They say life has a way of coming full-circle, and nothing could be truer for Dave Farace, new Head of School at McDonogh School. Although he officially took the position on July 1, Dave isn’t a new face on campus. He started at McDonogh as a scholarship student in middle school. After college, he held a variety of roles at the school, including director of upper school admissions, director of alumni relations, and director of major gifts and planned giving. Though his career took him and his family ‘down south’ to other independent schools, McDonogh is and always has been home.
The two-cups-of-coffee a day dad of three is excited to be back on campus. We caught up with him to learn a little more about his plans for the upcoming year, his family, and Willie Nelson (his Basset Hound).
Coffee With Dave Farace, Head of School, McDonogh School
You left a position as Head of School at The Bolles School (a boarding school in Florida) to ‘come home’ to McDonogh as their new Head of School. Talk to us about that decision-making process. What made you decide to make the transition?
Well, that was a complex process. On the one hand, my lifelong dream was to one day become the Head of School at McDonogh. I think I first dared to voice such an audacious goal in my mid 20’s when I was working in a variety of roles at McDonogh. As I pursued new leadership opportunities across the country over the past eleven years, I thought about McDonogh every day—literally, every day.
On the other hand, making career moves with a family is a lot harder than doing it earlier in your career. Accepting the offer to lead McDonogh at this point was a difficult decision because my wife, Becky, and I have three children who will enter the 10th, 11th and 12th grades, respectively– really terrible timing for them! Ultimately, I said “yes” because my family understood how much McDonogh means to me.
Not only were you a student at McDonogh, but your professional career started at McDonogh — as a teacher and administrator for more than a decade. Now that you’re back on campus after being away for 11 years, what has changed? What has stayed the same?
McDonogh’s 800-acre campus has always been one of the most beautiful school campuses in the country, but in the past decade, it has been greatly enhanced with the addition of a student center, STEM and prekindergarten buildings, an innovation center, and a campus green that connects new and existing buildings and is a wonderful gathering place for students and faculty. What has not changed, and will never change, is McDonogh’s commitment to providing a transformative experience for students. Put simply, the school changed my life and it has continued to do so for successive generations of students. I can’t believe I get to lead and support such a community.
Tell us a bit about your leadership style. How does that impact the educators, students, and parents that you work with?
I think “collaboration” is the most critical theme for any leader of any organization. More specifically, I like to engage with all constituencies of a school community to help formulate short and long-term goals and then put teams together to pursue answers and outcomes. I have known (for a very long time!) that I am rarely the smartest person in the room, so I lean heavily on others to advance the mission of the school.
What do you anticipate your greatest challenge will be this coming school year?
McDonogh is a vibrant school on the move, so I will be sipping from a fire hose all year. Distilling all of the information I receive from community members into meaningful themes will be my greatest challenge.
Let’s take the Head of School hat off for a moment and put the “dad’ hat on. Your three children will be attending McDonogh in the fall. What is it about the McDonogh educational philosophy that appeals to you as a parent?
The great part is that my “Head of School” hat and “dad” hat are perfectly aligned on this question! McDonogh launched an academic strategic plan, LifeReady, in 2014. I remember reading it and feeling a sense of great excitement that the school was continuing its tradition of innovation. LifeReady is built on three pillars: (1) Teaching and Learning, (2) Character, and (3) Equity and Inclusion. In a nutshell, it is a public promise to prepare students for life in an uncertain, rapidly changing world. Our faculty is hungry to deliver on this promise so we invest significantly in research and professional development.
What’s one thing that might surprise people about you?
I have an ill-behaved, poorly-smelling, but lovable Basset Hound named Willie Nelson.
If you could assign one book as summer reading, what would it be and why?
It was published over ten years ago, but I still love “Mindset” by Stanford professor Carol Dweck. Dweck writes about the differences between a “fixed mindset” and a “growth mindset.” She argues that people with a fixed mindset are most concerned with how they’ll be judged by others while those with a growth mindset embrace failure and effort as they seek to improve and evolve. Incidentally, I see a lot of the growth mindset in our faculty and in McDonogh’s LifeReady Academic Strategic Plan.
We have a few weeks left before school starts in the fall. How do you plan to spend the rest of your summer?
Back to my “sipping from a fire hose” comment, my calendar is booked with meetings except for one week in August when I will take my family to Ocean City– the beach of my childhood that my children have never experienced!
Editor’s Note: This article is part of our educational leadership series and is sponsored by McDonogh School. Read more about the school in our Independent Schools Directory. Photos by Laura Black.