The 2011-2012 school year began with a new head of Sanford School in Hockessin. Mark Anderson joined the independent school after serving as head of Whitfield School in St. Louis, Missouri. TSD caught up with the dynamic young educator to find out more about his plans for the school and his initial impressions of life in the First State.
TOWN SQUARE DELAWARE: You left a position as head of school in St. Louis, Missouri where you have spent most of your life. What compelled you to move across the country to Delaware and this new opportunity at Sanford?
MARK ANDERSON: The Sanford community won Nicol and me over, both professionally and personally, and convinced us that moving here was a great opportunity for our entire family. The school manages to balance the warmth of being an inviting, student centered school with the demands of being a challenging, college prep school. In my experience not many schools can strike this balance well.
TSD: What has surprised you most about Delaware? Any big differences from St. Louis and the Midwest?
MA: I see a lot of similarities between St. Louis and Wilmington. Both cities support several independent schools, and both communities support their schools and non-profits with great generosity. I believe this support comes from a tremendous civic pride both cities share. St. Louis and Wilmington are both wonderful places to raise families, and as a consequence, many people come back to start their families.
TSD: The local private school market is very competitive – all the more so in this economic environment. How do you distinguish Sanford from the “competition?”
MA: Sanford is a terrific school in a very competitive market. The independent schools, Catholic schools and local charter schools all offer a unique set of qualities to parents. In my early experience, I think Sanford separates itself in this community in several ways. We are a warm, welcoming place that offers a highly personalized experience to our students and families. Sanford students represent a wide range of talents, abilities and backgrounds. I tell folks that Sanford offers an exceptional prep-school experience without the typical prep school attitude. Many of the other schools offer strong programs, but Sanford students experience it all: Rigorous academics, competitive athletics, exceptional arts, and service learning – all in an inviting environment that welcomes and embraces them as individuals. The Sanford culture really is tops.
TSD: As a follow-up, what are your near and longer-term goals for the school?
MA: One of the things that attracted me to Sanford was how ripe with opportunities I saw the school was. I kept hearing that Sanford was a “hidden gem” in this area and not enough of our community knew of our quality programs. So getting our name out in the community will be a top priority in the short term. Long term, I hope to continue Sanford’s amazing 80 year journey well into the future. Part of this will include bolstering the school’s endowment, renovating our historic campus and facilities, and recruiting the very finest teachers and coaches to work with our students.
TSD: What do you think are the greatest challenges facing educators today?
MA: The greatest challenge for elementary and secondary teachers is determining how to help our students and parents in this rapidly changing world. Technology and communication in our personal and business lives have outpaced the work of our schools. How this will shake out for the work of classroom teachers and curriculum is still to be determined. I don’t want Sanford to jump on any technology band wagons or throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water.
TSD: Is there a sufficient appreciation that schools are preparing students to head into a truly global world?
MA: There is more and more talk among independent schools about the global world our students are inheriting. While there are some programs that bring quality experience to students to expand their worldview, I predict the qualities schools like Sanford have long fostered in students—such as leadership, creativity, kindness and a willingness to expand their own talents—will always find a way to make a difference in the world, even one changing as rapidly as ours. Put another way, we don’t need our 16-year old to compete with China and India. I want to foster the skills and talents in our 16-year olds so that in 5, 10, 20 years, those kids will be competing on whatever stage and level they choose.
TSD: What do you like to do in all your “spare” time?
MA: As a father of three and a head of a JK-12 school, I don’t find myself with a lot of “spare” time. That’s a boring answer, I know. Maybe 20 years from now I can take up golf or sailing or something. But for now, my days are all about Sanford School and the Anderson family: my wife, Nicol, and children Stella 7, Finley 5, and Oliver 3.
TSD: What are your family’s favorite local haunts?
MA: We are fortunate to live on Sanford’s bucolic 100 acre campus. Many weekends are spent on the playground or in the creek that runs through our valley. We have enjoyed getting to know Wilmington and all that the area has to offer. Favorites thus far have been the Children’s Museum, the Brandywine Zoo, the Delaware Natural History Museum, and Longwood Gardens. This summer we made it to the beach several times, something we definitely couldn’t do in St. Louis.