By Robin Jovanovich and Tom McDermott
Every school and every head of school is rushing this week, moving in new books and materials, making way for updated classroom furnishings and equipment, and tidying up well-worn desks and workspaces. Boxes are piled high. Faculty are dashing through halls. Everyone is on high alert: The students are coming!
And yet, Randall Dunn, the former head of Latin School of Chicago and new head of Rye Country Day School, is calm and collected. He’s taking over the helm from Scott Nelson, who led the school for nearly 30 years. Dunn only arrived in Rye last month, and he is transitioning at his own pace, which is measured. “I’m excited to be here. There are fantastic bones here. Scott left a great legacy,” he said.
After spending an hour with Randall Dunn, you know that one day he too will leave a great legacy. Meanwhile, he wants to get to know the community and give the community the opportunity to get to know him. “I am not a trendy individual. I like to go through process.”
What brought him and his wife Liz to Rye was family. “My mother died in 2021 and my father-in-law soon after. Liz and I have been like Ulysses. We needed to get home.” One of his daughters is an actor who lives in New York City; his sister-in-law lives in Rye.
The fact that Rye Country Day was “a rigorous and significant school that emphasized rigor and content” was another reason for his move east.
“And as someone once aptly said, ‘Sometimes a school needs a new perspective, and sometimes a head needs a new audience.’”
Like his predecessor, Dunn plans to focus on pedagogy. “We will continue to provide a strong foundation for students and hire fantastic teachers and support them.” He added, “We’ll combine progressive modern-day techniques without undermining the fundamentals. There are certain enduring things students need: the way to structure a sentence, among them.”
He is glad that Rye Country Day uses Singapore Math in its curriculum, but his goal is to make sure every student learns math well enough to teach it to others. “We need every student to enjoy the subject, not just race to the top.”
Being a person from a disadvantaged background – he was raised in Dorchester, Mass. – Dunn wanted to give back and initially planned to work in public education. But private education has been a good fit. “There were fewer people like me when I decided to pursue a career in independent schools. I chose the path for its impact, but lots of things prepared me to be here,” he said reflectively. A graduate of Milton Academy in Massachusetts, where he and Liz met as students, and Brown University, Dunn was head of Roeper School, a private co-educational school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, for seven years before going to Latin in Chicago. While in Chicago his reputation grew, and he became board chair of the National Association of Independent Schools.
One of his goals at RCDS is to pull parents in. “They need to understand the stress levels young people are dealing with today and help lower them.”
Randall Dunn looks forward to reading to Rye Country Day’s youngest students and sharing his interest in music, sports, and books with older ones. He’s got a game plan — a Top Five every other week this fall.