New L.A. Private School Headmasters Aim to "Shake Things Up"

6:30 AM 8/24/2018

by Lindsay Weinberg

With the average tenure being five to seven years, these leaders are ready to bring their school to the forefront, but some parents are nervous: "How do you replace someone who was such a guiding force?"

From left: Reveta Bowers, Ray Michaud and James Astman
From left: Reveta Bowers, Ray Michaud and James Astman
Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic; Valerie Macon/Getty Images; Coral von Zumwalt

"A lot of people are retiring," says school consultant Betsy Brown Braun. (Or they're leaving amid more fraught circumstances: Buckley head of school James Busby resigned this year after a grade-inflation scandal.) 

"It never stops. There’s always turnover," says college admissions consultant Danny Ruderman, whose clients include Dylan McDermott, Brian Grazer and Kevin Huvane.

According to schools expert Priya Nambiar, the average stay for headmasters is five to seven years: "A new headmaster is a chance to shake things up and to bring the school to the forefront, but it makes parents nervous because they're used to the long-standing head who really knows L.A. and placements. My advice to parents? Give it a chance." 

  • Buckley School

    OUT: James Busby (resigned in 2018)

    IN: Andrew Wooden (interim head of school)

    Buckley head of school James Busby resigned this year amid a grade-inflation scandal that resulted in outcries from the Buckley community. "My guess would be in an effort to correct that, they’re going to show themselves to be strong graders. There’s usually an overcorrection, and that’s not a bad thing in this case," says consultant Fay Van Der Kar-Levinson. "There will always be families that the previous system worked for and they’ll be upset. But if your child is a junior, you don’t want to move them because you have to explain why to the college admissions. So sometimes families in those situations feel a bit stuck."

  • The Center for Early Education

    OUT: Reveta Bowers (retired in 2016).

    IN: Mark Brooks (began in June 2016).

    Bowers "was an institution in L.A., and when she [retired], everybody was nervous: How do you replace someone who was such 
a guiding force?" says Van Der Kar-Levinson, who 
adds that Brooks, who came to the center from L.A.'s Pilgrim School, has been a "brilliant choice. He's not coming to make changes. Hollywood Hills families have been thrilled." Consultant Sandy 
Eiges also approves of Brooks, as does Nambiar: "Reveta was iconic and it's hard to follow her, but he's doing a great job."

  • Curtis School

    OUT: Peter Smailes (left in June 2015)

    IN: Meera Ratnesar (began in 2015)

    Ratnesar came to Curtis after serving as head of middle school at Harbor Day School in Corona Del Mar, Calif. 

  • Echo Horizon School

    OUT: Paula Dashiell (retired in 2013)

    IN: Martha Schuur (interim, 2013-2017), Peggy Procter (began in 2017)

    “For years, it was a fabulous gem of a school, and then the founding director [Paula Dashiell] retired, and things went south for a while,” says a consultant. “They had a mismatch as far as I’m concerned in terms of directors, and now they’ve got someone, and it’s going to be exciting again." Procter joined the Echo Horizon team after serving as director of Upper School at Windward.

  • The Episcopal School of Los Angeles

    OUT: Maryetta Anschutz (left June 2018)

    IN: Interim head Peter McCormack

  • John Thomas Dye School

    OUT: Ray Michaud (retired in 2014, died 2016)

    IN: Andrea Archer (July 2014-June 2016); John Amato (interim head in 2016); Rose Helm (began July 2017)

    Since losing legendary educator Michaud, JTD has hopped around, with one selected head a "mismatch" causing "an exodus … some studio heads' children left," 
says a consultant. Respected former Harvard-Westlake vice president Amato lent a hand, before Helm, previously a head at San Francisco's Hamlin School, stepped in: It's 
"a good match," says Van Der Kar-Levinson. "I think it would be a continuation of a very traditional academic program with Rose."

  • St. Matthew's Parish School

    OUT: Stuart Work (left June 2018)

    IN: Edward Kim (began July 2018)

  • Oakwood School

    OUT: James Astman (will retire in June) 

    IN: TBD

    Six to nine head-of-school semifinalists will travel to Los Angeles in August for in-person meetings with the search committee. Finalists will return to L.A. in the fall to meet with parents, faculty and students.

  • Turing Point School

    OUT: Deborah Richman (retired in 2016)

    IN: Laura Konigsberg (began in July 2016)

    Konigsberg was previously associate head of Bentley School in Oakland, Calif.

    A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.