|By Chris Maza|
WILBRAHAM When addressing the Wilbraham & Monson Academy (WMA) student body at a Dec. 13 school meeting in the chapel on the school's campus, Headmaster Rodney LaBrecque had to pause to collect himself on more than one occasion.
It was an emotional moment for the 11-year head of the school, as he made it publicly known to the student body that he intended to retire.
The news was met with a roll of gasps and groans from the student body. LaBrecque put a finger up and briefly stepped back from the microphone and the students responded with a rousing round of applause.
"It was an emotional decision. I have become really attached to this school and the fantastic opportunities I have had here, but I believe it is the right time," LaBrecque told Reminder Publications. "I'm 66 years old and the school is about to embark on a multi-million [dollar] campaign and I looked at the situation and didn't think I was going to be able to see it all the way through, so the school needed someone who would."
LaBrecque will not officially retire until June 2014, but he said he made the announcement when he did because "it takes that long to find and select a new headmaster."
Having spent 42 years in independent schools, including half of those years as an administrator, LaBrecque said that WMA would hold a special place in his heart.
"What separates this place from others that I have been is that the Academy is a really happy place," he said. "The connectivity between the students and the faculty is really unique every student has at least one teacher that they feel they really connect with and we have a really achievement-oriented group of students."
LaBrecque added that WMA has established a firm identity over the decade-plus he has been at the helm.
"I feel like I helped in forging a much more identifiable niche for our school as 'The Global School,'" he said. "About 130 of our 200 boarders are foreign students and we hope to have students from 45 different countries by the time I leave."
The major part of the campaign LaBrecque spoke of was a complete renovation of the historic Rich Hall, which serves as a dormitory and the home of many of the school's administrative offices. While parts of the building, including the campus center and school store, have been updated in recent history, the building as a whole has not seen any significant upgrades.
"It's a renovation of our school's oldest dormitory, which was built in 1860," LaBrecque said.
He also added that the school would be embarking on additional fundraising efforts in order to increase its already growing endowment.
LaBrecque said that the increase in the school's endowment, which, among other things, opens opportunities for students to attend through financial aid and reduced costs, was one of the things he was most proud of over his tenure.
"We have a much bigger endowment and with that support, we are able to have a robust financial aid program," he said. "Our endowment was $3 million when I came on board. We got a gift three weeks ago of $3 million and now the endowment is up to $9 million. That is quite a bit of growth in 10 years."
LaBrecque also spoke highly of the work the school has done on improving the physical plant.
"We've made a lot of progress in that area," he said. "We worked hard on the athletics front with a $5 million project, including updating our field house and athletics center. We spent $2 million on fields, including a new track, a new baseball field, two new soccer fields and a brand new turf field. Our facilities can now compete with any in the [Pioneer] Valley."
The establishment of the school's Center for Entrepreneurial & Global Studies which includes a model trading floor and the only Bloomberg terminal in a school in the Northeast and the building of the school's Advanced Placement course offerings to 18 different classes are two ways the school allows students "to showcase their talents," LaBrecque added.
"The additions to the academic programs have translated into really good college performance," he said. "We are regularly placing students in the top-50 universities in the country."
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