Sunday, June 24th, 2018

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US welcomes its ninth headmaster and school alumnus, Richard C. Bryan

Richard C. Bryan, University’s School’s newest and only alumni headmaster, in his office on the Hunting Valley campus. University School was founded in 1890. Photograph by Alana Clark


A great challenge of independent schools is to continue to produce students of character. That has become an enormous emphasis personally for University School’s newest headmaster Richard C. Bryan, he said.

“It is important to produce well-rounded men who are ethically strong,” said Mr. Bryan, 65.

A native of Cleveland Heights who began in his role in January as the school’s ninth headmaster in its over 125-year history, said he himself was shaped by the school’s motto of Responsibility, Loyalty and Consideration as a student beginning in sixth grade. The only headmaster alumnus, Mr. Bryan is a 1970 graduate.

“That has always been a real guidepost to me,” Mr. Bryan said of the motto. “It means more to me as an adult than it did as student.”

It has also provided the framework for his professional career, Mr. Bryan continued, which has spanned the roles of coach, history teacher, principal, head of school, and executive director of a consortium of private schools in Buffalo, New York.

“I understood very early on in my career largely because I was a US grad that the great schools operated best when they were strategic,” he noted.

He applied this philosophy as a 25-year-old high school principal serving for four years at the Charlotte Country Day School in Charlotte, N.C., where he also coached wrestling, baseball and football, and later as headmaster at Nichols School in Buffalo, N.Y., where he served from 1994-2013.

“As a high school principal, I looked at the school from a strategic standpoint and elevated the faculty in that way,” he explained.

As a leader in the yearly years, Mr. Bryan described himself as more of a “student’s principal,”  instilling a great deal of discipline, while building strong relationships with students and staff. He worked closely with faculty on establishing a long list of academic initiatives, while maintaining the academic pre-eminence of the school in New York.

At Nichols, Mr. Bryan helped to transform the school campus physically through his direct involvement in three major capital campaigns, which raised over $45 million, and served to consolidate the school from two campuses to one. He labels as a “crown jewel” in describing his legacy there the construction of a math/science and technology building that was environmentally certified, and served to move the school into the 21st century.

During his tenure, Mr. Bryan also contributed to the growth of the school’s endowment to $26 million, all the while remaining humble, transparent and open to new ideas.

He was credited with bringing to Nichols both a sense of community as well as a keen ability to “build community,” another lesson he took away from his experience at University School, Mr. Bryan explained.

At Nichols, that sense of community was manifested in such activities as morning meetings with the upper school, the creation of an honor pledge, and in building up the arts at the school, among other areas.

That same feeling of community is made clear at University School on a daily basis, Mr. Bryan said proudly, with family-style school lunches with faculty and students to regular meetings as a school four days a week, and all-school activities and rituals.

Mr. Bryan eventually retired from Nichols in 2013 and was very content to be a retired head of school, he said, before happily becoming re-acquainted with University School. That happened while chairing the education committee during US’s recent re-accreditation by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the development of the school’s current strategic plan.

At the time, he and his wife, the Rev. Judith Brown Bryan, a 1972 graduate of Hathaway Brown School and currently a Presbyterian minister, wanted to come back to the area to be closer to family. His daughter’s family lived in the Cleveland area with his grandson, as did both of the Rev. Brown Bryan’s parents. Mr. Bryan’s mother, 90, lives in Charlottesville, Va.

Mr. Bryan eventually was asked to come on the board of trustees at University School and twice was a finalist for the headmaster position in the 1980s.

It was last November, though, that the board decided to make a change and he was asked to become the ninth headmaster, succeeding Benjamin I. Rein in the position.

“I’m very excited, and it’s very thrilling,” Mr. Bryan said. “I’m completely energized and excited to be the first alumnus.”

Mr. Bryan has hit the ground running since beginning Jan. 2, setting in motion a number of goals and initiatives. Those include developing a distinctive kindergarten through 12th grade curriculum plan, noting that in January, the school launched a 2020 curriculum initiative, the primary goal of which is to align middle and upper school courses and accelerate math, sciences and languages to create more interdisciplinary courses at the upper school.

Mr. Bryan has been working to make the curriculum for all grades more globally diverse, he explained, as well as develop technology curriculum with an academic thrust.

High on his list of plans moving forward includes continuing to build a great history of “experiential learning,” which aligns with the idea that one of the most successful aspects of a boy’s school is establishing “boys as makers.”

That has been an emphasis early on in the school’s history, from its original location at East 71st and Hough Avenue, a portrait of which hangs on Mr. Bryan’s office wall at the Hunting Valley campus today.

“This has continued at the Shaker campus,” Mr. Bryan continued, describing a large wood shop there that emphasizes vocational hands-on learning.

“Boys make things,” Mr. Bryan said “and there is an incredible maker’s space here.”

The Hunting Valley campus also boasts a maple sugar house where boys make gallons of maple syrup annually. A fresh hatchery is home to trout, which are released in the Chagrin River watershed.

Backed by research, Mr. Bryan noted that boys learn best in an environment in which they are allowed the freedom to find their own their successes, make mistakes and learn from them.

University School has teachers who help the students “create, build and become involved so they own the ideas they are learning,” he said.

Staff includes strong male role models as well as incredible female role models who teach them empathy, Mr. Bryan noted.

He also works to create a culture of change, citing that the school has delivered 10 new courses that opened this fall, including integrated math in eighth grade, a biotech course in the upper school and arts/tech course in ninth grade, among others.

“We made a great thrust in terms of educational direction according to this curriculum initiative, and we are very excited where it is going.”

In his 21st year as a head of school, Mr. Bryan said he is honored to work alongside a faculty that is extremely hands on in their support of the school’s 868 students.

Next year, he excitedly describes the creation of a junior kindergarten for boys on the Shaker campus, welcoming four- and five-year-olds.

Moving forward, it is important to attract students from a diverse background, not just racially but socioeconomically as well, Mr. Bryan continued. “Being culturally diverse is an enormous challenge of independent schools,” he said. He places a keen focus on equality and inclusion, Mr. Bryan said.

“I want every boy to feel equal regardless of status,” he said. “That requires us to be intentional on how we approach each student.”

Among his greatest influences personally is his wife, who remains affiliated with the Clarence Presbyterian Church in New York, to which she travels every other month to preach. She strongly supports his career, and the couple, married 42 years, regularly hosts students and events at their home, located on the Hunting Valley Campus.

His other great influence is the Rev. Tony Jarvis, associate minister at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Cleveland Heights and his teacher at US. “Personally and professionally, he has been role model and a mentor.”

Mr. Bryan also applies the lessons of empathy based on guidance from his maternal grandmother, who resided in Shaker Heights, he said. Her husband was the third founding partner of the Baker Hostetler law firm, and she was kind and compassionate,” Mr. Bryan said.  “She instilled in me compassion, and empathy and I apply that to my daily life and role as head master.

Both of his daughters also serve as an inspiration, Mr. Bryan noted, and he admires their courage as they battle their individual illnesses. His daughter KC White, 38, a former Lacrosse coach in Chagrin Falls, has cystic fibrosis. She and her husband Justin live in Chagrin Falls with their son Mac,  a fifth-grader at University School.

Mr. Bryan’s younger daughter Virginia, 36, who resides in Buffalo and worked as a social worker, suffers from Myoclonus Dystonia, a movement disorder.

Mr. Bryan was provided a framework for his professional career by former University School Headmaster Roland P. McKinley, credited for his leadership in spearheading the move of the Upper School from Shaker Heights to the nearly 200-acre Hunting Valley campus.

“If I could be one-tenth the head of school he was,” I will be proud, Mr. Bryan noted. “He was the most brilliant speaker I’ve ever known, with a command of language and a booming voice. “He was the visionary who pioneered the move out here to Hunting Valley and really transformed the school into one of the leading boy’s schools in the country.”

In his spare time, Mr. Bryan is an avid reader, specifically the genres of political history and mystery, citing some of his favorite authors as David Macaulay and “the Jonathan Kellermans of the world.”

A typical day has him traveling between the Shaker and Hunting Valley campuses, attending meetings, and interacting with the students and faculty as much as possible, he said.

Mr. Bryan, who holds a master’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, remains a “long suffering and devoted” Cleveland Indians fan, he said with a laugh, and is still a season ticket holder for the Buffalo Bills.

An avid snow skier and runner, Mr. Bryan remains the director of the James Cummings Foundation in Buffalo, which helps youth at risk and infirmed adults and is part of the Cleveland Council of Independent Schools and this years’ Cleveland Leadership Class of 2018.

For the last 12 years, he and his wife have had a home in Southern Ontario on the northern shore of Lake Erie, where they spend time each summer. He also enjoys family gatherings at his in-law’s home at Findley Lake, where the family gathers each year for Memorial Day.


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