Changes At The Top: Veteran faculty, newcomers lead revamped administration

Sarah Scott, Senior Staff Writer

The end of the 2015-2016 school year left the door open for changes in administration that have been filled this fall by new Dean of Students Alun Polga, new Assistant Head of School and Head of Upper School David Ruiz, new Curriculum Coordinator Darcy Albanese, and new Director of Recruitment and Enrollment manager Jeff Pilgrim.

Head of School Steve Griffin says that these changes were the results of departures of past faculty members and the mandates of MacDuffie’s corporate parent, MMI Holdings International. These mandates prepare the school internally so that there is support in the expansion overseas. Griffin, in charge of all internal hiring, said there were “interviews for the Dean of Students and Curriculum Coordinator,”  and “an external search for director in enrollment, recruitment and enrollment management.”

Pilgrim came to MacDuffie for the 2016-2017 school year as the answer to that external search. Before MacDuffie, Pilgrim worked for 25 years in admissions and worked in advancement at the Williston Northampton, before deciding admissions was his true passion.

Griffin said Pilgrim’s hiring takes place in anticipation of expansion of classroom space and student population,  “looking not for this coming admissions season, but the one afterwards to have expanded capacity. So we are almost a year in advance starting to do more work on international recruitment and support that.”

Pilgrim will be required to oversee all recruitment of students, and the directors of both boarding and day admissions, Susan Clayton and Alex Seymour. “I am going to be overseeing the China recruitment as well as any Mexicans that apply here because I was just down there,” he said.

He is also responsible for directing a strategy for accomplishing goals for recruiting, such as attracting domestic boarding students,  students with specific talents, and students from a broader array of countries. For example, he says, “We have 26 different countries here; we want 30, so how are we going to get those extra countries and what’s the strategy behind that?”

Pilgrim is also required to oversee the communications and marketing operations of the school. This requires him to closely work with Jodie Lynn Boduch, the director of Marketing and Communications, on advertising strategy on the road,  commercials, and the website to make MacDuffie look as welcoming as possible.  

Despite that the challenges  required to bring in 95 new students next year, he says that it is a good thing. So far Pilgrim has felt that the MacDuffie school is a great community, saying  “I do feel that there is a lot of potential here to make it even better, and it will get better as this facility gets improved upon. And my goal is to just find some great kids to continue this tradition.”

A familiar name and face here at the MacDuffie school has taken on a larger position. New Dean of Students Alun Polga has stepped up into this administration role this year beginning in the fall. Last held by former Head of Upper School Chris Bielizna, the position has been reinstituted on its own.

Polga oversees student government, the school clubs, morning assemblies, advisory program, and student discipline. Although any new job involves a period of adjustment, Polga said that the challenges are minimal. He has embraced finding time to listen to questions and suggestions from all the students that approach him during the day.

Polga took the job because, he says, “I had been thinking about if such a opportunity was available; it would be a nice challenge to sort of have a different impact on the school.” “I’ve been here a long time, this is my 14th year and I feel like, yes I had some colleagues who were encouraging and that was very nice, I had a good feeling about that.”  

Polga believes that the job has absolutely lived up to his expectations and that by being in this position, ”I want everyone here to feel like MacDuffie is their home, and there are certain parts of our community spirit that I think we can pull through, that we can work on together.” He desires to enhance the aspects of the MacDuffie Community that already make it such a special place.

Another change in administration adds another title to the name of Head of Middle School Darcy Albanese. The start of the 2016-17 school year added on the role of Curriculum Coordinator to Albanese’s job. As Curriculum Coordinator, Albanese says she is “looking at the curriculum that we have and looking at the scope and sequence,” referring to the depth and learning requirements of class curriculums from sixth grade to twelfth grade.

This position is not only new to Albanese but also to the MacDuffie school, as its responsibilities had previously fallen to the Academic Dean. This year it has been separated to lessen the responsibilities required of David Ruiz.

Albanese finds the job of academic observation rather fascinating in the ways that she is able to see more closely what happens and how the school is organized. Although Albanese said that it is too early in the year to tell for sure, no challenges or difficulties have come up. Still finding enjoyment in teaching her sixth grade life science class and her position as Head of Middle School, she has been pleased so far with her new role.

David Ruiz, meanwhile, has received two more administrative positions here at MacDuffie. Arriving last year as Academic Dean, Ruiz is now Head of Upper School and Assistant Head of School.

As Academic Dean, Ruiz is in charge of the daily schedule, as well as the generalized curriculum of the Upper School.  “My job is to help facilitate conversations around new course offerings,” he says, and “making sure that we offer as rich and as rigorous course study for students” as possible.

As Head of the Upper School Ruiz oversees the day-to-day operations of the entire Upper School. He is often involved in conversations of programing, teacher concerns, and  discipline (because of position on the Judiciary Council).

As Assistant Head of School, Ruiz has the ability, knowledge, and responsibility to step into the role of Head of School when Griffin is absent, which will be necessary during Griffin’s increased travels.

Ruiz says that his transition has been smooth, and believes that it was essential that he stepped into the role of Academic Dean when he did. “I needed to learn that job first, make sure that I nailed down that job and then it was a little easier, taking on the other roles.” Ruiz is convinced that with the addition of himself as a point person, there are fewer challenges for other administrators whose work overlaps with his.

Although his roles are defined, Ruiz says “One of the really great things about being here is we spend a lot of time collaborating, I tend to never make decisions in a vacuum, I always bounce my ideas off of someone else and see what they think.” Ruiz appreciates and respects the community found at MacDuffie, and is honored to have been offered such an important role. “It’s been a good ride up to this point.”

When asked what qualities are looked for in administrative positions, Griffin’s response was that it depends on the specific role they take, on but in general he looks for a “credential for the person who is, or credentials for the person who is coming into the role, because that gains some immediate trust from the community. They also need to be personable, if they are coming from the outside, you need to have a sense that they will be able to grow into an understanding of the MacDuffie values and the MacDuffie community.”  

So far he is thrilled with the new administrative team, but assures that everything has come into align to make this possible.  “I think it helps when the year is going well and I do think the year is going extremely well. So I can either say that it’s under my bold leadership with my awesome administrative appointments or, we got great students, we got great new students, great returning students, and that helps [the school] function well.”