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Headmaster delivers a lesson in success

The title of headmaster conjures snippets of black-and-white films and descriptions in novels of well-bred men in suits, with canes for whipping beastly boys and jolly good tea and crumpets for afters.
Charles Hertrick, headmaster of Allendale Columbia School, is nothing at all like, say, Charles Dickens’ mean Mr. Squeers. And the Pittsburgh-born Hertrick is no stereotypical English school head, like Thomas Arnold in “Tom Brown’s Schooldays.”
On a recent warm summer afternoon, Hertrick, 58, sat at a large conference table in his office in the main school building. Tie-less, with his shirtsleeves rolled up, Hertrick looks more like an IBM Corp. executive on a casual Friday than the leader of a $7 million private day school.
“I didn’t go to a private school (when I was a child), but I had several college classmates who did,” Hertrick says. “I always thought they had a little something more than I did.”
Allendale Columbia, with a pastoral 30-acre campus on Allens Creek Road in Pittsford, has 488 students, ranging from 3-year-old nursery schoolers to 18-year-old high school seniors.
Since the school is a day school and not a boarding school like some independents, the students all come from the Rochester area. The school demands that applicants complete an entrance exam, and it competes with other local private schools-McQuaid Jesuit High School, Our Lady of Mercy High School, nearby Harley School and others-for students.
Allendale Columbia and the Harley School share sports facilities and teams.
“Our market is local. We draw from 32 area school districts, so we’re very cosmopolitan as far as Rochester goes,” Hertrick says.
The school has 92 faculty members and staff and is divided into the pre-primary, lower- school, middle-school and upper-school levels. The school was formed in 1972 through the merger of the Columbia School for girls, founded in 1891, and the Allendale School for boys, founded in 1926.
It is a college preparatory school and prides itself on its records: 100 percent of its seniors attend four-year colleges.

School finances

Most of the school’s $7 million in annual revenues comes from tuition. Yearly costs vary by level. An upper-school student pays $14,000 a year, which includes textbooks, lunches and overnight field trips.
Hertrick has led two successful capital campaigns at the school. One raised some $9 million; the other, $5 million. The school now has three endowed faculty chairs.
Allendale Columbia also has a sizable endowment-$14 million-that earns the school some $700,000 a year.
The endowment has grown from $5 million since Hertrick arrived at Allendale Columbia in 1988. Growing that pot of cash has been an important part of his focus, Hertrick says.
“Non-profits that are unendowed are really scrambling,” he says. “We can support a lot of programs we couldn’t otherwise. And we can offer a lot of financial aid that we would not have had to create the kind of diversity we’re proud of.”
The school spends some $1.5 million on financial aid and scholarships.
An annual giving campaign raises another $300,000 each year.
“(Because we’re independent), we don’t get much money from the state,” Hertrick explains. “We get about $50,000 a year for some state-mandated services that really are peeled away from any educational function. Health records, distributions, attendance-those kinds of things we get reimbursed for.
“And if there were any strings attached (to that money), we would just forgo that income.”
Because it is independent from the state, the school has more curricular freedom, Hertrick says. No one at Allendale Columbia takes the state’s Regents exams, for example. And none of the instructors teaches from a mandated curriculum.
“We have consciously decided not to follow the Regents’ plans and Regents examinations,” Hertrick says. “We think one size doesn’t fit all. We stress our (advanced placement tests) and instructor-designed courses. They are very rigorous, very structured, very traditional, but they are not the Regents.”
Teachers who come to Allendale Columbia from another school system can find the independent teaching methods challenging at first.
“They have this awesome, fearful task of creating their own curriculum,” Hertrick says. “It’s not handed down from someone else. But they can adapt to the students’ abilities in a much better way because of that.”
While at Allendale Columbia, Hertrick has added the middle school, elementary language programs and three advanced placement courses. In addition, the school has adopted a “Physics First” concept that introduces students to advanced science studies with physics in the eighth grade.

The headmaster

Being headmaster of an independent school is the most exciting job there is, Hertrick says.
“I really, really like my job. It is extraordinarily varied in the challenges that you have,” he says.
A headmaster is what the Mafia might call the capo di tutti capi, the boss of all bosses.
Hertrick is, in essence, the CEO and academic leader of four divisions, each headed by a principal. He is responsible for the most basic of chores as well as the most philosophical of concepts.
“Take today, for example. I was at a solicitation lunch this afternoon and it was successful fund raising.
“I was talking to our upper-school head about how our kids do in college and how we might prepare them to get the most out of college lectures.
“We’ve been doing the summer projects-we had to repaint our gyms, redo our freezers and add a new e-mail server and new classroom furniture. Our hiring is almost done. I’m the last in the chain, but I interview everyone that’s employed here.
“And fulfilling the mission, as abstract as that sounds, can come to be part of your agenda every day.”
Cultivating trustees for the Allendale Columbia board is a large part of Hertrick’s job description. The school has a couple dozen trustees, each serving two-year terms.
Educating new trustees and developing existing ones can be time consuming, he says. He brings national and regional speakers and workshops to the area to help in the process.
“Some people think a private school board is like a PTA and it isn’t. It requires you take a more statesman-like view. It requires some vision.
“We had a speaker here last fall who said board members should not think about their children, but their children’s children. It’s not about what color you should paint the gym or let’s look at the textbooks. It’s how do we get the resources we need? Are we hiring the right faculty? Do we have the right leadership in place?”
Richard Bryan, headmaster of the Nichols School, a private institution in Buffalo, has known Hertrick for roughly a dozen years. They both serve on the board of the New York State Association of Indepen-
dent Schools. Hertrick is a past president.
Hertrick’s leadership skills are impeccable, Bryan says. He was the organization’s first president from this part of the state in more than 10 years. Most of the group’s action centers on the New York City-Long Island area.
“We are from the provinces. As president he provided a necessary perspective to the group,” Bryan says.
Hertrick’s ethics make him valuable to both the state organization and to the school, Bryan says.
“When you are dealing with Chuck, you are dealing with an incredibly kind person,” Bryan says. “He has strong values, and he runs Allendale Columbia with a great sense of compassion for his students.”

An early focus

Hertrick intended to have a career in education as early as his elementary school years.
“I had a seventh-grade history teacher who really impressed me and I actually talked to him about his job,” he says. “I like books. I like ideas. So it seemed natural to be a teacher.”
Hertrick studied English at Lafayette College, a small private school in Easton, Pa., some 70 miles west of New York City. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in English there in 1969.
“It was the late ’60s and, very concretely, going into education gave you a draft deferment. That’s really how I got started. I had thought about being a teacher all along, but (a deferment) was the impetus,” he says.
His first teaching job was at Sewickley Academy, a school similar to Allendale Columbia, in Sewickley, Pa. He taught there and attended Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he garnered a master of arts degree in English in 1972.
Hertrick left Sewickley in 1974 for a position as chairman of the English department at Greenwich Country Day School in Greenwich, Conn. He was promoted to the director of placement position in 1975.
He left the school in 1977 and took another teaching position, this time at Thayer Academy in Braintree, Mass. Hertrick also attended Harvard University’s Graduate School of Education, earning a master’s degree in 1978.
At Thayer, Hertrick focused on rising in administrative positions. In 1978, he became Thayer’s college placement director. In 1980, he became the school’s director of admissions.
Then, Upstate New York beckoned, in the form of a job as head of the upper division at Allendale Columbia.
“I came here to work under a gentleman named David Pynchon, who had a great national reputation as a headmaster. He and I talked a bit and he agreed to mentor me. We thought it would be three to five years for me as division head and then I would enter headmaster searches at other schools,” Hertrick says.
But the five-year plan moved quicker than anticipated. Pynchon unexpectedly passed away at the end of Hertrick’s first year in Rochester. Hertrick was appointed acting headmaster while the trustees did a national search for a permanent head.
The board also asked Hertrick to apply for the position.
“The board and the community could watch and see what I did in the office without committing deeply,” Hertrick says.
He was promoted to headmaster in 1988, over some six other candidates.
“I was new enough that I wasn’t the old shoe down the hall, but I was familiar with the school and knew its challenges,” he says.
Hertrick and his wife, Joan, live roughly a mile from the school, on Shoreham Drive in Pittsford. They married in 1974.
Their son, Scott, 19, who attends Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., was an Allendale Columbia “lifer.”
Thirty percent to 50 percent of any class has been at Allendale Columbia since nursery school, Hertrick says.
“It’s a fascinating part of our school. How many people are still living in the same house or have the same job for 15 years-that’s a long stead,” Hertrick says. “We see that as a great statement of loyalty and persistence and a demonstration of family satisfaction.”
A photo of Hertrick being hit in the face with a pie thrown by his son sits on a shelf in his office.
“We have a field day every fall. The faculty puts up a representative and the students put up a representative and there is a tug of war. You get pied if you lose. He plopped that right in my face,” he says. “I have the sense the faculty sandbagged the whole thing.”

Strengthening the school

Faculty numbers have grown slowly during his tenure, Hertrick says.
“We try to keep it at a manageable size because of the dimension and the scale of the school. We’ve got some long-term people here, and some fresh eyes coming in, too.
“We’ve added some teachers because of our curricular expansion. Our arts, drama and music seem to have grown more. We’ve added a lot (in those areas).”
One problem with adding courses is that time is finite, he says. New courses mean other subjects get a few minutes less every day.
One solution is to move some new and important parts of the curriculum outside of the school day. A program to introduce juniors to the college application process is now a three-day event in the summer.
Hertrick teaches a Shakespeare class once a year, focusing on one of the Bard’s lesser known works.
“I’m really an English teacher. I’ve done a Shakespeare play for six years now. It’s nice because it’s only four weeks and you get to dip your toe in the water. It’s pretty luxurious to have that as a sidelight,” he says.
To stay fit, Hertrick bikes in summer and cross-country skis in winter. And he reads as much as he can find time for.
A colleague, who has since moved to the New York City area, introduced Hertrick to the guilty pleasures of the Master and Commander series by Patrick O’Brian. The historical novels are set in the early 1800s in the British Navy.
When the film “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” debuted in 2003, with Russell Crowe as its star, Hertrick traveled to New York City to meet up with his colleague and some friends for a Master and Commander party, complete with a period-authentic meal.
“That was fantastic,” he says, of the experience, if not the meal.

Future plans

Hertrick put school leaders through the mission-defining, vision statement process three years ago.
“I’ve always said I want this school to be the place that people aspire to be educated, and that’s our vision-to be the best manifestation of education in the Rochester area.”
Key to the vision is a focus on structure, he says.
“We want to expose students to a variety of subject matter and we are probably going to do it in a traditional way, but not a hidebound or stuffy way,” Hertrick says.
As an example, Hertrick cites the school’s traditional daily meal. Students sit at tables in the dining room with faculty members. Seating plans are changed regularly. Service is family style, with teachers serving food to students.
“When a faculty member is at the head of the table, how traditional is that,” Hertrick asks rhetorically. “Well, it’s traditional but
it also liberates students because they get to eat with every faculty member over the course of the year or two and they mix and mingle with all their fellow students.”
It is impossible to get Hertrick to admit to any parts of his job he does not like. Even fund raising, the bane of many non-profit leaders, is fun, he says.
“It’s fun to make a case for your needs and the next needs we see on the horizon,” he says. “We’ve done the physical plant and the campus and the buildings and the endowment. Now we are poised to enrich our student programs even further with some endowment.”
He hopes to add a community service component to the curriculum.
“Our kids work so hard. They are so busy with their academics, and their athletics and existing activities, it’s hard for them to do as much as they might like to in the community,” he says.
The best part of the job is the opportunity to watch students and teachers develop, he says.
“I enjoy meeting kids at a younger age and watching them grow and see them choose the right college and come back as young alums. And the same is true of faculty-to watch them flourish and develop is important, too.
“We have so many stalwarts on the faculty, so many pillars of strength. It’s fun for us to take new people on and watch them grow and develop. Lots of unofficial mentoring goes on, and they just become stronger teachers all the time.”
Teachers are attracted to careers at Allendale Columbia for a few reasons, Hertrick says. First, several years ago Hertrick brought teachers’ salaries in line with their public school counterparts and added some benefits, such as professional spending accounts for career development, bigger retirement contributions and laptop computers.
In addition, a teacher’s student load is much smaller than at a public school, Hertrick says. The student-teacher ratio at Allendale Columbia is 8 to 1, roughly half of that in a public school.
“I also think faculty find this atmosphere collegial,” he says. “It’s fascinating to watch our faculty of all the different disciplines get together because they speak about things in an intellectual way. They are not just putting in time, they are still growing themselves.”
Since he abandoned his five-year career plan when he was appointed headmaster, Hertrick has not developed another one. His term as headmaster is longer than the national average. The national average length of a headmaster’s stay is seven years, less than five for first headmaster positions, he says.
“But it’s not like I’ve had the same job for 20 years. Schools change. Challenges appear. There’s campus work and curricular change. Technology arrived. Different faculty needs emerge. It’s different every year. There’s new kids, new faculty, new board members.”
(rbj@rbj.net / 585-546-8303)

08/12/05 (C) Rochester Business Journal


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