Interview with Dr. Raynard Kington, 16th Head of School

Grinnell College President Raynard S. Kington Dec. 2, 2019. (Photo by Justin Hayworth/Grinnell College)

The Board of Trustees announced Thursday morning that Dr. Raynard Kington, current President of Grinnell College, will become the 16th Head of School in August 2020. 

After graduating from high school at the age of 16, Kington completed his B.S. by the age of 19 and his M.D. by the age of 21 at the University of Michigan, according to Grinnell Magazine. He then completed a Ph.D in health policy and an M.B.A at The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania. He also received an honorary law degree from the University of Michigan.

Kington explained that he has never abided by the structures of conventional academia. When asked about his future transition from a college to a high school, Kington said that his decision to come to Andover was informed by Andover’s similar commitment to pushing academic boundaries rather than the fact it is a high school.

“I have never paid a lot of attention to the arbitrary lines dividing types of knowledge or dividing educational institutions…[Andover] has blurred [academic] lines in lots of ways. I was blown away by the array of different courses offered at the school– just the range of different areas of knowledge that are pursued,” said Kington. 

“Those are the things I find stimulating– the institutions that are already committed to this idea of embracing a range of different types of knowledge, different types of people, different parts of the world— that’s what creates an exciting intellectual environment,” he continued. 

According to Kington, one of the factors that cemented his interest in Andover was the school’s lasting impact on its students.

“Almost everyone that I interacted with who had attended the school at some point said something along the lines of, ‘My connection with this school changed who I was. It changed me, it had this transformative impact on me’… That really struck me as being an indication of a remarkable institution,” said Kington.

Before working in education, Kington served as the Principal Deputy Director and Acting Director of the National Institutes of Health (N.I.H.). He was also a Division Director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a member of the Governing Council at the National Academy of Medicine, according to the N.I.H.

Kington explained how his background in the medical field will inform his tenure as Head of School. 

“I think I have a particular sensitivity to this notion of wellness and how important wellness is in a learning community…As [students are] learning and thinking and doing the usual student-type things, [we have to think about] how to help students develop habits and perspectives and orientations that allow them to be both healthy and to learn how to take care of themselves as humans at the same time that they’re responding to the demanding roles they are in in various ways — I’m particularly aware of and sensitive to that way of thinking.”

Kington also mentioned how his medical career has impacted his leadership by exposing him to complex scientific and philosophical decision-making at while he was still young. 

“I had to, at a relatively early age, make really complicated decisions that, on the surface, were medical and scientific decisions, but right beneath that was a layer of moral decision making and ethical decision making. The experience of having to help patients make these decisions really had a big influence on me — I got used to dealing with complicated decisions, in which there weren’t these stark black and white tradeoffs,” said Kington.

Since the beginning of Kington’s tenure in 2010, Grinnell has invested 140 million dollars in campus renewal, promoted experimentation and entrepreneurship, and started the Innovation Fund, according to a campus-wide email from Amy Falls ’82, President-elect of the Board of Trustees and Chair of the Head of School Search Committee. 

Kington will be both the first person of color and the first openly gay person to serve as Head of School at Andover, a distinction he also achieved when appointed President of Grinnell. 

“[After being hired at Grinnell,] a young, African American, gay professor wrote me an email and said, ‘I always thought that I might want to be a college president, and I didn’t think it was possible, but when I see what you’ve done, I now think it’s possible.’…That’s the best thing that can happen in acknowledging my identity— it can open up the minds of other people in ways that I think we will all benefit from in the future,” said Kington.

Kington continued, “There’s something about the ability of good institutions to adapt and respond to a changing world. In the not-so-distant past, as a person of color or as an openly gay person, it would’ve been unthinkable that I would be in this room. The fact that I’m here reflects the sacrifices and commitments of so many people who decided not to accept a flawed world as fixed… I think I’m an indication of the evolution of this institution.”