July 20, 2008

A Familiar Face Stepping in As Head of Brooks School

By Drake Lucas, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.

Jul. 20--NORTH ANDOVER -- Most students just live at Brooks during the school year, but the private high school is home for John Packard.

Packard has lived and taught at the boarding school for 18 years. He met his wife there and is raising his family in a house on campus.

Now, he's stepping into the role of head of school, and he's only the fourth person to take on that title since Brooks was founded 86 years ago.

"This school has been a magical fit for me," said Packard, who has taught history and coached soccer since he came to the school.

For the past eight years, he has been dean of the faculty.

Packard said his goal is to make students' time at Brooks School the most meaningful educational experience of their lives. Packard said he, himself, has been learning for the 18 years he's been there.

Packard, 40, started at Brooks School in 1990 as a teacher intern, having just graduated from Franklin and Marshall in Pennsylvania. He thought the position would be a two- or three-year stop, but he didn't find anything else that could replace what he already had found.

When a position opened up to replace Larry Becker, the Brooks School headmaster for 22 years who retired this year, Packard knew he wanted to step into the lead role.

"I have a deep personal appreciation of the school and pride in what we are," said Packard, who also earned a master's degree in liberal studies from Wesleyan University in Connecticut while working at Brooks School.

Packard, who beat 60 applicants for the position, said his intention is not to dramatically change how the school runs. To the contrary, his desire to lead the school has to do with its current success.

What Packard said he does hope to do is enhance the experience students already are getting.

Programs such as international exchanges and science internships with area hospitals are good, he said. He wants to see more. And while keeping the prep school traditions of Brooks, he also wants to move the school forward by keeping up on the cutting edge of education.

He said he will challenge the faculty to look at new teaching models and to pause and examine why they teach and how they teach.

"We need to push ourselves to stay current and stay relevant," he said. "We need to take some chances, be dynamic and be bold."

The school has 360 students. Packard said the small size allows strong relationships to form between students and faculty. He said he often marvels at how much students will share, both with other students and with faculty, during times like morning chapel.

"Our kids get up in chapel and speak about deeply personal things in their lives," he said. "They find comfort and confidence in the community's care."

It is that community that has kept Packard at the school. He said he has considered leaving, but realized that his work is not just a job.

He lived in the dorms when he came to the school as a bachelor. After he married his wife, Kim, whom he met at an alumni event, the two moved into a house on campus where they're raising their two daughters -- Kate, 7, and Elizabeth, 4.

Packard said for family life, the school provides an enriching atmosphere with plays to go to every weekend, sports games to attend and music concerts. He said his girls also are surrounded by role models.

"There is so much here for us," he said. "We find ways to weave our family's life into the school life."


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