Empowering Teachers: A Tribute to Bill Wharton

In June of 2021, after twenty-one years as Headmaster and thirty-six at the school, Bill Wharton will conclude his time at Commonwealth. Following the announcement of Bill’s retirement, Commonwealth’s Board of Trustees made personal, additional gifts to The Power of a Vision, our ongoing fundraising campaign now entering its final phase, in tribute to Bill. Those gifts, totaling over $500,000, helped the campaign reach and surpass $10 million. 

As he wrote in his letter announcing his retirement, Bill has seen his role as “facilitating 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.” A recent survey by the Stanford-affiliated Challenge Success program found that Commonwealth was, in their words, “off the charts” among high-performing schools nationally in levels of student engagement and interest. The survey confirms that teaching and learning at Commonwealth continue to excite and delight teachers and students. That the school continues to thrive results in no small part from Bill’s core commitments to fostering teachers’ active intellectual lives.

Bill was a teacher for twenty years—fifteen of them at Commonwealth—before he became Headmaster in 2000. As a young teacher, Bill learned from, among many others, Headmaster and teacher Charlie and Polly Chatfield, English teacher Kate Bluestein, and the first teacher Charles Merrill hired, John Hughes. A lifelong learner and forever a student at heart, Bill established the John Hughes Fund for Professional Development in 2001. The Fund provides summer and sabbatical grants for faculty to refresh existing or create new classes, to attend conferences and workshops, and to pursue their intellectual passions. Since the Fund’s establishment, 58 teachers have used Hughes grants to pursue 190 projects. Forty-seven new classes have been created, including physics electives on thermodynamics, waves, and the theory of relativity; Spanish classes focused on female writers and the immigrant experience; and the school’s first-ever interdisciplinary and team-taught class, The Science of Art and Materials.  

The Hughes program reflects our trust in giving teachers the freedom to shape their own growth, confident that the enthusiasm generated by the creation of a course, the study of a topic, or even the pursuit of a serious avocation will keep their teaching fresh and engaging.” Bill Wharton

Capturing the strength and caliber of our teachers in a single gesture proves nearly impossible. In establishing the John Hughes Fund for Professional Development, Bill codified the school’s support for its teachers’ independent exploration. The Hughes Fund and all it inspires constitute a major, lasting part of Bill’s legacy.

Since its establishment in 2001, over $500,000 has been granted through the Hughes program. Each year, the Fund has been replenished through gifts to The Commonwealth Fund, the school’s annual fund. In honor of Bill’s tenure and commitment to Commonwealth, we plan to endow the Fund and to rename it the Hughes/Wharton Fund for Teachers. 

We invite you to join us in recognizing Bill’s extraordinary service and commitment to faculty by making a gift to help establish this endowed fund. 

Triple Your Gift Matching Opportunity

Alumnus Matt Kraning '04 has generously pledged to match all gifts to the Hughes/Wharton Fund at a rate of 2:1, up to $500,000. You can help us meet this match by giving now. 

Make a Gift in Bill's Honor

To learn more about opportunities to support Commonwealth and to honor Bill Wharton, please contact Alisha Elliott '01, Director of Advancement.