By Mehrane Mokdad, EPS Board President
MATCHING THE MATCHLESS
“How can we match the matchless?” was the first thought that crossed my mind when I was invited, with great honor, to chair the Head of School Search Committee at Eastside Prep. Over the years, EPS has benefitted from an outstanding leader, Dr. Terry Macaluso, who not only shaped and grew the TALI mission but also, on the eve of Eastside Prep’s twentieth anniversary, kept it vividly alive; who not only inspired a culture of trust, respect, and transparency, but kept it deliberately vibrant; who not only believed in the student-centered approach but invigorated it more than ever; who not only believed in the excellence of the teaching profession but supported it wholeheartedly. During the search process, I realized how grateful we will always be to her leadership, vision, and wisdom and how we must sustain and continue to grow that legacy.
There are two pivotal junctures during the life of a school: its founding and the transition from a founding Head, particularly an outstanding founding Head. Since its launch, EPS grew to be positioned in a place of great strength with an excellent and well-earned reputation. Today, EPS is a dynamic, thriving, and inspiring school. The story of its success is written by the EPS founders, the Head of School, the trustees, the leadership team, the faculty and staff, the students, parents, guardians of students, the alumni, and all EPS friends. With the announcement of Dr. Macaluso’s retirement effective at the end of the 2022-23 academic year, EPS transitioned into search mode.
LAUNCH OF THE SEARCH
With the search for a new Head of School, the Board faced its single biggest and most consequential responsibility. With the significance of that duty in mind, the Board partnered with a professional consulting firm, Carney Sandoe & Associates (CS&A), who brought extensive experience in head searches and deep knowledge of leadership in independent schools on a national level. Concomitantly, the Board appointed the Search Committee to include a broad and diverse spectrum of the EPS community, represented by Trustees, a staff member, and a founder/past faculty: Amit Bhutani, Patricia Friel, Bart Gummere, Scott Haeger, Mack Hinson, Chris Li, Alicia Moreno Gonzalez, Amy Pannoni, and Casey Otley in the capacity of EPS ex-officio and liaison.
So back to the question, “How can we match the matchless? How can we fill Dr. Macaluso’s shoes?” I soon realized that those ought not to be the guiding questions during a search. The right question was, “What are the qualities and characteristics of the right leader who will sustain and grow what we have and lead us into the future?”
INFORMATION GATHERING PHASE
The first phase of the search was the most crucial step in the process. That is where searches can either fail or succeed. A Search Committee must know what is needed; must know its community’s aspirations; must understand the school’s strategic needs; and must listen and listen carefully.
We dedicated the first two months to gathering information. There were multiple opportunities for parents, faculty, staff, and students to provide input through confidential online surveys, in-person meetings conducted by our independent search firm, and more. This inclusive process was an invaluable opportunity to engage and connect with our community of parents, faculty, staff, alumni, and students. The meetings and surveys conducted revealed a tremendous consistency in how the community members describe EPS and their aspirations for the school’s future. The feedback was thoughtful, inspiring, and reflective of the EPS community’s diverse perspectives. There was an enormous appreciation and a shared commitment to Eastside Prep’s values, vision, and mission.
PLANNING THE RECRUITMENT STRATEGY
The Search Committee was fully immersed in synthesizing and reviewing information relevant to our decision-making and ultimately planning our recruitment strategy. The Committee members spent time and energy defining, refining, and prioritizing the core competencies of the next Head of School, specifically crafted to the school’s strategic needs, mission, and culture. Using the core competencies (which encompassed seven core areas: leadership skills; strategic planning and school governance; organizational leadership and management; people management; DEI; culture, curriculum, and pedagogy; and communication skills) as a guidepost, we carefully planned the next phase of the search process. The Committee formulated interview questions against which candidates would be assessed and measured. Our process was diligent, robust, deliberate, and guided by the school’s strategic needs. As for the governance and voting process, we aimed for a unanimous vote. I deeply believe that the Head of School should start their tenure with a strong consensus.
As we were further analyzing the data and consulting with CS&A, it was evident that it was strategically wise to look at internal candidates for early consideration. Dr. Macaluso built a strong team, and we wanted to recognize and honor the internal talents. Furthermore, we heard from the community that maintaining the culture, retaining Eastside Prep’s talented faculty and staff, embracing the mission, preserving the sense of community, and ensuring continuity while encouraging wise innovation were the mainstays of a successful
After careful deliberation and thoughtful planning of the next phase of our search, the Search Committee decided unanimously to solicit the interest of internal candidates for initial consideration. CS&A also recommended that, given the strength of our school and in the emergence of a strong internal candidate, early consideration was the right thing to do for EPS.
After receiving Sam Uzwack’s compelling and inspiring statement of interest, the Search Committee invited Sam to a formal interview. It was an opportunity to discuss with him the core elements of the role and the aspirations for the future of EPS. During our two-hour meeting, we heard his insight in response to the questions we had designed around the core competencies. Every member was extremely impressed with Sam’s responses and the Committee proceeded to the reference check phase. Reference checks are an integral part of any interview process and the feedback we received on Sam was remarkable and extremely positive.
THE APPOINTMENT OF SAM UZWACK
By then, we were highly confident that Sam was the right leader. The Committee convened and enthusiastically and unanimously voted to recommend him for the Board’s ratification. As those ultimately responsible for the appointment of the Head of School, it was with great honor and eagerness that the Committee brought the name of Sam Uzwack to the Board. Another enthusiastic and resounding unanimous vote confirmed the appointment. The emails of support from the community following the Board’s announcement were heartwarming.
We have identified the unmatched leader who will lead us into the future. No external candidate would have matched Sam’s fidelity to EPS values and culture, his deep conviction to the school’s student-centric approach, and his ability to support and connect with the outstanding talent at EPS.
Sam embodies the mission and is a steward of EPS’ distinctive culture, which he highlighted in a letter to the Search Committee:
“EPS is at a pivotal moment in its history, as we celebrate all we have built in our first twenty years and look ahead to the next decade. The culture Dr. Macaluso built and shepherded is our most precious asset and one that must persist. It is this culture, predicated on the belief that every student can be successful in their own, unique way, that brought me to EPS thirteen years ago, and it is this culture that I have worked tirelessly to preserve and refine as our school grew to where we are today.”
A WINDOW INTO THE FUTURE
The appointment of the new Head of School marked the end of the search and the beginning of the transition— a transition into the future. We are confident, optimistic, and excited about the future of EPS under Sam Uzwack’s leadership.
As I reflect on this journey, I am heartened by the community’s strong devotion to EPS values and its commitment to a shared sense of duty to carry EPS into the future to continue to “inspire students to create a better world.”