Chis Chandler Interview:
This is file #90. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Chisholm Chandler who is the headmaster of Salisbury School in Salisbury, Ct. Today’s date is January 26th. Here we go!
JM:What is your name?
JM:What is your birthdate?
CC:I was born on June 8, 1966 at Sharon Hospital.
JM:Your parents’ names?
CC:My dad is John Rust Chandler, but he goes by Rusty, and my mother is Mimi Estes who lives also in Salisbury.
JM:Do you have siblings?
CC:I do. I have 2 sisters. My older sister is Lisa and my younger sister is Robin. Robin is the Girls Athletic Director at Hotchkiss School.
JM:What was your educational background?
CC:Actually I started at Little Scholar Nursery School with Jeanne Wardell (See tape #132A). Then I was at Salisbury Central for kindergarten and first grade; then I moved to Town Hill School through the fourth grade, Indian Mountain School from 5th – 9th grade. Hotchkiss School, Brown University, and I got my graduate degree in Education from Harvard University.
CC:I graduated from Harvard in 2002, I graduated from Brown in 1989, and from Hotchkiss in 1985.
JM:What has been your career path?
CC:Well I have been at Salisbury School for 24 years. I arrived in the fall of 1991. I worked in Admissions for many years, I ran the college office for a number of years, and I was the Director of Admissions for a number of years. Then I became the Assistant headmaster and finally I was appointed Headmaster in the fall of 2003.
JM:Now Headmasters originally were clergy. When did that change and why? Do you know?
CC:I do know the answers to both questions? Salisbury was founded by an Episcopal Headmaster the Rev. George Quaile and we still maintain a very strong tie to the Episcopal Church. His son, Emerson, succeeded him. Emerson was not a minister. He was only Head for 7 years. He went down to New York; He was only 42 years old. He went down to New York to have surgery on a tennis elbow injury. He got tainted anesthesia and died on the operating table. George Langdon was the next
2.Headmaster. He was an Episcopal minister. (See tape #95A) Ed Ward followed George Langdon in 1965. He was an Episcopal Headmaster. Peter Sipple followed Ed Ward in the early 1980’s. Then the first lay Headmaster was Dick Flood, my predecessor. He was appointed in 1988, and I followed dick in 2003. The reason, and I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, that Salisbury like many schools got away from having clergy as their Headmasters is that the whole idea of running a school as a business became more and more clear and important. I knew Peter Sipple very well as a young man. He and my dad actually grew up together in Cleveland, Ohio. I knew Ed Ward very well because Ed Ward’s son Michael was a classmate of mine at Indian Mountain. They were great men and great teachers. The job of the Headmaster in the independent school world changed from being the head teacher to the more of a head administrator, CEO of the company, teaching skills became less important and financial management skills became more important. Episcopal ministers are more teachers than they are based in financial management; the job of a Headmaster today is fund raising, hiring, and doing admissions work and overall management of the institution. This is different from being a teacher as it was 25 or 30 years ago. Now the truth is that the best Headmasters still maintain as very strong contact with the kids, still speak in chapel as often as they can, still think first about creating a great school culture and evaluating teachers and working closely with students. Then it becomes a balance of that part and the other which it should be.
JM:What is your present enrollment of students?
CC:308, of that 292 are boarding students. Of the 16 or 17 day students about 9 of them I think are faculty children that live on campus.
JM:Fac brats! How many faulty?
CC:There are 62 faculty members full time; I think we have about 8 or 9 part time faculty as well. They do a great job and are in different stages of their career. A couple of our arts teachers, for instance Erika Crowfoot who is chairman of our Art Department is part time because she is also an artist. She needs time to do her art.
JM:Yes that came out when I was doing Roger McKee. (See file #78) It all works together.
CC:Lisa Sheble who is a long time resident of this area teaches Philosophy and Religion as well as Photography, but she is also a fabulous photographer. For us to bring in people with wonderful skills in the arts who still maintain a life outside the school is smart because those skills are hard to come by. Our students need to be exposed to photography and art and to have real artists also teach them.
JM:As many exposures to the outside world as possible. I asked you this before and I loved your answer. Is there a place for a boys’ school in today’s environment?
CC: Unquestionably! Every day I think the testimonies get more vivid and stronger. Some of it comes through just the practices of educators. We see in the boys, but more today it is driven by the data that is collected and the science of being able to look into an adolescent female’s brain and an
adolescent boy’s brain and see how different they are. We couldn’t do that 20 years ago. The technology today is really able to allow us to do that. If we were talking 20 years ago it was all anecdotal; if you were teaching you would say well I see this in my female students and I see something else in my male students. Today we know from studies and diagnostics that the adolescent male brain is 2 or 3 years behind the adolescent female brain in early adolescence when they are 12, 13, 14, and 15 years old. Then the boys can speed up at the end of that, but even now the studies show that the prefrontal cortex which is all the decision making, concentration and focus really isn’t totally formed until boys are 23 or 24 or 25 years old. The girls are a little bit farther ahead.
JM:The boys catch up.
CC:The boys catch up. The reason I think a boys’ school for many boys is so important and as a teacher, you have seen this, if you go to Hotchkiss or Berkshire School and we walked over to a classroom you would see the girls in the front and the boys in the back. The girls are raising their hands and are engaging with the teachers in great conversations. The boys are shying away hoping that they don’t look silly and praying that they are not called on. Then when they get into the 11th and 12th grade their self-confidence has grown; their executive functioning is infinitely better. They don’t fear being involved in conversation or being asked questions. It is different, so that is why there is a place for a boys’ school-absolutely.
JM:Oh good. Now you have a couple of specific areas of focus with your students: talk a little bit about character development and the code of a gentleman.
CC:Years and years before I got to Salisbury our Headmasters and faculty members were really focused on the concept of the Salisbury gentleman. I am glad they were because it is something that has really cared over to today. From my standpoint I think the world is getting a little bit away from many of those traditional skills that fathers and grandfathers taught their boys growing up: a firm handshake, a look you in the eye, opening doors for men, women and children, anybody, being a good neighbor, being a good son, being helpful in a community, being a good work colleague, being a great classmate and a great friend. Our culture today is so focused on ourselves. What is in it for me? What can I achieve in this world? And less about how can I make an impact on the world? How can I make the world a better place? We talk every day about being a gentleman and what that means. Being a good son, being a good sibling, making a difference in their community, who is going to volunteer? One of the things I love about living in the Salisbury area is we have so many opportunities to give back.
JM:And you take advantage of them.
CC:Whether it is Volunteer fire Department, or the ambulance or Women’s Support Services or Family Services or Low Income Housing-This is an area where the school really tries to make an impact. That goes hand in hand with the other piece that you were talking about which is character development. We really stress building a man’s character, a boy’s character, while they are here so that
they can indeed go out into the world and not just decide what the world has for them, but what they have for the world.
JM:How they can give back.
CC:How they can support their neighbors and their community and how they can make a positive impact on those around them.
JM:Which are skills that do need to be taught if they are not automatically taught at home. They need to have a role model and they need to be shown that this is the way a gentleman behaves. It is important.
CC:As you know if anybody is watching the news today or listening to any kind of political discourse, we hear “income inequality” not only in the United States but in the world, I believe that generally the kids that are coming to us, an independent boarding school like Salisbury, and have just incredible educational opportunities as well as warm beds and all the food they can eat. I mean this is a pretty nice deal.
JM:Yes it is and a beautiful location, as well.
CC:It is a beautiful location and in a safe part of the world. What I say to the boys often in Chapel is that great quote “To whom much is given, much is expected, or much is required.” That is what we try to reinforce with our students. They have been given the best education and the best of opportunities, because they have had this, it is incumbent upon them to understand that and to reach out and help others. They should use the gifts they have been given to help others.
JM:This is the basic Golden Rule. When you are looking for a student, what abilities or academic achievement are you looking for to come here? What are your requirements?
CC:That is a great question. There are several layers of that. When I was Director of Admissions, more than anything else I would try to figure out with each individual candidate whether they would, if given the opportunity, take advantage of the opportunities that we offer. We like active learners. All the academics are important whether its grades or your school before you came to Salisbury or your test scores. We want to teach kids that are focused, fun, curious and inquisitive so those teacher recommendations that we get mean a lot to us. More than anything else we look for well-rounded kids; now our search is really all over the world. We have kids almost every continent other that Antarctica. We have kids from Africa, Asia, Europe; we have some Russian students who came recently, kids from South America and a number of kids from Canada so it is a very diversified, global enrollment which makes the learning experience even more interesting.
JM:It is good for tolerance of other cultures.
CC:Oh I think the boys in just sharing their ideas whether you are from one part of the world or another; it is a huge part of what makes going to Salisbury interesting.
JM:I didn’t ask you before, but I am asking you now, how about scholarships? Do you have scholarships?
CC:Yeah we do. Scholarship is not a term we use any more. We do in that there are named scholarships here so if you are a donor and you want to support a middle class family that cannot afford the tuition, there may be the Foster McMillen Family Scholarship, but all of it is called financial aid. 33 % of the families of the boys that attend Salisbury get some sort of financial assistance.
JM:Do you have anything specific for local students or is it just in general?
CC:It is just in general. As you know there is not a lot of industry in this area; it is a lot of really nice and wonderful middle class and upper middle class families who can’t afford $40,000 tuition, so the majority of our day students receive financial assistance. We are happy to do that because we really want to support the local area.
JM:It makes it even more well- rounded to have kids that don’t necessarily have the posh background to be able to come to a posh school.
JM: And learn and it makes connections.
CC:Totally. We were just talking about geographic diversity and every bit as important is the socio-economic diversity. So kids from different economic backgrounds have different views on the world and can add to different discussions in history or science or English or math.
JM:It is very important to have the diversity because it broadens their outlook on life, too.
JM:What is the Crosby Medal?
CC:The Crosby Medal is an award that is given at graduation each year to the senior, a 6th form student, who has shown the most leadership and loyalty to the school. That is voted on by the upper 2 grades so it is peer choice. It is not faculty driven; it is the kids getting together and saying this particular boy was in our minds the best leader and the most loyal kid. Generally it is a senior who has reached out to a number of kids to help, whether it is tutoring them in a particular discipline or even a leader in a dormitory or have helped them in a time when they have been upset about something. It identified all the characteristics that we seek to achieve in boys: someone who is caring, someone who is loyal, someone who is reaching out to other people to make their lives better.
JM:It is interesting that you have it from the students’ perspective rather than the faculty perspective because the students see themselves differently than the faculty do.
JM:This is really where the rubber hits the road.
CC:I know that there are some students who when faculty are around they act in one way, and if faculty aren’t around they act in a different way so the Crosby Medal winner is almost the boy that is doing the right thing when no one is looking.
JM:Oh that is important.
JM:You have a school motto in Latin. What is its meaning?
CC:Esse quam videre is the motto which means “to be rather than to seem to be”, I think is a great motto for kids; I mean in today’s colloquial terms its BE REAL, to be the real thing. Don’t put on airs, be the real thing.
JM:You are going to be found out, somehow if you are faking it. That was one of the things when I was teaching. You can’t pull the wool over kids’ eyes. They know, and it is just easier to be right up front and that is how you earn respect from your peers.
CC:The kids talk today about being authentic. In a boarding school and a small school, you really get to know these kids in a very unique and honest way. We have all types of kids. If you are authentic, you are universally respected. You can be completely different than other kids but if you are comfortable with who you are and project an image of confidence, but humble, then it is incredible. You see how other kids feel about particular kids. So being authentic is really important. Be comfortable with who you are. It is amazing to watch the respect that kids have for each other. Again they may be completely different, they are from different parts of the world; they are into different sports, they like to study different things, but if you are authentic, you are real. So that is why the motto is such a good model for us.
JM:Have there been many changes to Salisbury School over the years, the 24 years that you have been here? I am not talking about physical changes; I am talking about a philosophy or type of student.
CC:I am glad you clarified that because I would say that Salisbury School is very much the same place that it has been for many years. A father said to me recently that Salisbury is a modern school with 1950 values.
JM:Oh what a wonderful statement!
CC:I agree with you. I always remember that. I guess we built all these fabulous new academic buildings and a new dormitory, and a wonderful new athletic center, but the culture had remained remarkably the same. The core values that any school is built on for us those core values have remained remarkably the same.
JM:They make it a better world.
CC:I think so. There is a great line in the school prayer that is written or we adopted it. It says, “Keep the school’s leaders alert to the voice of thy spirit, to let them cling to values that have served us well in the past, but also be open to new ideas that can make the future brighter.” I paraphrased that but basically that is what it says. What I think about all time is that if important ideas worked well in the past, we need to stay true to those. They were good for a reason.
JM:They have survived the test of time.
CC:They have. Now there are some things which need to change. We offer different languages. The basic core values like being a Salisbury gentleman, we really focus on molding a boy’s character. That is something that I hope that this yea, 20, 50 and 100 years from now will be the same.
JM:Do you have future plans for the school as far as direction or academics or anything that you personally would like to see?
CC:Yeah. Curriculums are constantly changing new subject in history: we are implementing a new writing program right now that I am excited about. We have a wonderful entrepreneurial studies program that is 2 or 3 years old. It really allows kids to study; kids that might want to go into business after school, they run little businesses on campus which is kind of neat. We have a burgeoning robotic program; boys love to build things, mechanical engineering that kind of thing is very interesting to our boys right now. I’d like to build our theatre program a little bit stronger. I think that it is sometimes hard in an all-boys school as most production have girls in it, too. So we have to search far and wide to get female actresses. There are a couple facilities that I would like to add to the campus at some point. We need some indoor tennis and stuff like that. I feel like we are in a really good place right now, and just stewarding that direction, keeping the train running on the tracks, and continuing to attract great kids and great faculty members is really my primary focus,
JM:Before we close is there anything that you would like to add that I haven’t covered?
CC:We have covered a lot. The only thing I think I would like to add is that Salisbury School is always been known as the town’s school. We love it when people from the town come up to watch games or celebrate the Christmas holidays with us. We really try and reach out and make an impact on the town. One of the things I do every morning is that I go downtown and get a cup of coffee at Sweet Williams. I do that for a reason, we have a coffee machine in our dining room, but to see the people of the town and to make connections and to promote the school within the town, not that we need more students from the town but we love having our students. It is more to engage the school in the goings
on of the town. I never want the school to be up on the hilltop overlooking Salisbury and just focused on within rather than focused on reaching out. Next weekend our students will help pack snow on the ski jump, they will participate in all the activities in the town. The town’s relationship with the school and the school’s relationship with the town are really important. I talk with Curtis Rand who is not only the First Selectman but on our teaching faculty. He teaches forestry here. (See file #38) I love the close connection that we have with the town of Salisbury. I think it is really healthy.
JM:It shows. Thank you so much for your time.
CC:I enjoyed it. That was fun.
JM:I am glad.