Parker Becomes Ruth-less

Associate Principal Ruth Jurgensen to Leave Parker

Associate Principal Ruth Jurgensen, pictured during her tenure as interim Upper School Head in 2016, is leaving Parker at the end of the school year.

Photo by Caroline Viravec

Associate Principal Ruth Jurgensen, pictured during her tenure as interim Upper School Head in 2016, is leaving Parker at the end of the school year.

Associate Principal Ruth Jurgensen is leaving Parker at the end of the 2019-20 school year to serve as the Chief Executive Officer of Prep for Prep, a New York-based non-profit focused on the leadership development and education of gifted minority students. Her successor, for whom a to-be-announced search team will begin to look in the fall, will start on July 1, 2021. 

Until then, Chief Financial Officer Bob Haugh, Director of Facilities Rick Dusing, the division heads, and Principal Dan Frank, who announced Jurgensen’s departure to the Parker community on Wednesday, May 27, will assume the responsibilities of the Associate Principal. “When we get back—September, October—things will start moving along, and an announcement will probably be made by mid-fall,” Upper School Head Justin Brandon said about the members of the search team for Jurgensen’s replacement.

The position, which Jurgensen has occupied since July 2014, requires enforcing school policy; complying with governmental regulations; hiring; overseeing security operations; evaluating the Director of Studies, Athletic Director, and other faculty; and additional administrative tasks.

Some of her work during her tenure at Parker included spearheading the parent diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) group; overseeing Parker’s DEI program; expanding the role of the Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity (SEED) program to include parents; helping organize the Young Men of Color Symposium, which featured author Wes Moore in 2018; and creating the D’Rita and Robbie Robinson Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Speaker series, which included New York Times columnist Charles Blow in December 2019.

Jurgensen also co-founded, with Brandon, the national Independent School Administrators of Color Conference, an annual symposium, which this year included keynote speeches from sociologist Dr. Eve L. Ewing and author Anand Giridharadas. “It was her insight and her energy and her ability to organize and tap into something that was helpful, that was missing, that needed to be created,” Frank said. “She has an entrepreneurial approach to education.”

She brought the idea for the conference to Brandon after attending a conference in Philadelphia. “She was one of few people of color in the room at a conference of about 400 attendees,” Brandon said. “We started talking, and she said, ‘I want to create something for administrators of color, where we are not the only few in a space.’ It was great to brainstorm with her, to think about which speakers we should have, we could try to get, and how we would promote this event that is a one-of-a-kind event. She knows how to put together an event in a really amazing way. She was a great mentor during that process.”

She also served as a mentor for Brandon when he became Upper School Head, a position Jurgensen filled during the search to fill the vacancy created by the departure of former Upper School Head Peter Neissa. “During the first year, we met weekly for at least an hour just to talk about Parker, to learn the culture, and to give me the background on the history of the division and the school,” Brandon said, referring to his first year as Upper School Head. “She was integral in my understanding of the Parker community. It takes the first year or first several months to get a sense of the community, the traditions, the culture, and the norms that are uniquely Parker.”

When participating in the search for Associate Principal that culminated in the hiring of Jurgensen, Frank believed that Jurgensen embodied the unique spirit of Parker. Frank respects “Ruth’s energy, spirit, collaborativeness, clear-headed thinking, open-mindedness, sense of humor, joy, real appreciation for the small things that people do, her attunement to what people might be feeling, that sense of empathy—where someone might be hurting in some way and how to organize in ways to help support a person.”

Frank first met her in New York City, where he was participating in a conference with other educators. “Laureen Sweers, Parker’s Human Resources Director, was looking through résumés, and I got a call from her while I happened to be in New York,” Frank said. “She said, ‘You know there’s someone in our files who’s right there in New York City. You ought to contact her while you’re there.’ Ruth and I then met and had a great conversation. I was able then to invite her to Chicago to continue the interview process.”

Frank remembers why he supported hiring Jurgensen. “Ruth is a progressive educator, and she knew about Parker,” Frank said. “Her philosophy about what was important for children and their education and how to support faculty members and parents through the process—she also had that. Her own spirit and style and personality we all thought was a great fit for the school.”

One of the tasks Frank assigned to Jurgensen was tackling the perception that progressive schools struggle in teaching math and science. “She tackled that myth,” Intermediate & Middle School Division Head John Novick said. “She built a lot of momentum around making math more visible as a part of the school community. She helped the department get clarity on scope and sequence across divisions to make it more of a one-school-type program. She highlighted great teaching that was already taking place in the school and helped make it more visible to everybody about the nature of Parker’s program.”

Novick and Brandon commended her entrepreneurialism, which they believe made her a great fit for Parker. “Her ability to synthesize ideas into a positive path forward has always been impressive to me,” Novick said.

Brandon agrees. “The Administrators of Color Conference was a great idea, but a lot of people in a lot of places have good ideas,” Brandon said. “To see her drive and focus to make the event a reality, and then to have the event be sponsored by a national search firm shows her work ethic that is exceptional.”

Brandon believes that Jurgensen will leave a commendable legacy. “When people like Ms. Jurgensen leave a community, the impact usually isn’t seen initially, and over time, people will come to see how involved she was in the school,” Brandon said. “There are a lot of things that she did that people did not see or will never know about, but she did them to make the school function to the best of its ability and to support the mission of the school. I think that’s a great sign of a leader.”