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Head of School Transition

Alicia LaMagdeleine Named Next Head of School

On Monday, February 25, 2019, the University High School Board of Trustees announced their unanimous decision to name Alicia LaMagdeleine the next Head of School at University High School.

LaMagdeleine, currently an Assistant Head of School at University High School, will assume the Headship on July 1, 2020, and she will transition into a Head-Elect role for the 2019-20 school year.


Dear University Community,

In many ways, I have been writing this letter for years. From my first day at University, I have been inspired by the commitment of this school to its mission – to the heart as well as the mind – and by its ability to influence those in it to live lives of meaning, not only while they are here, but wherever they go. I love University High School. I believe in it. And I am excited to lead it as its second Head of School.

My time at University has taught me that the best schools carry two things at their core. First is the continual journey of learning, one that doesn’t stop at the classroom door but spills out into the hallways and the playing fields, through the paths in the fields. And second is the relationship between the learner and their guide. A great independent school leader lives out the importance of these things in every action. She must be able to listen and observe, to question and learn from the whole community in order to make informed decisions and set the right course for the school. Then, she must be able to inspire and guide faculty, staff, students, and parents through that vision into reality. I am, at my core, a learner, and my daily subject for the past fifteen years has been my school. Each day, I track the pulse of this place, and I am constantly shaping its course to help it grow.

As we prepare to enter our 20th year, University has grown into its own as an institution. We have swelled to full capacity in the last year. Our faculty are recognized as leaders in their content areas and in the practice of education, and several schools, some much older than us, are looking to University for inspiration in an increasing complex educational landscape. And, to aid in all our work, University has a tremendous asset: its heart. I am excited for the chance to take a new part in a community as passionate as this one. The entrepreneurial spirit that founded University is as alive today as it was at the school’s inception. We continue to blaze new trails centered on the idea of student engagement with programs like Year of Service, or the idea of co-requisite classes. Our alumni consistently speak of how well-prepared University made them, for college and for life. And, most importantly, University’s consistent focus on reflection and iteration remain the driving force behind our ability to change, to adapt and to grow. I am proud of our school. Its journey into being has been remarkable, and the potential for its future is tremendous.

I am humbled and honored to be chosen as University’s second Head of School, and I look forward to the work ahead.

Alicia M. LaMagdeleine

Read the Announcement from Board Chair Jeff Lewis

Monday, February 25, 2019

Dear University Families and Other Members of the University Community,

When founding Head of School Chuck Webster announced his plan to retire at the end of the 2019-20 school year, the Board of Trustees began the process of finding his replacement by asking some questions.

Who are we as a school? Who do we want to become? What do we value most? How do we sustain who we are and build on what we have?

We asked these questions first of ourselves, and then we took these questions to you — University students, parents, faculty and staff, alumni, donors, and friends. Our search committee, ably led by University parents and Trustees Mike Klemsz and Marcy Bandick, listened carefully to what you had to say, and what you shared was remarkably consistent. The school’s culture is key, you said, and the next Head of School should sustain the sense of community, the focus on core values, the commitment to inclusion and diversity, and the educational excellence that have been hallmarks of University High School in these first 20 years.

We also had conversations with experts outside of University High School — leaders of NAIS and ISACS (independent school associations to which we belong), as well as consultants from Head of School search firms that our peer schools have used. These experts shared that the best untapped resource for a new Head of School is an internal leader who has been developed and prepared from within.

What quickly became clear to our search committee and our Board was that the next Head of School was already with us.

Last week, the Board of Trustees unanimously voted to name Alicia LaMagdeleine, current Assistant Head of School, as University High School’s next Head of School. Alicia will assume the Headship on July 1, 2020, and she will transition into a Head-Elect role for the 2019-20 school year.

As part of the formal interview process, Alicia shared with us her personal statement on the importance of the story in education. I encourage you to read it. “I believe in the transformative power of narrative, and this tenet is present in every aspect of my teaching and leadership,” Alicia writes. As University High School’s Head of School, Alicia will be our chief storyteller. She will be a passionate, persuasive, and powerful voice for our school. She will be a guardian of our culture and our values. And she will be an articulate voice for the advancement of pedagogy in the service of our students.

In the coming months, you will have a chance to hear more from Alicia and get acquainted with her in this new role. Additionally, you will have opportunities to thank and pay tribute to Chuck Webster as he begins his final year as Head of School in 2019-20.

Finally, I want to thank the search committee — chairs Mike Klemsz and Marcy Bandick, Cathy Hurst, Michael Mervis, Rohun Rangnekar ’04, and Nancy Toombs — for the many hours they devoted to this process and for their immense thoughtfulness and care in making the right decision for University High School.

The Board of Trustees is confident about the future of University High School in Alicia’s capable hands. We ask that you please join us in congratulating her on her new role as Head of School.

Jeff Lewis
Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Personal Statement

Alicia LaMagdeleine’s Personal Statement

I believe that stories have power.  That they form the foundations of a community. That they build us up.  That they can tear us down.  In her 2000 collection of essays, I Could Tell You Stories:  Sojourns in the Land of Memory, Patricia Hampl writes, “a story, we sense, is the only possible habitation for the burden of our witnessing.”  Story, in any medium, is the mechanism through which we process the world; it provides a platform on which we can both express our experiences and absorb the observations of others.  Story is what connects us to each other.  I believe in the transformative power of narratives, and value their role at the center of the educational experience.

Young people learn best when they are treated as complete people and as partners in their own educational process.  To that end, students should have voices, and be empowered to use them.  My purpose as an educator is to guide students in discovery, to help them ask questions, and to encourage them to formulate their own answers.  I welcome what they bring to the table, and often use their own interests as the springboard to skills development and greater connections. In listening to their stories, I attempt to validate their experiences and motivate them to connect their lives with the world around.

With a background in literature and writing, I embrace the use of stories to build bridges between seemingly disparate points, and I go out of my way to expose students to narratives of experience different from their own.  When we read Beowulf, we think of times that we too have stepped up to the challenge, feeling the fate of the world – or at least our small community – at our backs.  When we recite poems by Gwendolyn Brooks, we remember the times that “we’ve been alone in the front yard, and wanted a peak at the back”. When we hear our voices in the mouths of someone else, we learn to seek out connections we hadn’t previously imagined. We grow. The more students are able to ground the questions and ideas before them in a narrative of time and place, the deeper their understanding becomes.

And this deeper learning does not stop at the classroom door or the end of session.  Education exists as a continual process for adults as well.  There is always something to be gained from hearing the conversation around the lunch table, from engaging your peers in friendly competition on the court, from stepping inside another’s skin when working to solve a problem.  When leading faculty and staff, I seek first to understand where they are coming from. Just as I do with students, I want each member of my team to have his or her voice heard.  This exchange of ideas allows for everyone to invest in the project at hand.  If each person, be they faculty or staff, parent or student or trustee, feels an authentic stake in the community, a school maximizes its ability realize its mission.  The school, and all the people within it, are able to be the best versions of themselves.

I believe in educating the total person, in opening the heart and expanding the mind, and I believe that attention to stories – what they say, how they influence us, and how they portray us – is a critical method for achieving that goal.

About the Search Process

The University High School Board of Trustees is committed to a smooth transition that will maintain the culture and signature programs that make University unique. The mission and core values will continue to guide everything that we do.

A transition committee, led by Mike Klemsz and Marcy Bandick, parents of alumni and current students, led sessions to gather community input that informed the search process and will continue to guide the transition.

A search committee made up of members of the Board of Trustees completed a comprehensive interview process with the candidates and made a recommendation to the full Board. Members of the search committee are as follows:

  • Mike Klemsz, chair of the search committee, member of the Board of Trustees, alumni parent, and current parent
  • Marcy Bandick, chair of the search committee, member of the Board of Trustees, alumni parent, and current parent
  • Cathy Hurst, member of the Board of Trustees
  • Jeff Lewis, chair of the Board of Trustees
  • Michael Mervis, member of the Board of Trustees, alumni parent, and current parent
  • Rohun Rangnekar (’04), member of the Board of Trustees and University High School alumnus
  • Nancy Toombs, member of the Board of Trustees, alumni parent, and current parent

Founding Head of School Chuck Webster Announces Retirement

Read the Letter from Board Chair Jeff Lewis

December 5, 2018

Dear University Families and Other Members of the University Community,

Twenty years ago, the founding members of the Board of University High School met Chuck and Nancy Webster. We were, to a person, completely wowed by the energy, passion, and commitment we saw. We knew at that time that we had found the leader of our school – which still only existed in our imaginations – who shared our values and had the experience and commitment to bring this dream to reality. Later we learned firsthand of Chuck’s imagination and compassion – and of his love for young people.

We have been honored and privileged to work with Chuck Webster as the founding Head of University High School. Chuck has announced to the board his plans to retire from that position at the end of the 2019-20 school year. While we are sad about the upcoming end of the “founder’s era” at University, we want to celebrate over 20 years of remarkable achievement and its profound impact on the community and its members!

Chuck has built a strong foundation on which University will grow and prosper in the years to come. The Board of Trustees has initiated a search process for Chuck’s successor, about which you will hear more in the coming weeks and months, and you will have opportunities to provide input in 2019. We thank Mike Klemsz and Marcy Bandick for spearheading the process.

Please join us in congratulating Chuck on the creation of Indiana’s best school, out of whole cloth, and in the celebration of these accomplishments over the next 18 months.

Jeff Lewis
Chairman of the Board of Trustees

Read the Announcement from Head of School Chuck Webster

December 5, 2018

Dear University Families and Friends,

Her name is Barbara Gilvar. She was the head search consultant hired by The Roeper School in 1997 to find my replacement after I had announced my departure, and she was hired by University’s Board to find their founding head. She was also the object of one of Nancy Webster’s best quotes, among many great ones. When I told Nancy that on Barbara Gilvar’s recommendation, I was driving to Indianapolis to meet with a group who were starting a school, Nancy said that she hoped that Barbara and I would be very happy together, because she wasn’t going. Well, she came, both of us drawn by a gracious, visionary Board and their aspirational mission to expand hearts and minds and to nurture excellence.

Continuity, culture, and innovation, along with a high tolerance for risk, a lack of signs of self-aggrandizement, and a determination to get to what matters most have all been touchstones of our school’s founding and development. There is real clarity about our purpose here, a frequently shared sense of joy in what is being accomplished, an inclusivity that defines us, and a civility that transcends place and time.

I have come to believe that the main lobby in Fairbanks Hall has become something like hallowed ground, emblematic of what is best about us. Before school students are drawn there, there is an easy familiarity, dynamic social groupings, and what seems sometimes like endless goodwill. And the earnest, hushed tones in the main lobby once classes begin, when staff and students collaborate, cajole, and occasionally comfort one another creates an intimacy around living and learning of which I am most proud.

I will be 72 years old when the next school year is completed, people are already gently finishing some of my sentences, and I frequently test Jennifer’s navigational resolve to keep me on track. It is time. I look forward to a great year and a half together and to stepping down in June of 2020. I have been pleased and touched by my conversations with Jeff Lewis, who will also step down as Board Chair in June of 2020. Jeff and former Board Chair Sandy Lange have been University’s Board leaders and my governance partners for 22 years. They are people and relationships that I cherish. And I have complete confidence in this Board to undertake a thoughtful approach to finding University’s new leader. As always, thank you to Nancy, whose constant support and unbridled enthusiasm for this work has made all the difference.

Chuck Webster
Head of School