Admission Kathy Gundersen, who began working with Alan in 2001, agreed. She called him a forward-thinking educator who seeks out others’ ideas, opinions, and knowledge when making decisions about the school—and who truly takes feedback to heart.

“He is thoughtful, he listens to everyone, whether faculty and staff, students, or heads of other schools. He's always seeking to learn more before he makes a decision,” she said. “I really appreciate that.”

One of the best examples of how Alan encouraged and applied feedback was the establishment of the ombudsperson program in 2003, an idea that Doug pitched to him. In essence, the ombudsperson program is a way to create transparency between faculty, staff, and the administration by facilitating better communication—any employee or supervisor may request the presence of an ombudsperson during any meeting where they feel enhanced communication may assist their concerns, such as a misunderstanding or dispute between employees. Doug explained that this type of program isn’t common in independent schools, but has been a good fit at Rowland Hall, resulting in a more collaborative, trusting environment.

“It has really helped the school to be more transparent in the establishment and the execution of policies,” he said.

Transparency is important to Alan, who has always prioritized open communication and trust among his team members. He understands that trust can only exist when there is honest communication, and he further knows that the very best work happens when you bring a variety of opinions and backgrounds to the table. In fact, one of Alan’s biggest priorities as head of school has been to build a more diverse Rowland Hall community, from the student body to faculty and staff, that reflects our world.

“He hired people from all over the country and the world because he wants our kids to think beyond our small doors,” said Kathy.

Like many other talented leaders, Alan has done more than just lead—he has served as an inspiration, empowering others who will continue building a vibrant community of learners centered around values he has always embraced: collaboration, trust, and an appreciation of the beauty of diverse human experiences.

As a result of Alan’s dedication, Rowland Hall has prioritized building an inclusive community where everyone is welcomed and celebrated. From finding ways to grow socioeconomic diversity through increased financial aid so that a Rowland Hall education could be within reach for more families, to honoring diversity in its many forms, Alan has been a driving force behind this work. He knows that when people feel safe and heard, their ability to learn improves and they are better prepared to be members of an increasingly connected world.

Accordingly, one of Rowland Hall’s priorities is to help students grow their collaborative skills, Kathy explained: research shows that better ideas emerge when we work with people whose backgrounds differ from our own. “We want our kids to be in those collaborative experiences and contributing. That's only enhanced by having a diverse community.”

And this thinking will be part of the Rowland Hall culture long after Alan’s retirement. Like many other talented leaders, Alan has done more than just lead—he has served as an inspiration, empowering others who will continue building a vibrant community of learners centered around values he has always embraced: collaboration, trust, and an appreciation of the beauty of diverse human experiences.

Video: Alan's Farewell Message

Top photo: Alan with colleagues and students at the 2018 NAIS People of Color Conference in Nashville, Tennessee.


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.”

Young Alan Sparrow holding surfboard.

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 percent below [that of] the Salt Lake City School District to 100 percent 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.

Alan Sparrow reading to a Lower School class.


You Belong at Rowland Hall