Who runs any particular private school isn’t exactly news outside the school community, but the elite Sidwell Friends School in Northwest Washington draws attention because of its famous students, especially Sasha and Malia Obama ( as well as a few of Vice President Joe Biden’s grandchildren). So the news at Sidwell is that a new head has been chosen to replace the man who took over the leadership of the Quaker school in 2010 but is leaving amid tensions with faculty.
With Tom Farquhar exiting at the end of this school year, the Board of Trustees has selected as his successor Bryan K. Garman, a former Sidwell history teacher and upper school principal who has been running the Wilmington Friends School in Delaware for eight years. In a letter Friday to the school community (see below) the head of the Sidwell board, Lissa Muscatine, detailed Garman’s accomplishments at Wilmington, including strengthening faculty development, building an arts theater and founding a center to promote programs in diversity, service learning and spiritual education as well as to promote international exchanges. He will arrive at Sidwell next January; the school will be run in the interim by longtime deputy head, Ellis Turner. (Some private schools use the word “head” to refer to their leader.)
The letter says virtually nothing about Farquhar other than he is leaving at the end of the school year to to become head of the GEMS Nations Academy in Dubai. He took the job in 2010 after serving as head of the private Bullis School in Potomac for eight years. During his tenure, strains developed between Farquhar and faculty, especially in the upper school. The reasons, according to various people at the school, are complicated, with some questioning the way he tried to make changes at the school. He surprised the community by announcing last year that he would leave his job at the end of the 2014-15 school year. He surprised the school against early this year when he said he was pushing his departure up a year, compressing the amount of time the trustees had to find a successor.
Sidwell, which is preK through 12th grade and is as difficult to get into as the most elite colleges, was in the news in recent years because of a lawsuit that was filed by the father of a student accusing Sidwell of knowing that its psychologist was having an affair with the man’s (now divorced) wife while professionally seeing his and the woman’s daughter, then 5 years old at the time. The suit was thrown out of court last year by a D.C. Superior Court judge.
Back in 2008, the Obamas chose Sidwell for their daughters after checking out several private schools in the area. They followed in the footsteps of former President Clinton and Hillary Clinton, who sent their daughter to Sidwell, and former Vice President Al Gore, who transferred his son from St. Albans School to Sidwell.
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, it is my great pleasure to announce the selection of Bryan K. Garman as the next Head of Sidwell Friends School. Bryan has served for the past eight years as Head of Wilmington Friends School in Delaware and emerged as the enthusiastic choice of the Sidwell Friends search committee after an intensive and highly competitive search process. He will begin his term on January 1, 2015.
Bryan will succeed Tom Farquhar, who leaves Sidwell Friends at the end of the school year to assume the headship of the GEMS Nations Academy in Dubai, U.A.E. We are grateful that Associate Head of School Ellis Turner will serve as Interim Head until Bryan’s tenure begins.
We cannot imagine a better choice than Bryan to lead Sidwell Friends at this important time in the School’s history. Bryan is a respected teacher, scholar, and administrator with a deep reverence for learning, proven talent as a leader, and a reputation as one of the nation’s most compelling thinkers on Quaker education.
He is also familiar to many in the Sidwell Friends community. Bryan traces some of his most important influences as a Quaker educator to his early days on the faculty at Sidwell Friends. He joined the Upper School history department in 1997 for a one-year appointment but ended up staying for nearly a decade, becoming history department chair and then principal of the Upper School. In each role, he inspired students and colleagues through a shared passion for learning, a commitment to social justice, and the application of Quaker process and values in all facets of School life.
In 2006, Bryan was named Head of Wilmington Friends School, where he went on to raise the institution’s academic profile and successfully steer the community through the challenges of an economic recession in a competitive independent school market. Under his stewardship, Wilmington Friends School introduced the teaching of Mandarin, strengthened faculty development and the use of technology, built a signature performing arts theater, and founded the Quaker Center for Understanding, Engagement, and Stewardship, which promotes international exchanges and programs in diversity, service learning, and spiritual education.
Bryan’s own exposure to teachers instilled in him a joy of learning and inspired him to become a teacher himself. At Sidwell Friends, his courses on American history were known for being rigorous, creative, and fun. In 2005, Bryan won the Olmstead Prize for Excellence in Secondary Teaching (awarded by Williams College). He later served as a mentor to young administrators at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education.
Bryan’s start date next January allows Sidwell Friends and Wilmington Friends time to ensure smooth transitions to new leadership. It has been much in the spirit of two Quaker institutions that the clerk of Wilmington Friends, Susan Kelley, and I have worked closely together to achieve a timetable that meets the needs of both schools. I thank Susan and her board for their graciousness and generosity throughout this process. I also wish to convey my gratitude to the search committee at Sidwell Friends and its clerk, Katie Smith Sloan, for working tirelessly on behalf of the search. My deep appreciation goes to the entire Sidwell Friends community as well — administrators, faculty, staff, students, parents, and alumni whose ideas shaped the search process and helped identify the characteristics needed in a new Head of School. This was a team effort in the best Sidwell Friends tradition.
It is with great eagerness and excitement that we welcome Bryan, his wife, Karen Ballotta, and their daughters Siena and Oriana back to the Sidwell Friends community that has meant so much to their family over the years. Please join all of us on the board in extending them warmth, kindness, and appreciation when they arrive in January.
Clerk, Board of Trustees