I write to announce publicly that I will be leaving Commonwealth at the end of the 2020-2021 academic year. As you know, I have been talking with you and other trustees for some time about the timing of my retirement. I count myself uncommonly fortunate that I will have been part of this extraordinary community for thirty-six years, twenty-one as Headmaster. The time for transition is right, however, both for the school and for me.
The custom in letters like this is to list the accomplishments of one’s tenure. My efforts have all aimed at, and realized, one achievement: Commonwealth is a place that attracts and retains a remarkable and devoted group of teachers, dedicated staff, and lively, curious students. I have always seen my main job as Headmaster to facilitate the work that goes on in the classroom, making sure that teachers have the independence, resources, and support they need to challenge and inspire the students. As teaching and learning at Commonwealth continue to excite and delight teachers and students, I feel gratitude and satisfaction.
Running so small a school involves a series of balancing acts: between hard institutional needs and the effort to treat all with dignity and respect; between this small school’s financial constraints and the desire to reward great work and fully serve our students; and between a rapidly changing world and our founding commitments to intellectual distinction, equity, and inclusion. I have managed some of those balancing acts well, and at times have fallen short. Looking back, I am nonetheless proud of the way that the school has been able to meet these various challenges. It has been a good run.
As I look ahead to stepping away, I am deeply grateful to have enjoyed a full and varied career teaching and leading at Commonwealth. I went into education to share my love for the Classics with young people, so that they might draw from that tradition the resources to live fuller, more reflective lives. When I accepted the offer to teach at Commonwealth, I knew that I would learn here whether such teaching would prove as rewarding as I had hoped. (One distinguished professor told me that teaching here would be more exciting than 90% of the college jobs in my field.) My hopes were more than realized. Being part of a community in which enthusiasm for ideas, language, arts, and sciences is unabashed and open—and where hard work is taken on more out of interest than obligation—has been an incredible privilege.
In my remaining months at the school, I look forward to helping the transition to new leadership proceed smoothly and successfully, and to working with my wonderful colleagues to ensure that Commonwealth continues to flourish.
William D. Wharton
Your announcement elicits mixed feelings. Many will share, I’m sure, sadness at the prospect of your departure, happiness that you will enjoy respite from a very demanding job, and confidence about Commonwealth’s future.
Commonwealth has achieved a great deal under your leadership, while staying true to its founding vision. You have raised the school’s stature in the community: Commonwealth is widely regarded as one of the premier schools in the region. Its academic program is second to none, and its faculty, as the Malone Foundation put it some years ago, “would be the envy of most colleges in the area.” The last two decades have seen the strongest enrollment in the school’s history, and our graduates continue to matriculate at the most distinguished colleges and universities, even as that process has grown more competitive.
In line with the school’s commitment to shared responsibility, you have worked tirelessly with colleagues to increase the support for students receiving financial aid and scholarships, shepherd the Homework Project, and expand support services for all students. You oversaw the much-needed renovation and renewal of our buildings over four challenging summers. Under your leadership the school has raised over $35 million since 2000 for two capital campaigns and a steadily growing annual Commonwealth Fund. In the last few years, you worked with the Board and colleagues to develop a new leadership structure that preserves the school’s collaborative spirit, and oversaw the successful launch of Dive In Commonwealth to attract more students from underserved backgrounds. These and other accomplishments leave Commonwealth poised to thrive for years to come.
You have earned the deep respect and loyalty of trustees, parents, alumni/ae, and faculty and staff, a testament to your leadership. You have been an eloquent voice for the school at open houses, alumni/ae gatherings, parent events, graduations, and board meetings. The coming year will be a time for celebration of the school and your leadership, and for reflection on Commonwealth’s strengths and the opportunities ahead. The Board has engaged Bob Henderson and Tony Featherston of Resource Group 175 to guide us through a thoughtful and transparent nationwide search for Commonwealth’s next Head. We have assembled a Search Committee of trustees and will very soon follow up with a message from that group about the planning and schedule for your succession. I speak for myself and the three previous Board Chairs with whom you have worked—Polly Chatfield, Bill Sherden, and Karen Firestone—in thanking you.
With utmost gratitude for keeping Commonwealth’s spirit and academic rigor alive and true to its mission, we can now all look back and appreciate how much has been accomplished under your leadership. You have earned a well-deserved rest from what I can only characterize as the hardest job in the world.
Chair, Board of Trustees
To stay informed about the search for Commonwealth’s new head, please visit: www.commschool.org/headsearch