Transcription of Daniel Marchetti for the show High-Quality High Schools #302

Lisa Belisle: My next guest is Daniel Marchetti, who joined Hebron Academy as Head of School in 2016. Before that, he served as Head of School at The Grammar School in Putney, Vermont and in multiple positions at The Hillside School in Massachusetts. Thanks for coming in today.
Daniel M.: Thanks for having me.
Lisa Belisle: You’ve actually had a long … Well, you’re not that old, but you’ve had many years in the private school setting. Why did you decide that you wanted to do this for your life, your job?
Daniel M.: Lack of creativity probably. I grew up in a boarding school. My father was at The Loomis Chaffee the 43 years so it’s born into it and fell in love with it from an early age.
Lisa Belisle: I’m guessing it’s not really a lack of creativity. My dad’s a doctor and I became a doctor. I hope it’s not because I’m not creative but there is something about the culture that if you’re raised in …
Daniel M.: Absolutely, absolutely. Boarding schools themselves I think are wonderful opportunities to pull together intentional communities from around the world in a diverse setting under a common mission and common shared experiences and so I think for me at this point with my young kids, it’s such a wonderful opportunity to bring a global community together in a rural spot like Hebron and have that intentional approach to education and to our work with kids.
Lisa Belisle: Tell me about Hebron because I know it’s a name that we hear a lot but it is a little bit removed from … Well, I-95, let’s just say.
Daniel M.: It’s not that far removed.
Lisa Belisle: All right. Tell me about it.
Daniel M.: Absolutely. Hebron was founded in 1804. We think we’re the thirteenth oldest boarding school in the country and we’ve been a diverse place since the beginning. We’ve taken people from as far as Middle Dam and Siam and other places ever since the early origins of the school. While the modalities have changed in terms of the kind of education we’re delivering now versus 1804, the location and the mission have really not strayed which I think is wonderful in that it’s a community that works with students from diverse backgrounds to empower their best self in mind, body and spirit. It’s a super strong liberal arts education that really focuses on critical thinking skills and communications skills so that students are well-prepared for college and life beyond.
Lisa Belisle: How does the size of your school compare to some of the other boarding schools in New England like say Phillips Andover, Phillips Exeter.
Daniel M.: Much smaller. We are mid 200s, probably topping out at 300 at the biggest that we would ever consider getting. I went to a school of 700 kids and it was great and I enjoyed it but there’s a familiarity that happens between teachers and students and students in the community at the smaller sizes that I find really meaningful and powerful and personalized. I think our size allows us to be rather competitive with athletics and offers the ability to have diverse programming but has that familiarity and closeness of community that I really value, that can be sometimes lost in the larger schools, or harder to maintain.
Lisa Belisle: From my understanding, you have a fair number of people who come right from within the state of Maine itself.
Daniel M.: Absolutely. Hebron was … I think it was in the fifties or sixties when we were still single sex, the tagline was The Maine School for Boys. We would love to serve as many students from Maine as possible. We’ll be continuing to work on that. We definitely draw kids that even sometimes board from Maine. We’ve got kids from … Boarding that are from an hour away, we’ve got day students from the town of Hebron and everything in between and we try to be connected to our Maine roots as much as possible and I see that as something that will continue to grow through a focus on place-based education utilizing our massive campus with its diverse ecosystems and also all the terrific opportunities within the state of Maine. We’re going into a strategic planning session this summer. We’ll be looking at a lot of things like how can we better represent Maine and better serve the students from the local area and also use Maine as a teaching tool and our campus as a teaching tool which I feel really strongly about.
Lisa Belisle: What are you currently doing to emphasize this idea of place based education?
Daniel M.: That’s a good question. We certainly could be doing more. We do quite a bit of local outreach, [inaudible 00:07:06] volunteering in local schools with our community service program, school will go and partner up with small businesses in places like Norway. We’ve done some things with the Center for Ecology Based … I always forget the last ECB, they’re awesome and we’ve done some work with them. We can continue to do more. I know that for our sciences certainly, we use our campus and our 1,500 acres for live outdoor experiments and things like that. There’s so much more we can do.
Lisa Belisle: What are you hoping to see?
Daniel M.: I’d love to potentially have … I hope my trustees aren’t listening. I come from an outdoor education background and worked for Knowles for a few years and that expeditionary learning is a real passion of mine. I had a pretty wonderful experience in college on a winter climbing trip into Katahdin. We were in there for 11 days. I think every kid hat graduates Hebron should have climbed that mountain and there are so many things we could do. We could be paddling boats that we make ourselves down the Allagash. There’s so many experiences that kids could have and I include the presidentials as sort of a … I guess Maine’s sisters there. There’s so much we can do with the outdoors in our local area to give kids those experiences that connect people and pull them together through shared common experience and hard work.
Lisa Belisle: You obviously have a strong New England connection and having just been from Vermont, and you have a growing up, a boarding school connection. Why Maine? Why would you come to Hebron?
Daniel M.: Why not? This is just a beautiful campus. There are so many different opportunities in the local area that fit the lifestyle that my wife and I feel really strongly about. We are really connected to the outdoors. We’re both passionate alpine and Nordic skiers and we want our kids growing up with those experiences right out the door. I’m 100 yards from 20 kilometers of perfectly groomed trails and for biking, running, skiing. Those are personal things but Hebron, Hebron is a school that I grew up knowing of and hearing about. My father went to Bowdoin and his college roommate was a Hebron alum. I sort of always knew that Uncle Ken went to Hebron but it never really connected until the search happened and I was contacted about it and thought, “Wow. Hebron. Cool.”
When I started to get under the hood I realized that I didn’t know Hebron all that well. I mean, I knew of it certainly, I had respect for it as a name school, but when I started to peel back the onion, I realized that it was a school that’s really focused on community and focused on personal development. When I found out about the kids from 28 different countries and the way diversity was celebrated and focused on, I thought this is something I really got to pay attention to. We really fell in love with the opportunity at the school. We got a very progressive board that understands that the landscape of education is changing and that we need to be tactical and strategic in making sure that we remain affordable for a vast array of students into the future so that we can think creatively about what we’re offering, how we’re offering it, what we’re pricing it in terms of cultivating a sense of economic stability into the future for our industry and I think Hebron’s really well-poised to make some bold moves in that area.
Lisa Belisle: You mentioned that the landscape is changing. What have you seen over the course of your time as a student and now in the field yourself?
Daniel M.: The education model is … Let’s see, the industrial model, let’s call it, of sort of sage on the stage and filling kids’ heads up with information so that they can bring it back to you. That’s broken. It may never have worked. It set students up to get sort of a complicit sense of order of sort of the manufacturing style education and really what are we seeing now? It’s not about knowledge retention, it’s about how you apply knowledge. It’s about how you access information and we all have so much more readily available to us on our phones and our computers. It’s about how you sort through that and then how you use that knowledge to make good decisions, either in business or in life, and then your communication skills and your applied thinking skills. Those are the things we need to be working with students on.
Our teachers at Hebron are realizing, “Okay, how can we study the way that blended learning could help the way that we deliver our education? How is it that we’re able to cultivate in students lifelong curiosity and love of learning? How are we able to teach them to work across teams, to work with kids from different cultures, to be critical, independent thinkers, to ask more questions than they answer.” Those are things that I think schools are flirting with and just like we’re flirting with and yet we’re still trapped by rigid forms of schedule and we’re still trapped by buildings that were built in the 1800s. How do we reimagine school? How do we do that in a way that isn’t so bold that it pushes away people because they say, “Oh, that’s radically difference and it’s untested.” How do you straddle those burgeoning things that you know are going to be the new norm in time and how do you bring the school along with it and so that’s really exciting to me and I think it’s exciting to all the people that are Hebron who are sort of digging in and looking at this.
We’re piloting a new schedule in two weeks which we’re looking forward to failing forward with it. I guarantee you this isn’t the schedule that we will ultimately use but the iterative process of saying, “What are the implications of trying this? What went well? What didn’t? What did we learn from it?” That’s good role modeling for kids to see. We don’t have to always have the answers. We have to prove to them that we’re gonna learn from our attempts and our mistakes to be able to show them that they need to do the same thing and take those same risks as learners that we’re gonna take to make sure that we’re giving them the best experience they can have.
Lisa Belisle: Are there students that you believe are more likely to thrive in a boarding school environment? Obviously you can offer a great education to really anyone but are there some students who you think are particularly well-suited?
Daniel M.: That’s an interesting question. I look at the diverse portfolio of learners that we have at our school and I see the successes that these students have and experience and the way that our teachers pour energy in their hearts into these kids and I think any kid really who is open to it would be successful and probably get a lot out of it. I think that maybe students that are in an area where their passion isn’t being fed and whether that’s through a lack of resources or them being just really interested in something that isn’t available to them. I think certainly students locally, if they’re in areas that are not as culturally diverse. Many of the boarding schools in Maine offer a wonderful opportunity to live and learn in a global community which I think is a terrific resource. I really think that any kid that wants to learn to be an independent learner in a supportive community would really thrive.
Lisa Belisle: You mentioned a couple of times your wife and your children, and a boarding school situation, as you know, because you grew up in one with your father being in the boarding school, how many years did you say?
Daniel M.: 43.
Lisa Belisle: 43.
Daniel M.: My mother too.
Lisa Belisle: Both of your parents, you grew up in the situation … It’s a family decision, in many ways, more than just if somebody decides to get a job as an attorney somewhere. How did you and your wife come to that?
Daniel M.: Yeah. It’s absolutely a family decision. My wife went to boarding school. She went to Killington Mountain School Ski Academy in high school. She had her own experience with that which she loved and she is a psychiatric nurse practitioner and before we came here she had a private practice working with children and adolescents in Brattleboro. Obviously we’re both in fields working with kids and working with people and prior to that Courtney and I worked together at Hillside where she was the director of health services overseeing counseling and health and wellness in the nursing department. The concept of coming back to boarding school I think was a no brainer and she’s involved in every decision I make, officially or not, at the school, and her counsel is the best I could get and when my son Oliver is in the same school as my daughter, Courtney will have a more formal role at the school but right now we’re doing a lot of driving, getting kids where they need to be.
Lisa Belisle: How old are your children now?
Daniel M.: Three and six.
Lisa Belisle: What has that been like for the two of you to basically start over in a new place with a three and a six year old and two working parents?
Daniel M.: Sure. Hebron’s a really family-focused school. We’ve got … I would say approximately 20 kids under 11 on campus as faculty kids and so there’s a wonderful concept of neighborhood there. If we go to the dining hall there is at any given night, there are going to be 10 kids that my kids can interact with and faculty. Students who will come over and know my kids by name and give them a hug and ask them to go play in the hallway or something. In some ways, I think for some people that concept of life in the fishbowl or under the microscope would be intimidating but if you sort of lean into it, you realize that you have this opportunity for your kids to have exposure to kids from all over the world and also to benefit from those relationships and to get some of the support from a community that I think many people who live in less connected ways don’t experience. For us I think that’s been a wonderful thing.
Our house is very centrally located on campus as it should be and we have students to dinner every Monday night in advisee groups so we have 15 students and 3 advisors every Monday on a rotating basis because my goal is to get every student to dinner with us and with our family before the end of the year which has been harder than you think with my travel schedule but they’re the best nights ever and the funny part is our kids. Some nights our kids sit there like little angels and some nights they’re running through the house naked on a hobby horse. That’s okay. They’re kids. That’s what they do. It’s I think helpful for everyone in those interactions. Kids get to be kids. Kids get to see us being parents and it’s again, shared experience.
Lisa Belisle: First I need to also say people can work in and outside the home so when I said to have two working parents, even if you’re staying home with your children, I acknowledge that people are still working. Anybody who’s listening who’s gonna call me up and say, “I work and I am inside the home with my kids.” I completely acknowledge that. Moving onto the next, I guess I’m wondering what you like about this age group. I’ve raised two highschoolers who are now college and beyond and now I have a 16 year old and it’s a fun age and there’s a lot of change that takes place and there’s a lot of … It’s not just academic development that these kids are going through at this stage. What is it that you enjoy about this?
Daniel M.: This is the first time that I’ve worked in a high school in a long time. I was not sure what I would like or not like about it because I had done the middle school thing for so long which is an age that is really challenging for a lot of people and an age that I really enjoy and continue to enjoy. High school for me was a new challenge and a new opportunity to challenge myself and learn a new skill set. I found this to be a lot of fun in that these students … Because we do have a small middle school, primarily of all-day students, about 30 kids in the middle school, and so they’re a lot younger than the high school kids. Even the age range between ninth grade and post graduate, you still have a really diverse developmental spectrum there of what it’s like to interact with those kids.
I’ve enjoyed their level of independence and their level of creative engagement. I tell the kids all the time. Your job is to make sure that you have the best experience that you can have and if that means that you need to challenge us on something that’s not working or something we’re not offering or you want to have appropriate discourse about changes you want to have made, then that’s your job to advocate for and it’s our job to see what we can do or to better explain why we do things the way that we do. That creative give and take has been really fun. I’ve really enjoyed that.
Lisa Belisle: Contrast it with what you enjoyed about the middle school.
Daniel M.: Yeah. Hillside where we worked for nine years together is a really great place and we loved it and I kind of grew up there as an educator and as an administrator and it holds a special place for me in my journey and so I have to separate that I guess from the age group piece but what I loved as well, it was a all boys junior boarding school. Chances were, you found yourself there because something wasn’t working where you were before. Sometimes, kids came somewhat reluctantly, but really, they were just such great, open kids who were ready to take on new challenges and I think middle school’s really a hard age and if you can get out of middle school with a sense of confidence and self-esteem intact, then you are gonna be fine. I loved what can we do to help these kids grow their confidence and their self-esteem as they start to figure out who they are as learners and as people and it was a really malleable time and that was a lot of fun.
Lisa Belisle: Having known personally and interviewed a fair number of educations. My mom’s a teacher, high school … Actually, middle school teacher. I know that not everybody chooses administration. For you, it sounds like this was a very specific choice and you talked about your own evolution. Why? Why did you decide that this was the path you wanted to take?
Daniel M.: There are so many different interesting aspects of running a school. It is a business obviously and so for me, being head of school allows me to always be on my toes and always be learning and always be challenging myself to grow in new areas. I found that I really enjoy the myriad challenges but also the connection to community and to people and so for me I just feel like I’m always learning in this role and I also feel like I’m challenged to be my best self for this community and so that’s a wonderful personal challenge and charge that the job can inspire and so if that’s what calls to me, then that works for me. Always learning.
Lisa Belisle: Is there anything about Hebron that has surprised you over the last year?
Daniel M.: Yeah, where to start, you know? Yeah. One of the things that surprised me about this is how you can be 200 years old and have people say, “I don’t really know much about your school.” For me, it’s a wonderful opportunity to better tell or retell our story and to define what that is and can be for people who are just recently discovering us. Because it’s a good story and it’s a good place with so much opportunity for kids and for the adults who work there.
Lisa Belisle: You’ve told us a little bit about the Hebron backstory. What would you like the Hebron story going forward to be?
Daniel M.: I think two of the threads that I predict, predict, not guarantee, will be a part of our strategic plan will be a renewed commitment to diversity and renewed commitment to sustainability. Albert LePage is one of our most dedicated alums, committed ten million dollars to the school last summer, five of which is earmarked to a permanent endowment for diversity and that will include the Center for Diversity at Hebron which we’re still forming and formulating as the funding comes through and what that means is we’ll be able to hire a new position at the school, as a director of diversity, and I’m really excited about that. I think that diversity and inclusion are lenses that should really be used as frames for any leader and any teacher working with people and working in schools and so there’s a lot of work we can do there to grow and I’m really excited about what that will mean for us as a school. As we say, what does this mean? What does this imply for Hebron and how can we live up to this and make it a core strength of ours?
With sustainability, I think that … Where to start … I think that the young people today are primed to really be game changers in embracing lives that are ethical and sustainable and whether it’s through their diet and where their food comes from and how they’re thinking about that or the choices they’re making regarding energy, where their clothes come from and how they’re making conscious decisions about the geopolitical implications that come from all of that. This generation needs to leave and head off into college at least being aware of the impact they and their lives and their families can have and the way that their good decisions can make a major impact in the world.
I’m really excited that at Hebron we’ve got some great opportunities to on a large scale to make renewed commitments to sustainability and we’re currently working with SMRT on a new science center that is shovel ready, pending small donations left, that will be basically net zero. We’re really committed to that. We have the largest rooftop solar array in Maine that we put up this October. I’m sure it will be surpassed at some point and how great is that, right? That’s good for Maine. That does 26% of our total electricity and we’d love to see that up to 100 or more at some point. There’s just so many different things that my wife and I are both really excited about in terms of what that can mean for Hebron and how it can be an integrated theme into the education process.
Lisa Belisle: We will put a link to Hebron Academy in our show notes page and I encourage people to maybe even go up and visit. It’s a beautiful location. I must admit, having been on the campus or toured around, but even driving by, it’s a beautiful, beautiful place. It’s almost, you’re right, surprising that people don’t know that it exists or what it’s all about. I encourage people to find out more. I’ve been speaking with Daniel Marchetti who is the Head of School at Hebron Academy. Thank you so much for coming in today and for representing your school well.
Daniel M.: Thank you.