Beloved Headmaster Sizer Dies At 77

Phillips Academy and the educational community at large suffered a tremendous loss last week as former Head of School, Theodore Sizer, one of the country’s most prominent educational visionaries, died in his home in Harvard, Massachusetts on October 21. Sizer was 77 years old. Sizer was one of the nation’s leading advocates for educational development and worked at a variety of renowned educational institutions throughout his life, including Harvard University and Brown University. Sizer served at Phillips Academy from 1972 to 1981, and during his time at Andover, relentlessly challenged the status quo and regularly transformed Andover traditions. Sizer oversaw many changes in the Andover community, including one of the school’s most important—the fusion of Phillips Academy and Abbot Academy into one co-educational institution. Barbara Chase, Head of School, said, “When [Sizer] came here, it was clear that the Abbot merger was going to happen. Ted played a huge role in successfully bringing the two academies together.” David Penner, Instructor in Math, said that the merger greatly energized the spirit of learning on campus and brought joy to the school. Victor Henningsen, Instructor in History and Sizer’s former colleague, said, “For the Andover community of the 1970s, Ted’s philosophy really turned the place upside down.” “Ted was a born change-agent. He was not the kind of person who would ever maintain policies without questioning their purpose and their effectiveness. He was never interested in maintaining tradition for tradition’s sake and was always willing to push the community to explore change,” Henningsen continued. Sizer also rejuvenated Andover’s curriculum, continually pushing the faculty to think of new ways to improve education. Chase said, “Ted was constantly communicating with the faculty about new educational ideas. He was very provocative in challenging a school that was already successful. Ted pushed the community to think about the old curriculum in a new way.” Tim Sprattler, Interim School Archivist and Assistant Director of the OWHL, said, “It was very difficult to make changes to a curriculum that had been in place for so long, especially when [Andover] carried faculty members who had been teaching it for years.” “Sizer facilitated change by demonstrating the value of new curriculum,” Sprattler said. Vincent Avery, Instructor in Philosophy and Religious Studies, said, “[Sizer] brought a new sense of joy and exhilaration for education both for faculty and students alike. He engaged the students as intellectual equals and gave the faculty the encouragement and the independence to model good relationships.” “He brought joy to being a teacher and a student at the Academy,” Avery continued. While at Andover, Sizer broadened the availability of Andover’s resources to the rest of the country. He founded many programs to extend Andover’s outreach, one of which was the (MS)2 program, an initiative that helps minority students find educational opportunities. Chase said, “Ted’s idea of imparting knowledge and goodness is something that we embrace to this day. It was part of his belief that we should be a private school with a public purpose.” Henningsen said, “Ted was always looking beyond Phillips Academy and asking questions about what Andover, with all of its resources and its interesting and bright people, could do to contribute to the larger world of American education. Those were questions that we take for granted today but they were really new in that era.” After departing from Andover, Sizer went on to form the Coalition of Essential Schools, a network of public and private high schools that advocated for an increased depth of knowledge and understanding. Henningsen said Sizer’s strength lay in his ability to form genuine bonds with a wide range of people. Faculty and students alike felt a strong personal connection with him. “Ted affected so many individual lives. No one who had a serious conversation with him about anything ever forgot that conversation,” Henningsen said. “The new Andover was really Ted’s creation. I don’t think about it in terms of changes he made in program. I think about the impact that he had on the individual lives of faculty and students. He was a remarkable individual,” he continued. Avery said the Andover community is still living Sizer’s legacy to this day. His vision is manifest in the school’s earnest dedication to its students and its openness to youth from every quarter. Chase said, “He was an incredibly humane, intelligent and optimistic man who believed that all kids should have the opportunity to do rigorous work.” Henningsen said, “Ted was always patient, always kind, always more interested in understanding the other person’s point on view rather than promoting his own. He was a great teacher, a good administrator and an educational visionary. All of that flowed from his capacities as a teacher, to probe, push and challenge the status quo.”