New Head

Chris Arnold Will Be Joining Parker to Lead the Upper School

On March 25, Principal Daniel Frank released an announcement to the Parker community titled “Parker Welcomes New Head of Upper School Chris Arnold,” introducing the new administrator who will be joining the Parker community on July 1.

Frank explained the process of searching for and selecting a new Head of Upper School. After developing a job description, Parker distributed it to many networks that connected them with a diverse range of educators. Resumes were then sent in, and Parker reviewed them and determined who the main contenders were for the position. Parker conducted several rounds of interviews with various bodies of students, administrators, and parents. Finally, Frank made the decision based on input from many community members.

Parker conducted a “nationwide leadership search” to fill the position after Justin Brandon announced his upcoming departure as Head of Upper School. According to the message from Frank, Parker reviewed over 32 qualified resumes, completed five in-depth phone interviews, and eventually, school visits with the finalists.

Frank appreciated Arnold’s administrative experience as well as “the way in which he talked about his own educational values and experience and vision and what he would hope to contribute to life at Parker and what he appreciated about Parker.” Frank described Arnold and the asset he would soon be to both the Upper School and the whole Parker community.

After receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Acting from Illinois State University and a Master of Fine Arts degree in directing from the University of Memphis, Tennessee, Arnold worked as a professional theater director. He later submitted his resume to The Chicago Academy for the Arts to become a director at the school, but he ended up becoming a teacher. Arnold revealed that the current Jake from State Farm actor, Kevin Miles, was one his first students at The Chicago Academy for the Arts.

“When I came there I just really kind of fell in love with teaching and connecting with high school students,” Arnold said. He requested more work and additionally became an English teacher at The Chicago Academy for the Arts the next year. The position of Chair of the Theater Department became available and Arnold got the job, marking his first work as an administrator.

Arnold then went to National Louis University (IL) to get his English and Education Administration Certification. He began working at Deer Path Middle School in Lake Forest, IL where he taught Middle School and was a Creative Arts Department Chair.

School administration eventually became a reality for Arnold as he pursued the Assistant Head of School position at The Chicago Academy for the Arts when the job became available. He returned to The Chicago Academy for the Arts and has held that position for the past three years.

Arnold originally saw the opening for Assistant Principal at Parker, the position he currently holds at The Chicago Academy for the Arts. He applied and later was contacted for an interview. On the same day that he heard about the interview, he discovered Parker also had an opening for Head of Upper School, a position that intrigued him even more. “That’s actually the job I want, “ Arnold said. “That one, right there.”

He stuck with his application for Assistant Principal but made it known to his interviewers that he had interest in both positions. After Priyanka Rupani was chosen for Assistant Principal, Parker asked Arnold to interview for Head of Upper School.

Arnold had interview days for both positions, and he noted the differences in the experiences. When interviewing for Assistant Principal, “by the end of the day I really kind of felt like I had lost a lot of steam.” However after nine hours of interviews for Head of Upper School, he felt that the job had been “charging” and “igniting” his “batteries.”

According to Arnold, seven or eight years ago when he was an arts teacher, the principal at his school encouraged him to look into progressive education and specifically John Dewey, the philosopher and progressive education leader who worked with Colonel Francis Wayland Parker.. Arnold said that this is where his appreciation for the educational philosophy began.

Arnold became interested in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and social justice work, establishing a Diversity Day to accompany the existing Holocaust Remembrance week at Deer Path Middle School. These initiatives were ignited by his growing interest in Progressive Education.

Parker was already on Arnold’s radar and over time he became more curious about the school and hoped he would become part of the community at some point in his career. Arnold recalled thinking that Parker “gels with who I am, what I believe in, and what I stand for.”

Arnold offered some ideas he had for his first year at Parker. He appreciates the fact that Parker already has a good thing going, and he is hoping to get a “lay of the land” and begin understanding what could be improved. Arnold plans to do this by speaking with students, faculty members, and more, to start thinking about what he can offer to the school to make it better.

The Student Interview and Recommendation Board (SIRB), led by senior Olivia Hanley, met with two candidates for Head of Upper School. SIRB has about 12 member students and they conduct their own interviews, but for senior positions like Head of Upper School, Frank and Middle and Upper School Director of Studies, Sven Carlsson, attended as observers.

Because Arnold was at different points in time a candidate for both jobs, SIRB had two interviews with him. Hanley “still thought that he found ways to make his answers new, exciting, and fresh.”

According to Hanley, the questions SIRB used for their administrative interviews included, “Why do you want to work at Parker? How do you view progressive education?” They also allow time for the candidates to ask questions of the board and afterward, SIRB members stay behind and discuss the candidate. SIRB members then exert their influence over the decision by filling out a form to reflect on each candidate.

“Of all of the interview panels, I really truly loved talking to the students,” Arnold said. He appreciated their questions and their care for the interview. Arnold said he was “moved and impressed” by his interaction with SIRB. The experience added to his preexisting respect for Parker students built by interactions with former Parker students at The Chicago Academy for the Arts. He is “excited to actually get into the school,” and get to know students “as individuals.”

Hanley appreciated Arnold’s commitment to learning about Parker students in order to make the best changes. “Some candidates have the tendency to want to hit the ground running,” she said, “but I like that he really wants to make sure that he is doing things that benefit us.” Hanley also noted his commitment to transparency which would make the relationship between the students and the administration more smooth.

Also coming from The Chicago Academy for Arts is English teacher Christine Hoffman. Hoffman and Arnold both shared a similar sense of excitement to continue working together. Arnold is both pleased to have a familiar face at Parker as well as to have the presence of a teacher he regards as “a fantastic educator” and “a beloved member of this community.”

Hoffman reflected on Arnold’s presence at The Chicago Academy for the Arts. “Mr. Arnold led a number of initiatives that were helpful in coalescing the community at our school,” she said. “It was great working with him, and yes, I’m excited to work with him again.” Hoffman cited the impact that Arnold had on DEI programming at The Chicago Academy for the Arts as a very positive result of his work.

Frank thought that having faculty and administrators with backgrounds in arts education would benefit Parker. Frank and other interviewers respected that these new teachers and administrators especially would understand “that creativity can be nurtured, identified, expressed, [and] shared in different ways, and that felt like a very Parker approach to things.”

Frank predicted that Arnold would be committed to having a full presence at Parker by attending and supporting students in all of their activities as well as giving them a chance to share their ideas and express themselves. Frank was confident that the Upper School administration was very ready to be reactive to the voice of the students.

Arnold is committed to listening to and learning about students and he is excited to join the Parker community this summer. “You can leave the theater but the theater never leaves you,” Arnold said, quoting a mentor of his, continuing “and now instead of directing productions I am directing schools.”