Dean of Studies Curtis Chosen To Lead Deerfield

Dean of Studies Dr. Margarita Curtis will take over the head of school’s position at Deerfield Academy next fall to become the 200-year-old school’s first female head. Upon learning of the decision, Dr. Curtis told the Deerfield community, “I am delighted and honored to join such a thriving, dynamic and caring community of learners. I look forward to the opportunity to lead a school with such a distinguished heritage and promising future.” Dr. Curtis will be the 55th head of school at Deerfield, a selective 600-student boarding school located in Deerfield, Massachusetts. She succeeds Eric Widmer, who has led Deerfield since 1994. Mr. Widmer is stepping down in June to become the founding head of school at King’s Academy in Madaba, Jordan. King Abdullah II, a member of Deerfield’s class of 1980, has decided to bring educational opportunities, modeled after his experience at Deerfield, to students in his country. Mr. Widmer said, “To Deerfield she will bring the highest qualities of leadership, character and intellect. She is a rare scholar and educator with skills to inspire, to lead, and to manage a diverse educational community like Deerfield.” Dr. Curtis first came to Andover in 1986 to teach Spanish, and was appointed head of the Division of World Languages in 1997. She then became the Dean of Studies in 2004. In an email to the student body announcing the decision, Andover Head of School Barbara Landis Chase praised Dr. Curtis, saying, “Dean Curtis’s work at PA has always been animated by a profound belief in the importance of working for the benefit of students, present and future.” Deerfield’s Board of Trustees formally announced the decision on Saturday, Nov. 5, after a long search by administrators and New York executive search and assessment firm Russell Reynolds Associates. “For all of these head of school jobs, you have ‘headhunters,’ or companies that help schools find heads,” Dr. Curtis said. Although the selection process began almost 18 months ago, Dr. Curtis only became involved in the later stages of the process. At first, there were over 80 applicants for the job. This candidate pool was whittled down until there were only six semifinalists in June. When she was contacted in June, she initially refused to consider leaving Andover. Dr. Curtis said, “I had been contacted in the summer, but I was not interested because I really like my job here.” On October 20th, she had dinner with the eight-person search committee, consisting of parents, alumni, and two faculty members, which was charged with reviewing all applications along with Russell Reynolds Associates. The committee asked Dr. Curtis again to put her name forward for the job, and she accepted. At this stage in the search process, there were only two other candidates. “The whole thing was very last-minute,” said Dr. Curtis. A few days later, Dr. Curtis was interviewed on the Deerfield campus. She said, “That’s a very rigorous process because when you go to campus, you meet with every administrator, some students, and the entire faculty. Lastly, you address the entire community about your vision [for the school] and what about the school appeals to you.” Mrs. Chase expressed mixed emotions regarding Dr. Curtis’ new position at Deerfield. “On the one hand, I will truly miss working with Dean Curtis on a day-to-day basis…On the other hand, I know all too well that there are few people with character and talent such as Dean Curtis’, who have an interest in leading schools these days, and I am thrilled that she has chosen to do so – especially at a sister school,” she said. The process of finding Dr. Curtis’ successor will begin sometime this or next week. Mrs. Chase will ask the faculty members to nominate a new Dean of Studies, as well as others to fill the positions of Dean of CAMD and Dean of Students and Residential Life. The decision on whether to have Interim Dean of CAMD Linda Griffith keep the position and on another two-year term for Dean of Students Marlys Edwards will be made by Mrs. Chase and other administrators after nominations are discussed by the faculty.