The New Doc Smith?

As the final few months of the school year progress, the entire Hawken community is preparing for a major change next year.  No, not the new buildings: the retirement of Doc Smith.  Doc Smith is the current Associate Director of the Upper School and the AP U.S. History teacher, but to many members in the community, he is so much more than these titles imply. His responsibilities, in what he likes to describes as “all those things that nobody else wants to do,” include creating student schedules, organizing the daily school calendar, overseeing Cum Laude, creating each faculty member’s “fifth-dimension,” or their responsibilities outside of teaching classes, and, of course, teaching history.  Obviously, these are some pretty big shoes to fill. Instead of appointing another Associate Director to replace Doc Smith, the school has decided to divide his responsibilities and assign them to current Hawken faculty members. These faculty members are Ms. Griffin, Mr. Gillespie, and Mr. Cleminshaw.

Ms. Griffin will continue her roles as Humanities Department Chair and teacher, and next year she will start working with faculty members around teaching and curriculum and expanding the Intensive program. In regards to using the new building as a resource to improve learning, Ms. Griffin explains that the new building will “do something to eliminate things that actively get in the way of the learning we do. I think things like having furniture that can be easily reconfigured and move around just better reflect the pedagogy that we have.” Additionally, although she explains that she will be very sad to see Doc Smith retire, Ms. Griffin believes that this division of tasks will prove successful because it plays to everyone’s strengths. Indeed, many of the new responsibilities that each faculty member is taking on will simply be expansions of what they currently do.  In this aspect, this strategic division of responsibilities should make the transition into next year more smooth and logical.

Yet, there are still some challenges that this new team is trying to overcome.  One of the changes that will take some serious getting used to next year is how to inform the community who to see about what.  For such a long time at Hawken, faculty and students alike have become accustomed to going directly to Doc Smith with practically any issue they have.  But, with multiple titles that are very similar, it may be difficult for a person to know who to approach if they have a certain issue.  Mr. Gillespie certainly sees this as a potential challenge, and explains that this gray area could be simplified in the future by a written document that explains a standard protocol and further clarifications about the overlapping areas.  For his part, Mr. Gillespie will be taking on the scheduling side of Doc Smith’s role.  Currently, Doc Smith does a lot of the thinking behind the process while Mr. Gillespie runs the system and implements a lot of the mechanics behind it.  Next year, Mr. Gillespie will take on the full responsibility, but in reality, much of his role will stay the same.  He explains, “I’ll be working with department chairs the same, so they’ll still be making decisions about sectioning and that sort of stuff.”

The final member of this new team is Mr. Cleminshaw, current English/Humanities teacher and Head of the Hawken Integrity Council. As an expansion of his current responsibilities, next year Mr. Cleminshaw will be in charge of the management of faculty extracurricular activities, creating streamline systems for portfolio assessment and different projects, and working on diversity and inclusion within our Hawken community.  Mr. Cleminshaw believes that Doc Smith’s absence will definitely be felt next year. He explains, “He knows stories about Hawken that nobody else knows. You can just turn to him and ask him any question and he will answer it with grounding in all of Hawken’s past. We’ll definitely miss that.” He knows that next year won’t be the same but that there may be some positive results from the new distribution of responsibilities. He thinks that having multiple people collaborate on the same project will bring a variety of perspectives and new ideas to the table.  In the same way, these faculty members taking on new positions want the Hawken community to know that input and ideas from the community are highly valued as well. As Mr. Cleminshaw puts nicely, “our door will always be open and so if people have any suggestions or want to come talk, swing on by.”

As Mr. Cleminshaw, Mr. Gillespie, and Ms. Griffin begin their transition into their new positions here at Hawken, Doc Smith begins his own transition after forty years of tireless and dedicated work to the school. For those of you who aren’t close with Doc Smith, let me tell you; he’s a pretty cool guy. Interviewing him for this article, I learned so much about this school and his most memorable moments.  From coaching girls basketball on the stage in the auditorium to dealing with a bunch of sick students on the way back from Charleston, Doc Smith has seen it all at Hawken. Although deciding to retire was an extremely difficult decision for Doc Smith, he realizes that in order to experience new things, you have to be willing to give up some old habits.  With this additional time next year, he plans to travel to Europe with his family, spend more time with his grandkids, and practicing his golf swing.  But, he can’t help but think about how much he will miss his job, namely teaching.  As he loves telling his students, “if they can go out in life after their educational careers and find something to do that they enjoy doing half as much as I do, they’ll have a great life.” Doc Smith has served as an inspiration to all for the past forty years and his singing will be missed in the halls for decades to come.  Thank you for everything that you do, Doc Smith.