WILBRAHAM – Brian Easler knew that one day he wanted to be a head of school somewhere, but he really wanted to be the head of school at Wilbraham & Monson Academy.
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Easler, who was announced as the successor of former Head of School Rodney LaBrecque before the conclusion of the last school year and was officially installed in the position July 1, explained part of that was due to his 16 years of history with the school, but on top of that, it was his love for the area.
Sitting in his new office on the first floor of Rich Hall, Easler related a story of one day, early in the search process for a new head of school, when he walked from the school to the Village Store & Café for a coffee and came upon this revelation.
“Along the way, I walked by one person that I knew and on the way out of the store was greeted by three or four gentlemen who frequent the store, then ran into somebody else on the sidewalk and waved to two people driving by. None of those people are directly related to the school; they’re Wilbraham people,” he said. “I was almost back to Rich Hall and I thought, ‘I don’t want to leave Wilbraham. I feel like I’m at home here.’”
Easler said the school’s deep roots in the community and its strong relationship with the town was a key to the rapid growth and success of the Academy, and something he would like to continue to foster.
“I’ve always had a great relationship with the town and the school has had a good relation with the town in general. Our histories are tied together, that’s obvious. Anytime there are long histories like that, there are examples of when there might be tension, which is typical of any relationship because people have different opinions,” he said. “I think the Academy, because of its prominence in the center of town, has had a positive effect on Wilbraham and has also garnered an advantage from being in Wilbraham because of the kind of town it is. I look forward to maintaining a positive relationship with the town in ways that we can and are in the best interest of the school.”
The community should look forward to continued progress on campus, “demonstrated through not only improvements to the physical plant but also in the performance of the student body” throughout his tenure, Easler said, adding that he would aim the school toward striking a balance between new developments and the Academy’s heritage.
“One thing we have been focused on and will continue to focus on is that aside from the bright and shiny new stuff we have, which is wonderful, is the fact that we’re a school of beautiful old buildings and we’ve done a lot of work over the last decade making those beautiful buildings more beautiful,” he said. “We take a lot of pride a lot of pride in Wilbraham and we take a lot of pride in our presence in the center of town, so we want to continue to make the campus something that Wilbraham can be proud of as well.”
It’s been a busy time for Easler since his July installment, including relocating to the Morrow House, formerly known as the Headmaster’s House, on the corner of Main Street and Faculty Street, moving to his new office, and taking part in a National Association for Independent Schools (NAIS) workshop for new heads of schools.
“It’s an extremely intense week. [The NAIS workshop] is great and extremely rewarding and helpful, but it also takes place the first week after contracts take effect, so I had to shuttle boxes around campus and had piles of stuff everywhere, then had to say, ‘Alright, see you in a week, dear,’” he said with a smile.
Now back in Wilbraham with most of his boxes unpacked, Easler said he is appreciating the work, even if it has been a bit daunting at first.
“I like to stay busy and I like unpredictability, so the pace, which is rapid, and the breadth of responsibility to all different constituents – students and teachers in the academic program, the finances of the school and the alumni and community outreach – is exhilarating,” he said. “I anticipate spending the first few months, or maybe even the first year, finding the balance.”
Easler, who started out working in the Academy’s Alumni Office for two years before spending the last 14 as dean of students, assistant head of school and associate head of school, said having history with the school and learning from previous heads of school LaBrecque and Richard Malley would act as a guide, having taken lessons from each of their managerial styles.
“I learned a lot from both of them. They both mentored me from their own unique perspectives,” Easler explained. “Dick Malley came to the school when it was literally on the verge of collapse. The school was in real trouble. He came here and he saved it from that. He’s a tremendous crisis manager and those skills helped him save the school. After Dick left, Rodney came in with a different set of skills more along the lines of creative risk taking.
“In a way their independent effect on the school was a result of the time in which they were here. Dick Malley was here when we were really struggling, so we needed his management style and Rodney was here when it was time for us to grow and that’s when we needed his management style,” he continued.
Easler indicated he doesn’t intend to make any dramatic shifts in the school’s mission or direction, adding he has seen the Academy transform “from a social and academic standpoint with the students” during his tenure.
“We had great kids then and we have great kids now, but as a school we have evolved so that we are giving them more of what they need to be the best they can be,” he said. “We’re really doing a better service to our students than we were, not because we didn’t want to then, but because from a resource standpoint we’re in a better position.”
Easler explained the school is in the midst of an “upward spiral” in which it started putting more capital into services and resources for students, which increased the viability of its programs. The improved academics in turn produced better results in terms of college placement and test scores, which has attracted more and better students, resulting in more resources coming into the school.
Easler continued by stating his belief that his institutional memory and having witnessed the transition first hand will serve himself and the school well.
“My goal is to continue that upward spiral through the unique perspective of having been here through that transition,” he said. “I knew what it was like when things weren’t as good for us and we were struggling institutionally, trying to make ends meet and trying to attract new students. I’ve seen the transition and I’ve seen the decisions that were made and know why they were made and how they brought us to where we are now.”
A formal installation will take place at the school’s convocation ceremony on Aug. 24 at 3 p.m.
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