Catching Up With Upper School Head Bill O'Hearn

dsc_1624 We are pleased to welcome back to campus Bill O’Hearn, who has returned to Ross School as Head of Upper School. This is Bill’s third time at Ross: from 1998 to 2003, he served as Ross School’s Head of School, and from 2009 to 2012, he was Head of Middle School. Bill comes to Ross from Aga Khan Academy, a boarding school in Mombasa, Kenya, where he was the head of school. Prior to that, he was superintendent of Beijing City International School. Both Aga Khan Academy and Beijing City International School have been designated World International Baccalaureate schools. Bill brings to Ross School more than 40 years of education experience. He sat down with Ross News to discuss his return.

You’ve served on the Ross School administration three times. What is it about Ross School that keeps you tied to this community? The things that always make me proud to come back here are the curriculum and the faculty. The Ross Learning System has advanced so much since the last time I was here, and I’m impressed by all that we’re doing to ensure that the Spiral Curriculum—in all of its beauty, thoughtfulness, comprehensiveness, and aim—will be available to students, families, and schools everywhere. That dedication is a testament to our teachers. I’ve worked in high schools around the world, and it’s rare to meet a faculty this bright, engaging, kind, and devoted to helping students beyond just today’s lessons and into their future.

During your nearly 15 years of involvement with Ross School, what are some of the most significant changes you have witnessed? One of the largest changes has been the addition of international students. Having a geographically diverse student body was always a goal for school, given its international mission, and my wife [Andi O’Hearn, Director of College and University Placement] and I were part of the planning team for the boarding program. The scale has changed though; when we were last here, there were 50 boarders, but now there are around 250, so we have to continue to evaluate and refine how we best serve our domestic and international populations. Another change has been the development of the curriculum. When I was first here, it was not completely developed, and during my second stint, the middle school curriculum had made large strides. This time, we’re working with something far more refined. I truly believe that we have a curriculum with the potential to change the world.

What role do you see an international school like Ross playing in the local community? The rest of the world is changing in such a way that students are no longer limited by geographic borders. They may study in Canada and go on to build careers working in Thailand, Kenya, China, and England. Globalism is not just an idea, and the greatest role we can play in our community is bringing diversity to it, learning about people from other cultures and teaching them about American traditions. We underestimate what a luxury it is to interact with people from all over the world on a daily basis. 

How does being involved with the boarding program inform your role as Head of Upper School? A school runs well when administrators know things about the campus and students, and the best way to learn what’s working and what needs improvement is by talking to students and experiencing what they experience. Although being involved in the boarding program definitely gives me greater insight into what students feel, I also make sure to be a part of their world: I ride the bus when it’s possible and make it a point to sit with students at lunch.

What did you miss most during your time away from Ross School? I missed the camaraderie among the faculty and staff. And the food—I’ve never eaten such great food in my life.