Photos Derek Bell
Teachers partner with parents to provide the best possible educational experience for the bright young students who will take the wheel and drive us into the future. Matt Davis of 95.7 The Ridge recently had the opportunity to sit down with Darlington’s new head of school and find out what makes him perfect for his job.
Brent BelL, a 20-year educator and former basketball coach, has accepted the position of head of school and, as expected, he has no reservations about becoming a part of the Darlington and Northwest Georgia community. During his years at other schools, including Woodberry Forest School in Virginia and Randolph School in Alabama, chatter of Darlington’s great reputation in the world of education found its way to his ear. His mother and former elementary school principal instilled in him the value of a great education, and Darlington is a learning environment that exceeds his expectations.
Inspired by his wife, Andrea, and their three children as well as the lessons he gathered from his mother, Bell lets us all in on why he signed on to lead Darlington School into the 2014-15 school year and beyond with the passion and commitment that has become a standard for everyone on campus.
MD: So, what led you to take the head of school position at Darlington?
BB: First of all, Darlington has a very rich history and is very well known in the Southeast. People have mentioned the school to me and I was in admissions in a similar boarding school, so I have been familiar with the name for a long time. In the search process, what I really liked was the combination of day and boarding students. Also, that Darlington was a school in a southern town and an international school with global perspective. I really was intrigued by the opportunities and the ambition that come with that type of learning environment. I was also really excited about traditions of the school and the affection people have for the place. They care about it and the third stanza of the school motto is honor above everything.î That has been the motto for my career and continues to be a defining part of the sort of environments and communities I want to be a part of.
MD: You’ve been noted for your inspirational leadership and strategic focus. What inspires you?
BB: I think that certainly my family inspires me. Also, the students in the schools that I’ve worked in and worked with have inspired me. Those are really huge influences. In the end, we have to always remember that schools exist for children, and when we do that, we create or help create better environments for them to grow up in and be learners. We also become learners with them. I’ve been really fortunate to work with great colleagues in every place I’ve been.
MD: How do you feel that Darlington school differentiates itself from other schools that could be considered similar?
BB: Independent schools have their own missions and at Darlington, we believe strongly in our mission. It’s literally written on the walls as you walk around campus and you can see it. I love the word “empower” in the Darlington mission. Empowering students to learn with passion, act with integrity and serve with respect ñ and the idea that we are empowering them and helping them grow within a really strong community ñ is a significant differentiator. Darlington provides an academic experience that is beyond the classroom, and it is a place where many different students can find a great place to try and fulfill that mission, while learning and growing in a very high level of classes. Whether it’s on the football field, on the stage or in the music classroom, there are lots of great opportunities to pursue your passions and to learn about who you are.
MD: What is the process of preparing for the position as head of school? I imagine there’s a lot that goes into that.
BB: That’s a really good question. First of all, you have to decide that being a head of school is something that is of interest to you. Many people move to that position from some other type of work in a school. It may be on the external side in admissions or advancement, or it maybe through the classroom or the academic ranks. But, the role is different and you need to understand the complexities. It helps to have an interest for that. For me, my interest is the challenge of fitting puzzles together. I like the idea of having a Pre-K through 12-year school and how the various pieces fit together. I certainly wanted to have a seat at that decision-making table. So, that kind of led me on this path to being a head of school. There are significant changes, challenges and opportunities in the role. Whether it’s the financial aspects of the life of the school or it’s a physical plan for the facilities and different levels of relationship engagement on a larger scale with students, teachers, and staff members, all of it is very challenging.
MD: When you talk about Darlington, a word that comes up pretty often is tradition because of its long and rich history here. So what are your thoughts and feelings about tradition, in relation to continuing to move forward while preserving that tradition along the way?
BB: I think Darlington gives us a great opportunity to combine two things that have struck me here, which are tradition and ambition. Darlington’s history spans more than 100 years, but it has always been a school that’s looking to move forward, a school that’s looking to be better and a school that focuses on the future of its students versus, say, their past. Looking through that lens of what is best for our students is really great. That is timeless. The idea that we want to continue to do what is best for our students and their future, making sure that we are continuing to learn and grow, is part of Darlington’s tradition.
MD: Obviously you’re just getting started with your journey here, so to speak, at Darlington, but what would you say your main goals are as you move forward in your career here?
BB: My main short-term goals are to get to know the community as well as possible ñ to spend time with the students and bond with the faculty, staff and constituents in the community. I’ve had a great time hearing stories from alumni, getting to know each of our faculty and staff members, and interacting with our students. Schools are so quiet in the summer and itís great to have the students back. Additionally, I think that we want to make sure we are great caretakers of the mission of the school. We are focused on our students. We want them to say they feel that Darlington was a student-centered place when they graduate or in reflection. We want to keep doing all we can to prepare them for their future. Certainly, part of my goal is to help ensure that Darlington continues to be the vital component in this community that it’s been for a long time and continues to be a strong partner in everything that is going on in Rome and the surrounding areas.
MD: My next question isn’t necessarily about the school; it’s about your experience so far in the community. Tell us about your first impressions of being a Roman?
BB: I have really enjoyed moving to Rome. Needless to say, moving is hectic and it’s pretty cool for us as a family to move into a home where people discussed what to name the town in the living room. That’s pretty impressive stuff when you sit and think about the things have happened there. So, we feel very privileged for that. I love that Rome and the surrounding areas have placed such an emphasis on education. Obviously, the higher educational institutions and the other schools in the area are really great, so I look forward to learning more about them. I think that focus is great in terms of just creating a community that’s intellectually curious. We’ve enjoyed wandering around downtown a little bit and look forward to exploring beyond the campus. Our boys have got 500 acres here, so they’re making their way around. All the different things that we’ve got here on Darlington’s campus are nice to look forward to but there is also hiking at Berry, floating the river or going to some of the local events. And I’m sure my children will get into all the sports and other activities in the community. We’re excited about that.
MD: This is an opportunity for the community to get to know you better so do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?
BB: Just that my family and I are excited to be here, excited to be at Darlington, and excited to be a part of Rome and this really fine school. We see great days ahead for Darlington and Rome, and we look forward to being a part of that growth and that excitement.
For information about Darlington School, visit www.darlingtonschool.org