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Ward Ghory became head of the Harley School in September. (Photo by Kimberly McKinzie)
When Ward Ghory visited the Harley School during his extended interview process this year, he remembers seeing students rushing about, furiously working on projects despite school being out for the weekend.
The students were participating in a 24-hour theater marathon, one that called on them to write, direct and perform in their own one-act plays.
For Ghory, who would be named head of school at Harley, it was an example of the kind of leadership development that drew him to the school.
"It's one thing for high school students to read Shakespeare and bring his words to life, but it's another to hand them the reins and tell them to come up with the plays themselves," says Ghory, 64. "It puts the kids in the leadership role."
Now into his first year at Harley, Ghory aims to create more of these leadership opportunities for students as he leads the school, which reported total revenue of nearly $13.6 million in its 2012-13 fiscal report.
Founded in 1917, the Harley School is a private, independent school in Brighton that offers a college preparatory program for students from nursery school through grade 12. It ranked fourth on the most recent Rochester Business Journal list of private schools with 517 students.
After spending much of the last decade as head of school at the University School of Milwaukee, he joins Harley just as it unveils a new $3 million gem-the Commons, a green building that brings environmental sustainability to the classroom and creates leadership opportunities for students.
This center figures prominently in plans Ghory has for leading Harley, a school that has a waiting list for enrollment.
"It's not just about having excellent academics and athletics and activities," he says. "We need to offer more for students."
Ghory sees great possibilities in the Commons, which school officials say is the first K-12 educational space in the nation that is a leader in multiple dimensions of sustainable design and education.
The Commons has been described as a "living building" where students learn to become leaders in building a sustainable future. Students are given control over many functions of the building, keeping watch over energy and water use as part of a plan to achieve a net-zero balance in these resources.
"They have in there a control room that has information from all the mechanical systems being fed in, so every outlet, light and thermostat can be tracked," Ghory says. "The goal is for the students to watch over all of that and come up with the plan that makes energy usage net-zero."
This initiative fits into the school's goal of shaping students into leaders, Ghory says. It will be the students who ultimately control the building, making decisions about energy use and other operational aspects of the space.
Student have already put some of their initiative to good use, Ghory notes. Construction of the building left room for a greenhouse with drainage on the floor so that plants could be watered and supported, but it was up to the students to decide just how it would look inside. They came up with a system that hangs plants from the walls, creating the bent metal framework themselves, he says.
"In a way it's a great metaphor for addressing the problem of climate change," he says. "We will need to start looking at these issues in a different way than my generation did. We need to prepare these kids to address that and become the leaders and entrepreneurs and engineers that finally solve these problems."
The center promotes leadership in other ways, Ghory adds. The second floor contains the Briggs Center for Civic Engagement, which will institute programs that promote service leadership among students and faculty.
Ghory notes Harley has long been a leader in this realm, leading a public-private partnership to close the achievement gap for low-income city students, for example. Since 1995 the Horizons Student Enrichment Program has given these students an opportunity to remain engaged over the summer with a program that combines instruction with recreational activities.
The Commons could represent a critical moment for Harley and its work to improve the region, Ghory says. The efforts come on the heels of a report from the Rochester Area Community Foundation showing Rochester to be among the poorest cities in the nation, which Ghory says should be a call to action for everyone interested in bettering the community.
That includes students, he says.
"We want our students to recognize their role in the broader community, to be engaged and use their talents to help the community as a whole," he says.
Student leadership training is not limited to the Commons, and it is not just for the upper school students either, Ghory notes. Like the 24-hour theater marathon that greeted Ghory on his first trip to the Rochester area, another project hands over control to younger students.
"We have a microfarm in the back, and the third-grade students have the job to create a garlic patch," he says. "They learn about how garlic grows and use math to see how they need to divide the growing space in the garden.
"Then the fun part is they make their own business to sell the garlic, and even develop their own company name. It's all about putting kids in hands-on leadership roles while they're also learning important math and science skills."
Rochester's recent history is well-suited for this kind of entrepreneurial activity, Ghory says. Before moving to the city he researched the changes in the local economy, how shifting employment at the traditional Big Three companies turned loose a host of engineering and business talent, people who then started their own ventures.
"It's those pioneers who are leading the change in the economy here and the surge in high-tech companies, and I want this to be the school where people send their children to become the next generation of problem-solvers," he says.
Ghory knows leadership firsthand.
At the University School of Milwaukee he took the lead in crafting two separate strategic plans, including a nearly full remodel of the school funded by a $44 million campaign.
Ghory also spent 12 years as director of the Upper School at Buckingham Browne & Nichols School in Cambridge, Mass. Before that he spent 13 years in the Cincinnati Public Schools, where he taught high school, founded a desegregation magnet alternative high school and served as assistant principal for curriculum and instruction at a college preparatory high school.
Ghory says he knew from a young age that education was his calling.
"I went into teaching for two reasons," he says. "On the one side, I loved learning and the life of the mind, but I also had an awakening during the 1960s and early '70s about the injustices in the education system and the fact that not all people had access to the same levels of education."
This inclusive approach extends to Harley. Ghory plans to open up the Commons as a resource for the entire community, including a series of parent education courses that touch on items such as reading and music education.
Ghory is adept at considering all perspectives and building consensus for his ideas, says Harley chairman Mark Zupan, dean of the Simon School of Business at the University of Rochester. It was those skills, along with his extensive experience and excellent recommendations, that made Ghory the "hands-down, unanimous choice" of the search committee, Zupan adds.
"He's down-to-earth, extremely intelligent and very knowledgeable about his field," Zupan says. "He also take his time, always wants to hear all sides of the story because in education there are inevitable challenges."
Ghory also brings a sense of curiosity, one that extends beyond his work at Harley. He and his wife, Anne Ghory-Goodman, a designer and photographer now working as a professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, have spent their first few months in Rochester getting to know the community.
"When I get time, I like to hop on my bike and just ride around different neighborhoods," says Ghory, who lives in Rochester's Corn Hill neighborhood. "I think that's the best way to get to know a city, just to get out and explore."
To be successful in college and in life, students need more than a strong academic background and leadership opportunities, Ghory says.
Students must also be able to recognize and regulate their own emotions, something that Harley is addressing in the Center for Mindfulness & Empathy Education, which is housed in the second floor of the Commons. The center was created with the help of a $250,000 grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation's Educational Leadership program.
Inside the center, students take off their shoes to walk on the thick carpet covering the hardwood floor, sitting together to meditate.
"We're not trying to have a school of Buddhist meditation, but we try to bring secular mindfulness to what we do," says Michael Brennan, the center's director. "This is a concept that extends beyond the center, and teachers can pick up on the concepts in their own classrooms as well."
This center grew in part through the Harley Hospice Program, which had students work directly with patients who were close to death.
Ghory says the Center for Mindfulness and Empathy Education is becoming one of the nationwide leaders in teaching emotional intelligence and also will serve as a hub for researchers in the field.
"It's another frontier," he says. "There is research about what makes students successful in college and ready for leadership roles in life, and qualities like optimism and self-efficacy and resilience are all shown to be powerful predictors of future success."
The center goes back to Ghory's idea that students must be well-rounded to succeed.
"It's not enough to just be good at science," he says. "You have to be good at science and be able to work well with other people and solve problems as part of a team."
The UR's motivations research group has plans to conduct program research and an annual institute bringing together leading researchers and practitioners to discuss and teach emotional literacy, Harley officials say.
Ghory says there are other regional efforts that will come out of the Commons. The science center on the building's first floor will support projects such as the Environmental Leadership Collaborative, bringing together science and civic groups to tackle problems.
One initiative involves testing mosquitoes found in Western New York for the West Nile virus so the outbreak can be tracked through Internet maps.
Ghory sees a bright future for Harley.
Despite the challenges of the recession and declining population in the region among school-age children, Harley has remained a popular choice among independent schools, he notes. The high school is full and has a waiting list, and the middle school re-organized its schedule to accommodate more students.
Harley also has plans to promote its lower school better, Ghory says.
"We are talking about why it's important to start a child in independent education at a younger age," he says. "That would require paying tuition for longer in their academic lives, but the early habits of leadership and the enriching curriculum that we have makes such an enormous difference."
Ghory gives credit to predecessors who had developed plans for growth and had construction of the Commons in the works by the time he arrived, but he says he is excited to see where the school can go in the future.
"We are poised to do some great things," he says.
Position: Head of school, the Harley School
Education: B.A. in philosophy, Yale University, 1971; M.Ed., 1975, and Ed.D. with a concentration on curriculum and instruction, University of Massachusetts (Amherst) School of Education, 1978
Family: Wife Anne Ghory-Goodman; sons Joe, Adam and Michael
Activities: Biking, art
Quote: "I went into teaching for two reasons. On the one side, I loved learning and the life of the mind, but I also had an awakening during the 1960s and early '70s about the injustices in the education system and the fact that not all people had access to the same levels of education."
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