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