In 17 years at Heathwood, Dr. George Scouten has played many roles, from English teacher to Upper School Head to Middle School lacrosse coach. Now he’s stepping into a new position as Assistant Head of School that will help Heathwood capitalize on its recent forward momentum.
A native of Baltimore, Dr. Scouten came to Columbia as a Ph.D. student in English at the University of South Carolina and joined the Heathwood Upper School faculty in 1998. He has served as Dean of Students, English Department Chair, and Director of International Studies, and was named SCISA Upper School Teacher of the Year in 2010. He is also the recipient of a Fulbright Award and a National Endowment for the Humanities teacher grant.
Here Dr. Scouten talks about his new role, what excites him about being at Heathwood at this stage in its history, and why he’s built a career in independent school education.
You’ve worked at Heathwood as a teacher and in several different administrative roles. What has been appealing about serving Heathwood in so many different capacities?
Two reasons, really—The first is essentially a personality trait. At my core, I am a learner, which means I love expanding my knowledge and mastering new skills in a wide range of areas. That trait makes me reluctant to pass up opportunities that will allow me to take on new challenges and grow in different areas. The other aspect that is appealing about taking on administrative challenges is my desire to provide a positive environment for as many people as possible. One of the things I love about teaching and coaching is the ability to have a deep and positive impact on young people. Administration doesn’t always allow for the same depth of interaction, but it does allow me to benefit a greater number of people and support the adults (teachers, coaches, parents) who are working most closely with young people.
Your new role as Assistant Head is also a newly created position. What was the reason for establishing the new position, and what will your primary responsibilities be?
It is a position that we had during my first tenure at Heathwood, and it was a good time for Chris to revive it. At least initially, the work I’ll be doing as Assistant Head will be in two areas: first, I’ll be working closely with Chris to advance particular aspects of our program (as well as identifying ways to extend the reach of our program and expertise); second, I’ll work to free up Chris for those times when he needs to be working off campus or focusing in a particular area.
What are you most looking forward to about your new role? And what’s appealing about Heathwood’s situation at this juncture?
I think what’s so appealing about our situation at the moment is the position of strength that we’re in. We’ve had two straight years of enrollment gains in excess of 5%; we had an enormous jump in annual fund giving last year; we have exciting divisional initiatives in the works in addition to our school-wide Columbia Connections work; we have both students and teachers being recognized at the state and national levels. When everything is working as well as it is at Heathwood, you have the luxury of asking not only what can we do to make the student experience better, but also how can we be a resource to our families and to the Columbia community as a whole.
What do you see as the value of independent school education generally, and a Heathwood education more specifically?
An independent school education is more valuable now than ever before. I went to a very good public school in Baltimore in the 1980s—and at that time talented public school teachers were still afforded a high degree of autonomy from districts and administrators, and class sizes (at least at my school) tended to be low. We’ve not only left that demographic trough behind but we’ve also moved into a time of extreme standardization. Public school districts are increasingly focused on what’s best for the system itself. Independent schools, by contrast, should be all about what’s best for students. That means small classes, strong student-adult relationships, flexibility to modify approaches and innovate. Heathwood not only has these qualities—which should be part and parcel of any good independent school—but also is marked by our Episcopal ethos (including respecting all people and service to others), a strong core curriculum, and a unique set of longstanding programs that allow students to both explore new areas of interest and develop mastery and expertise in others.
How will (or won’t) your new role impact your ongoing role as Upper School Head? Are other people’s roles in the US evolving to free up more of your time?
Beyond the many congratulatory notes and comments I received (thank you, by the way), the most common question I was asked was whether or not I will be staying in my role as the Upper School Head. My duties in that respect will not change. However, we have such a strong administrative team in the Upper School that it allows me to take on school-wide projects as well.
What’s new in the Upper School this year? Anything notable in the works?
I’ve been fortunate to inherit some strong signature programs (Senior Exhibition, Johns Island, Winterim, etc.) that were the product of hard work by other people two and three decades ago. I get to be the steward of those programs. But I’m always looking at ways that we can improve as well. Every year we add new courses to the catalogue and look to improve existing courses. We’re putting into place some student leadership initiatives this year and will continue to develop programming to support social aspects of adolescent development—from how to use social media responsibly to drug and alcohol prevention to the basics of what to expect in college. Our college counseling office is also in the process of putting together some exciting work to support 9th and 10th graders in addition to the incredible work they already do with juniors and seniors. And this upcoming month we have our first-ever short-term exchange with a sister school in Germany. Many good things are afoot!
What do you do when you’re not working?
I think most people in the Heathwood community know me pretty well already. I love Baltimore sports, particularly the Ravens, and I still play competitive lacrosse. I enjoy travel and the outdoors and try to get up to the mountains whenever I can—especially in the summer when it’s so hot and muggy here in Columbia. Most of all, I like spending time with my wife and our three sons, all of whom are students here at Heathwood.