by Abe Asher
Corbet Clark will be the Interim Head of the Upper School for the 2016-17 year, replacing the departing Jordan Elliott.
The decision to appoint Corbet, who has been at OES since 1988, was made late last week. Associate Head of School Chris Schuck informed the Upper School faculty of the choice at a meeting on Monday afternoon, and then informed the student body on Tuesday morning.
A graduate of both Yale and Harvard, Corbet worked as the Upper School Chaplain in three stints totaling almost twenty years. Since retiring from the chaplaincy after the 2012-13 school year, he has continued to teach in the Upper School and serve as Chair of the Religion Department.
Associate Head of School Chris Schuck, who led the search for Jordan’s interim replacement alongside a committee made up of Jenny Cleveland, Julie Sikkink, Gary Crossman, and David Lowell, said that “Everybody the advisory panel engaged with in conversations about the interim headship would have done great work in that role.”
“In the end, we felt that in many ways, everything Corbet has done in his professional career — and he has done a lot, both in and outside of OES — has prepared him for this job.”
Former Upper School Chaplain Liz Harlan-Ferlo, who worked alongside Corbet in the Upper School chaplaincy from 2009 through 2012, said, “As a long-serving Episcopal priest and former OES chaplain, he understands the unique challenges of building community — and he has pastoral skills that can enhance his leadership of the Upper School.”
It’s an opportunity that came up suddenly. “I did not anticipate that Jordan would be leaving. It was an unexpected opportunity, but one that I immediately started thinking about,” Corbet told me.
“I thought next year would be an interesting year. It’s been a long time since we had a year where we really could stop and assess where we are and where we want to get. I think that’s a really important thing to do, and I thought I could be helpful in that,” he said.
Some five weeks ago, Corbet submitted a letter to Chris and Mo Copeland officially expressing his interest in the interim position and outlining his vision for next year.
But at the end of the day, he admitted he was “surprised” to have landed the role. Corbet had also applied to be Interim Head of the Upper School in 2007, when the position went to Jordan, and deemed the three other candidates for the position this time around “very, very strong.”
All three of those candidates have been at the school for well over a decade, and will continue in their current roles next year.
Jordan, of course, parlayed his interim year into landing the position on a permanent basis. But OES has already stipulated that next year’s interim head would not have such an opportunity — and Corbet says he wouldn’t be interested anyway.
“I love teaching, I like being in the classroom, I like the daily contact with students, and when I applied for it before, that was also an interim position. I have no interest in being the permanent head. This is an ideal situation for me.”
This appointment means that there will be minimal change in the faculty setup. Corbet hopes to still be able to teach a class next year, and then plans return to the classroom and his role as Chair of the Religion Department. In the next month, the school will hire an interim religion teacher for 2016-17.
Corbet sees his job next year as one of facilitator more than disruptor.
“I think there will be lots of opportunities for conversations next year. Everyone in the community, faculty and students, wants a voice in the direction that the school is going in and in choosing the permanent head.”
“We have a lot of strengths, and we build on those strengths.”
In recent times, OES has invested heavily in intercultural competency — and while the school has made strides under the leadership of Jordan and the the Deans of Students, recent events show that there is still an enormous amount of work to be done.
Corbet’s plan is to facilitate here as well. “I think it’s really important work, and Jordan has been one of the leaders on intercultural work. He has that expertise. I don’t really have that expertise. I think that there will be other people who take the lead on that.”
“We will continue to set that as a priority,” he concluded.
Certainly, the last year at OES has been difficult — but Corbet’s view is a longer one. He pointed to how the faculty has bonded together during difficult times in the past, and told me that, “There are always issues in a community, but I think we do a pretty good job addressing those. Institutionally, the school is in really good shape.”
Whether the kind of laid-back, reflective, mostly hands-off approach outlined by Corbet is most effective will have to do with what kind of a school year 2016-17 is. If anything, as the search uncovered, his is a style that jives well with what the school was looking for in an Interim Head.
Corbet’s list of accomplishments at OES includes helping co-found Spectrum, creating Octoberim, reshaping the Service Learning program, and helping to craft a pamphlet that is now used as a national framework by the National Association of Episcopal Schools.
Corbet, has not, however, been involved with the leadership of the school in more recent times, and will have to be caught up on some of the specific challenges recently addressed by and currently facing the Upper School. In Jordan, he’s replacing one of his former students.
With the outgoing Class of 2016 the last to have him as a Chaplain, Corbet is possibly less known to Upper School students than at any point in his 28 years at OES. Next year should, at a minimum, offer students the chance to discover more about one of the men who has made the school what it is today.
Corbet’s book on wine currently resides in the Upper School library. His wit, however, is more readily available. When asked if there going to be any changes to the day-to-day operation of the school, he responded, “No, we’re not going to abolish lunch.”
And is Corbet going to wear a tie next year? “Oh you know,” he said, “I’ve been thinking a lot about that.”