Ward Ghory said he is coming to the Harley School at just the right time.
Ghory, head of school at the University School of Milwaukee for most of the last decade, has been named to the same position at Harley just as it is embarking on a $3 million project to bring environmental sustainability to the classroom.
The Harley School broke ground this week on the $3 million Chesonis Commons, a "living building" that school officials say will be the nation's first structure for kindergarten through grade 12 to offer students multiple dimensions of education for creating a sustainable future.
The 14,000-square-foot building will generate its own energy, use non-toxic resources for heating and cooling, capture and use water and carbon in its greenhouse, and operate efficiently using students to manage its operations, school officials said.
"Even the rendering of the building caught my eye," said Ghory, who is to start as head of school in July. "Here you have this barn, a post-and-beam building connected to the agrarian past but with one wall completely exploding with glass for the greenhouse."
The Chesonis Commons project puts Harley in a position of leadership among schools studying sustainability, Ghory said.
"It's nice to have some cards like that dealt to you," he said. "I think schools are starting to explore this edge of things in a variety of interesting ways, but I don't know of any other school that has created this same kind of one-stop setting for this right in the heart of campus."
Even without the project, Harley stood out as "one of the most interesting schools in the country," Ghory said. He was drawn to the school for its strong college prep curriculum and array of complementary programs for students.
The Harley School ranked fourth on the Rochester Business journal's most recent list of private schools, with 526 students.
Harley chairman Peter Willsea noted that the school has worked hard in the past few years to develop a unique curriculum that imparts ideas of mindfulness and empathy in students aside from the core curriculum. The project at Chesonis Commons and another program that brings students into hospice settings fit with this goal, he said.
With a strong record in curriculum development, Ghory will be the perfect candidate to lead Harley, Willsea said. This experience is especially important, given that no framework exists for a curriculum emphasizing mindfulness and empathy.
"The way the board sees it, we have many good strategic things in place, so we're not looking for someone who can revolutionize the school but will lead it in an evolutionary way," Willsea said.
Though he is still months from taking over as head of school, Ghory has started his involvement in its planning. He has been in discussion with administrators about the budget process and plans a trip to Rochester in December to meet with different constituency groups.
Ghory has spent the last year on sabbatical on Cape Cod, Willsea noted, making his transition to Harley much easier.
Ghory said once he takes over at Harley full time, meeting with stakeholders is high on his list of priorities.
"I think the school is primed for the next cycle of change and improvement," Ghory said. "I'm interested in working with various groups of faculty, parents, trustees and alumni to identify strategic priorities."
He also plans to attend alumni events in Boston and Washington, D.C., and plans several other trips to visit the campus.
Crafting a strategic plan will be an early focus, Ghory said.
"It's important to have a strategic plan that sets a framework for where we're going," he said. "I like the process of bringing together groups to talk about the generative issues in the school that we can identify to move the school forward."
In the meantime, Ghory said he is working to get acclimated to Rochester and its culture. While visiting, he said, he tried to get a sense for whether the region had a more Midwestern or East Coast feeling but noticed a bit of both. He compared the region to Cincinnati, where he grew up.
"It's another city on a river that had an explosive period of growth in the 19th century, another manufacturing city remaking itself and one with a strong center for arts and culture," Ghory said. "I saw Rochester as a good urban place to come to, and that was powerful in me coming here."
With Harley poised for growth both in programs and facilities, Ghory said he looks forward to his new position.
"There is no better work than leading a school through a cycle of change and improvement, and Harley has a record to be able to expand on its strength and excellence," Ghory said. "I'm proud to get to be the orchestrator of this little surge."
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