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by Terri Hogan
Senior Staff Writer
As a new school year begins with changes at Sandy Spring Friends School — a new head of school, a new upper school building and all-virtual instruction in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic — the new school leader said he is looking at the things that won’t change.
Dr. Rodney Glasgow says he is focusing on the history and legacy on which the school was built.
Glasgow took the helm of Sandy Spring Friends School (SSFS) on July 1, following Tom Gibian’s retirement at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.
The first day of classes for the new year was Sept. 2.
Glasgow brings nearly 20 years of experience in progressive education as a senior administrator and seasoned educator. He most recently served as the head of middle school and chief diversity officer at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac.
A Baltimore native, Glasgow graduated from Gilman School. He is a graduate of Harvard University, where he earned degrees in Afro-American studies and psychology. He holds a Master of Arts in organization and leadership from Columbia University and a Doctorate of Education in human and organizational learning from George Washington University.
Glasgow is a founding member and current chairman of the National Association of Independent Schools’ annual Student Diversity Leadership Conference, a 25-year-old gathering of more than 1,600 high school students from across the country and abroad.
“It is indeed a high tribute to our school and to the profound success of Tom Gibian over the past decade that someone as capable and qualified as Rodney would apply for this position,” Kip Imlay, Class of 1971 and clerk of Sandy Spring Friends School Board of Trustees, said when the announcement was made in December. “We look forward to a long and successful tenure with Rodney at the helm.”
‘I was touched by a spiritual wind’
Glasgow became familiar with SSFS while working as a diversity consultant.
He was wrapping up a diversity audit by interviewing students about their experiences at school. While waiting for the students to arrive, he took a walk around campus.
“I was touched by a spiritual wind,” he said. “I thought, this could be a place where I would want to be the head of school.”
He put a bookmark on that thought.
Just then, the student he was to interview arrived. She told him there was big news on campus — the head of school (Gibian) had just announced his retirement.
“It was ordained that I was meant to be here,” he said.
Glasgow said he is moved by the campus’ proximity to the Underground Railroad, to which he feels a deep, ancestral connection.
“I am electrified by it,” he said.
Glasgow stepped into his new role at a tumultuous time in education.
“It has been interesting to watch medicine and politics combine,” he said. “Opening school has become a medical and political question. I started July 1 in the midst of all that, having to make probably the biggest decision in the history of the school.”
He said school officials had to look at all the factors — sustainability, financial, risk and liability, and the safety of staff and students.
“We decided to go virtual until January, and I am very pleased with that decision,” he said. “I will miss the energy that marks the beginning of school, especially since it is my first year here. I don’t even know what I am missing, but I know I am missing something.”
Approximately 600 students are enrolled at the co-ed Quaker school, which serves preschool through grade 12.
Seven international students are on campus, but Glasgow said the school is hoping there will be more by January.
“We’ll be ready for as many as can get here,” he said, citing the complications of international travel.
Glasgow said school leaders have prepared for virtual education by making enhancements to scheduling and programming and shifting clubs and extracurricular activities online.
Students will be assigned to social pods, consisting of 14 students and a teacher. They will connect online, but will also meet for an on-campus activity every few weeks.
“Even our faculty is staying connected in ways beyond Zooming,” Glasgow said.
A new state-of-the-art 40,000-square-foot upper school building was scheduled to open this fall. The building is the first in the region to be constructed following the new International Green Construction Code.
“It will definitely be open in January when we hope the students can return to campus,” Glasgow said.
As an independent school alumnus and an African American student in the 1990s, Glasgow said there were not a lot of people of color working at his high school.
“But I was blessed to have teachers that inspired me and led me to get into diversity work,” he said. “I am the first black and first gay head of school in the history of Sandy Spring Friends School. For me to come in at this time, Sandy Spring has a real stake in the ground with a very historic headship happening.”
Glasgow said there are not many gays or people of color serving as heads of schools in the country.
There have been reports of people of color and LGBTQ students having negative experiences while at independent schools.
“Because I myself carry a lot of those ideals, I will connect with Sandy Spring alumni through a listening/healing tour and will reintroduce them to our school in a different way,” he said. “I will push faculty to be even more knowledgeable, and we will look at policies and practices.”
He added, “We also plan to hire a senior-level director of diversity in the coming year and will ramp up social and emotional resources. We will work towards a sense of belonging for all students.”
Glasgow, who lived in Silver Spring for the past several years and recently moved to Olney, is the seventh head of school since SSFS was established in 1961.
“My biggest goal is to shine a big ole intense spotlight on the great things happening on this campus — experiential learning, devotion to Quaker values, commitment to social activism and a deep spirit of student leadership,” Glasgow said. “I want to inspire other schools and the world of education. I believe this school could do that. It’s a hidden gem, but I don’t want it to stay hidden for too much longer.”
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