Tommy Pero ’17, Tyler Pizzico ’17
Even though Mr. Talbot is set to leave after this year, the direction of the school and 21st Century Education will endure.
On the last day of August before his last school year at Malvern, Head of School Mr. Christian Talbot sat at a lime-cushioned high chair, clicking away on his new Surface Pro, and wearing Chuck Taylors.
His new office is on the ground floor of Tolentine, surrounded by counselors and fellow administrators, and immersed in the school community. Talbot said he made the move from the isolated top floor of Austin to Tolentine so that he could better interact with the entire Malvern community.
“I am regretful it took me this long to figure this out,” he said. “I wish I had done this four years ago.”
His new office location isn’t the only thing different about this year for Malvern’s Head of School of four years.
On July 25, Talbot announced this school year will be his last as Malvern’s Head of School in a video that he tweeted out and emailed to the school community.
In the video, Talbot said the reason why he stepped down was because his long-time nanny became pregnant and would no longer be able to take care of his severely disabled daughter Julia.
— Christian Talbot (@cmtmalvern) July 25, 2016
“[Julia] has a condition called microcephaly, which literally means small brain. We didn’t know that when she was born, and Kezie— our former nanny— actually started working for us when Julia was about three months old, which was actually before we know what was wrong,” Talbot said. “At that time, we thought things were a little off with Julia. She hadn’t met some of her developmental milestones, but babies are so variable that we didn’t think anything of it.”
Kezie learned how to care for Julia at the same time the Talbots did. Talbot even called her a third parent. Not many people have experience caring for microcephaly because of its rarity.
“The condition is so rare that you have a better chance of winning the lottery than of having a condition like this, at least Julia’s particular form of it,” Talbot said. “Actually, I think prior to five years ago, there were only ten documented cases in medical journals about this thing.”
When the Talbots lived in Northern New Jersey before Talbot became Malvern’s Head of School, they lived near Talbot’s family, his wife Lisa’s family, and some of their other friends.
“That was a really significant support network that we had,” Talbot said.
When Malvern offered Talbot the position of Head of School, the Talbots were concerned and asked Kezie to move with them.
“It was not something we felt we could farm out to somebody else,” Talbot said. “It was very much a big deal.
Kezie agreed to move to Southeastern Pennsylvania with the them, and everything went mostly well.
In February of 2016, Kezie told the Talbots she was pregnant. It took about three months for the Talbots and Kezie to realize it was not going to work out and they needed to think of a new solution.
“Around April, the three of us realized it’s gonna be a lose-lose,” Talbot said. “[Kezie] is going to be unhappy. She’s going to be worried about taking care of her baby plus our kids. We’re going to be unhappy because we’re going to be wondering [if] our kids are being taken care of.”
The Talbots hired three different search agencies to find a qualified nanny to work with them. They interviewed about nine candidates, and decided only one was a had the experience to fit their circumstances. They offered her the job, and she accepted it. However, she failed a drug test the agency had administered.
“Now we’re pushing up against the beginning of June, and there’s the first board meeting of the year a couple days later, and Lisa and I just looked at each other just like, ‘I don’t think is going to work,’” Talbot said. “In crisis mode, I might have to stop working. She might have to stop working. It would be relatively easier for her to stop working than for me because the school can’t function without a Head of School, and you can’t— in a crisis situation— just throw someone into that role.”
They decided to finish the year in Pennsylvania. They hired a new nanny to live with them for this year but don’t know if she will move with them after this year. In case of an emergency, the Talbots would call their parents or friends for help.
Two years ago while the Talbot family was moving from Devon to West Chester, they had to do just that.
Talbot got a call from Lisa on his way into Malvern. “She says, ‘Come home right now,’’’ Talbot said. “Julia’s tongue was swollen, so swollen that she couldn’t get it back into her mouth. We have no idea what happened.”
Talbot and Lisa took Julia to the hospital while Kezie took care of Maxwell. Talbot had to call his parents to drive four hours to take care of everything while all of their belongings were being moved.
“You can only do that so many times,” he said.
After this year, the Talbots will move back to Northern New Jersey. Lisa mostly works out of the Talbots’ house but intermittently has to commute into Manhattan.
At the end of last school year, former student William Beard ’16 sued Talbot, Malvern Prep, former Assistant Head of School Mr. Steve Valyo, Malvern Swim Association, and swim coach Peter Lee for alleged negligence, claiming the school failed to stop counselor and swimming coach Mrs. Emily Feeney who harassed him sexually for more than a year, according to Philly.com.
Talbot commented on the lawsuit’s effect on him and Malvern.
“We will be very transparent with the community about the process moving forward. The paper is a voice at the school and it is very rare that an entire community is listening all at once. Shame on us if we don’t use this time to tell the great story of Malvern and all the wonderful things happening here. [This] platform is a way to coalesce the Board and the community.” -Mr. Steve Cloetingh Chairman, Board of Trustees
“We will be very transparent with the community about the process moving forward. The paper is a voice at the school and it is very rare that an entire community is listening all at once. Shame on us if we don’t use this time to tell the great story of Malvern and all the wonderful things happening here. [This] platform is a way to coalesce the Board and the community.”
-Mr. Steve Cloetingh
Chairman, Board of Trustees
“I’m fine,” Talbot said. “I feel like it’s not appropriate to say anything other than I’m totally fine, on a personal level. But institutionally, we just need to kind of wait and see how it plays out.”
“There’s always going to be something like the lawsuit going on,” Talbot said. “Whether it’s the lawsuit or something else. You can fill in that blank with whatever you want. We can’t let things like that distract us from our long-term vision, purpose, and goal.”
As far as Talbot’s future goes, he does not have a plan or set idea for what comes next in his career.
“I’ll figure out something at some point,” Talbot said.
With former Head of School Jim Stewart serving for over 25 years, such a long leadership tenure might seem normal for Malvern. However, the Chairman of Malvern Prep Board of Trustees Mr. Steve Cloetingh, dismissed the notion, stating the average term is much less than we may think.
“The process isn’t like it was years ago when Mr. Stewart served twenty-five years as Head of School,” Cloetingh said. “According to NAIS [National Association of Independent Schools], the average tenure for a Head of School is five to seven years.”
Finding a new head of school is not like a typical job search. Today many independent schools hire search firms to connect independent schools with viable candidates.
“We are in the process of locating a search firm to help take us to the next level. We work with them to identify the key characteristics that we would like to have in our leader,” Cloetingh said. “People are constantly moving around and aspiring to find new positions to better their career, so there’s a large network of suitable candidates at all times.”
Heading this process of finding the new Head of School is Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees Mr. John McGlinn II. “John is the best for the job because of the angle he has at the school,” Cloetingh said. “He has a son there now and one that just graduated.”
Cloetingh assured that he is acting free of internal biases to provide the best possible candidate for the entire school community by diversifying the board.
“As the head of the board, my role is to shepard. I don’t want to enact my own personal agenda but the reality of it is, I have to select the people I want to be on the board.” Cloetingh said. “That is why in a letter sent to the school community we asked for members of all different backgrounds and ages so I can hear as many differing opinions as possible.”
Cloetingh said the the board makes the final decision about the new Head of School, but it does so in void of its own preferences.
“The board is the governing body of the school. That means our primary job is to locate, hire, and mentor the Head of School,” Cloetingh said. “We aim to satisfy the students first, then parents, then faculty and staff at the school, then alumni, and finally us, the trustees. We are volunteers simply here to serve the school to the best of our ability.”
“Mr. Talbot’s 21st century education is our 21st century education. We the board in our 2011 strategic plan made the conscious decision that we were going to move academics in this direction,” Cloetingh said. “Christian may have brought his own energy and ideas, and people like [Head of Middle School] Mr. [Patrick] Sillup, but ultimately we hired Christian to do this for us and he has.”
Talbot said that his decision to leave actually reinforced the direction of the school.
“In some ways, it’s almost like [the Board of Trustees] is doubling down on [the direction],” he said. “I think my announcement was an opportunity for them to get cold feet.”
Cloetingh is excited to see the work that has been done in the middle school work its way into the high school, and he thinks the student body should be as well.
“You guys should be proud of this place but even more proud of it when you come back as alumni,” he said. “Mr. Talbot has done his part in the revamping of the school, but even with him leaving, it is full steam ahead.”
Even though there are no current candidates yet, Talbot is confident the school will continue to head in the right direction.
“There are a lot of leaders who are more than capable and more than ready to continue the work that I’ve done,” Talbot said. “Not that I’m sad about leaving— I am sad about leaving— It’s not that I don’t care, but I feel good knowing that I don’t need to be here in order for all the changes to continue.”