GDS Narrows Search for Principal to Four Final Candidates

Katie Gibson’s office in the high school building. Photo by Reid Alexander.

Just under three months after Katie Gibson announced her departure from GDS, the school has identified four finalists to fill her position as high school principal through an intensive search process. The finalists, Yom Fox, Amy Kumpel, Paul Barsky and Gretchen Boger, have each held roles at independent schools across the country. 

GDS formed a faculty Search Advisory Committee, comprised of nine high school faculty members, to help with the search for a new high school principal. Administrators emailed faculty members to solicit nominations for people to serve on the committee. Once members were selected, the search committee identified desired qualities in a future high school principal and evaluated candidates, according to Nat Conard. 

Conard is a member of Educators Collaborative, a national search firm that partnered with GDS to find potential candidates for principal. Head of School Russell Shaw, alongside Conard, worked to narrow down the applicant pool to eight semifinalists, who were then presented to the committee. 

The search committee then interviewed each of the semifinalists over Zoom. Topher Dunne, a history teacher and member of the committee, said that virtual interviews added “another challenge” to the process since connecting with the applicants was difficult to do virtually. He explained that interviewing candidates through a screen made it harder to gauge their personalities.  

Based on the semifinalist interviews and preferences expressed by committee members, Shaw narrowed the applicant pool down to four finalists. The finalists were brought on campus to meet with faculty, students and parents. Learning specialist and committee member Meredith Chase-Mitchell emphasized the importance of in-person visits. “Getting that personal interaction is huge to get a better idea of who they are,” she said.

Between the four finalists, in the coming weeks, Shaw will decide who will succeed Gibson as high school principal. According to Shaw, each candidate’s leadership capabilities, past academic experiences and alignment with GDS’ mission will be taken into consideration. He added that racial representation “is always something that we have prioritized at GDS” and is “one piece of criteria.”

The four final contenders had the opportunity to talk with several high school students. Members of the high school office reached out to grade deans, the diversity, equity and inclusion team, and high school administrators to select a diverse group of students, including affinity group leaders and Student Staff Council representatives. They discussed the background of each candidate and the potential role that each candidate would play in the GDS community. The students then submitted their input to Shaw through a feedback form. 

Fox currently works at the Dalton School in New York, splitting her time between the role of director of community and global partnerships and interim director of diversity, equity and inclusion. Junior Asha Adiga-Biro, who spoke with all four finalists, said her favorite was Fox, noting the specific emphasis Fox placed on building community, connecting and interacting with students and taking action to address racism.

Kumpel currently works as the head of the science department at Concord Academy in Massachusetts. Given that she has focused on a teaching position rather than an administrative role, multiple students interviewed by the Bit thought Kumpel would easily connect with students. Freshman Simon Loftus mentioned that he thought her teaching experience could allow unique perspective into “what students need specifically.” 

Barsky was a former head of school at Pilgrim School in Los Angeles. He left last year to found Wisdom Directions, a company that uses religious principles to educate students. Wisdom Directions’ website states it works to “construct learning about religious systems to support… diversity and inclusion work.” As a former world religions teacher, Barsky said that he hopes to teach a class on religion at GDS. “He was one of my favorites,” junior Ava Blum said. “I know GDS is super open to all kinds of religions, so I think it would be a good fit even if GDS isn’t that religious of a school.”

Finalist Boger is the history department chair and curriculum coordinator at the Baldwin School in Philadelphia. According to Adiga-Biro, Boger had ideas about making the principal’s office “not a place of fear,” and somewhere students could take breaks throughout the day. Given Boger’s appreciation of GDS’ mission, Adiga-Biro also noted that she hopes Boger will place a greater emphasis on concrete plans for implementing social justice into the GDS community.

“Ultimately, what’s important is that the high school is well-led,” Shaw said.

“This process is exciting,” Chase-Mitchell said of the search for a high school principal.  “It will be an exciting new time when we walk back in here in August.”

CORRECTION (March 3): An earlier version of this story said that Barsky would have attended the San Francisco Theological Seminary while serving as principal and attributed the fact to Adiga-Biro. Blum, not Adiga-Biro, said that Barsky would do both simultaneously, but it is unclear when his studies there will end. The article also incorrectly said the faculty committee involved in the search had eight members. It had nine.