St. John's Episcopal Parish Day School has named Robert Stephens as its new head of school after a six-month selection process.
Stephens, current director at the Heritage School in Miami, began his career as a science teacher in the Tampa Bay area in 1989. He later worked as an assistant elementary school principal and high school principal at Westminster Christian School, also in Miami.
Stephens, who holds a bachelor of science degree in education from the University of Alabama and a master's of science in administration-educational leadership from Florida International University, will serve as St. John's eighth head of school beginning in July. He will replace Gordon Rode, who is pursuing other opportunities.
I spoke to Stephens, 46, about his passion for private education.
What first inspired you to become an educator?
I had the world's greatest economics teacher at Dunedin High School. He related to the kids but at the same time was clearly a person of authority. He clearly cared about us all and wanted us to succeed. After that experience, I knew I wanted to inspire people like he did.
Did you grow up in the Episcopal Church?
No, but I've always really appreciated Episcopal schooling. The Episcopal tradition is really open to anyone who is willing to work hard and benefit from quality instruction. I think Episcopal schools do the best job of educating students. They tend to be like neighborhood schools. Everybody knows everybody.
For most of your career, you've worked in the private school system? How do private schools benefit students?
The relationships established between the home, the school and, in this case, the church are extremely beneficial to help promote the success of the child. It's really about communication. With private education, the class sizes are smaller and the resources tend to be greater. It means so much to be at a school where the parents are constantly involved. It has such a huge impact.
What is the biggest challenge of being an educator today?
The nature of the culture our children are growing up in, one that tends to teach a "me first" attitude. I try to teach children about having good character, about the importance of caring about others, sharing and working together.
Research shows how cooperative learning benefits children as they get older. But with this approach, I am kind of swimming upstream because of the nature of the world we live in.
What led to your interest in the position at St. John's?
I had let some friends and colleagues know I was looking to come back to the Tampa area. I got a call from a colleague letting me know one of Tampa's best schools was conducting a search for a director. I applied.
Will you attend St. John's Church?
Yes. I'm super excited about it. I'm excited about moving back. I just love the Tampa Bay area, especially South Tampa. The lifestyle is so vibrant. I am most excited about the school itself. As a school's director, you practically live at your school building, and St. John's is great. It is such a beautiful area.