The journey from Virginia Beach to Georgetown Day School was a long one for Derek Brunn. His trip was full of twists and turns, setbacks and new opportunities.
When High School Principal Katie Gibson stood up in front of the school for an update on personnel and then mentioned Leigh Tait’s name, segments of the school actually gasped. Then, from the same students came a sigh of relief as the school learned that the administrative assistant would only be moving to a new role working with Catherine Pearson on special educational programming like Minimester and the Policy Institute. The school was then introduced to Derek Brunn.
Brunn played Division-III football at Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Virginia, where he primarily played tight end. Obviously, there is no football program at GDS, and there never will be. Brunn loves the game, coaching a high school team while in graduate school in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The transition to GDS has been coarse at points for Brunn regarding his longing for the gridiron.
“I saw some mail yesterday that was addressed to the head football coach, and I was like, ‘man, that kind of hurts,’” he said.
Being an administrative assistant doesn’t conceptually require being good with kids but, like Leigh Tait before him, that’s not the approach Brunn takes.
“I loved coaching, being on that side of it, after having been an athlete my whole life,” he said. “That was really fun.”
“I’ve been an administrative assistant now for a while, so I’ve gotten pretty good at doing the logistics so anytime I got to hang out with the kids at the elementary school, I got to be with the student who got in trouble a lot at recess,” he said. “What I ended up doing was taking them out to the front of the building to do all the football drills I was going to do at 4 o’clock with the high school kids, to work out the kinks of the drills. Any interaction I get with students, it’s great.” Brunn may even lead an advisory group next year.
When asked if he would return to coaching, his empathic response said it all.
“I would love to!” he said.
His next coaching gig won’t be as the leader of a football team, though, and Brunn knows it.
“It’s impossible. It would be amazing. I haven’t gotten married to the idea, because I know it won’t happen,” he said.
If he could coach a sport? “I played soccer in high school. I’d coach it. That would be fun. I love the teamwork, kids pushing the envelope, going farther than they think they can.”
Aside from the absence of a football team, there are some features of GDS that first surprised Brunn, like the open-campus policy.
“It’s been crazy to see the whole free period thing,” he said. “I worked at a public school before I worked at the community college, and security was really tight. Once you got into the building, you couldn’t leave. If you did, they were instantly calling the police.”
Brunn doesn’t find the GDS idiosyncrasy of calling adults by their first name strange because often his players would refer to him as “Coach Derek,” as opposed to referring to him by last name, something he associates with his father.
“Leave the house early,” he responded when I asked him if he has any lessons worth sharing with readers. “But the most important thing is to be yourself. A lot of people come into a new job and try to perform. They just aren’t real with themselves, real with the people they are working with. Who you are can be such a benefit to the team that you are working with.” To Brunn, GDS has been a night and day transition compared to his former jobs, pointing out “the simple fact that I have Vans on right now.”
Brunn thinks highly of his coworkers, saying that “the team down here is really tight. The deans, and Kelly Morris. Just trying to play my part, making sure everything runs smoothly. That’s the comparison [between an administrative assistant and a tight end]: being a team player.”
In a 2014 interview with the Grand Rapids Press, as he was in a similar situation, just beginning a new job at a high school, Brunn admitted that his grades in high school were far short of perfect and that he didn’t necessarily love his high school or college experiences.
What he took away from college that his passion was for intellectual betterment, a love of learning, in other words. He said he realized that for the first time I liked being around people who were learning.
When asked about his long-term plans, he affirmed that his future will remain in education.
“Look. I graduated from grad school in 2015. I’ve had maybe four jobs since then. I’m done with the interviewing process, it’s just so tiring,” he said. “So yeah, I don’t want to leave. I want this to be my job, the one I keep for the rest of my life.”
Hopefully, this new job will be the homecoming that Brunn has been looking for since he began his odyssey.
By William Goldberg ’19