Head Of Ross School Retiring, Interim Replacement Named

Ross School Head of School Bill O'Hearn, on left, who will be retiring at the end of the 2021-22 school year, will remain head of high school for the remainder of school year while working with newly-appointed interim head of school Dr. Charles Abelmann, on right. ROSS SCHOOL

At the end of this school year, Bill O’Hearn will be retiring from his positions at the Ross School in East Hampton.

“Being Head of Ross School is, simply put, the best job in the world. However, the time is right for Ross to transition to new leadership,” Mr. O’Hearn said Tuesday. “Ross School is poised to reach even greater heights and we need leadership that can commit to the school for many years to come.”

Since Ross School’s inception in 1991, Mr. O’Hearn has “been the embodiment of Ross School’s culture and values and has contributed to the evolution of Ross on a fundamental level with integrity, vision, intelligence, humility and a great sense of humor,” Ross School’s Director of Communication Dan Roe said in a September 27 email detailing the announcement.

With succession planning a top priority for the Ross School Board of Trustees, the district recently retained the Massachusetts-based search firm Carney, Sandoe & Associates to guide it through the replacement process.

“It’s a partnership that will allow for broad community input over the coming year,” Mr. Roe said.

Working with the firm, Ross School has chosen Dr. Charles Abelmann to be interim head of school, joining October 11 and staying on for the remainder of this school year and all of next.

He “will serve the community well,” Mr. Roe said. It’s “a solution that provides overlap and continuity in leadership,” added Lori Schiaffino, a founding member and longstanding trustee.

Dr. Abelmann, who will work with the board to develop strategic framework, will work closely with Mr. O’Hearn, who will spend the remainder of his final year as head of the high school.

“We’re incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Charles Abelmann on board as interim head of school to make this transition a successful one and to allow us to maintain the excellence of the Ross academic experience throughout it,” Mr. O’Hearn said. “I look forward to focusing on the high school and partnering with Charles in leading Ross through this next phase in its evolution.”

Most recently, Dr. Abelmann was the director of the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. While there, he led efforts to create a diversity action plan, new strategic framework and a schoolwide initiative on health and wellness. Mr. Roe said Dr. Abelmann has traveled extensively, and visited hundreds of schools as a researcher and senior education specialist at the World Bank. The Ross School, the communications director said, expects Dr. Abelmann to be one of the applicants in the pool of candidates to be considered the next head of school.

“We look forward to welcoming Charlie to the Ross community to work with us,” Ms. Schiaffino said. “Charlie brings a wealth of experience as an educational researcher, policymaker and school leader.”

Mr. O’Hearn served as head of school from 1998 to 2003, and was in charge of the upper school until being reappointed head of school in 2019.

“We are grateful to Bill for all his service and support of the transition plan,” Ms. Schiaffino said. “This change in responsibility will ensure that our students, faculty, staff and the entire community have an administration that can support the academic excellence we are all committed to and keep us all safe during these unprecedented times.”

Mr. O’Hearn said when he began as head of school during Ross School’s formative years, he had no idea he was embarking on a “once-in-a-lifetime journey.” Mr. O’Hearn worked with Ross founder Courtney Ross and founding mentors William Irwin Thompson and Ralph Abraham during what he called a “heady time.”

“It is a privilege to have witnessed the formation of the spiral curriculum and the erection of these beautiful buildings that are, in the words of Mrs. Ross, ‘cathedrals to education,’” Mr. O’Hearn said. “We’ve transitioned from a founder-funded model to complete financial independence and we are successfully weathering the storm of COVID-19.”

He said the school is entering a new stage of maturity with the initiation of a long-term strategic plan.

“It’s impossible to express how appreciative I am for having the opportunity to lead the Ross School community through many stages of its evolution,” Mr. O’Hearn said. “Over the years, I’ve had the honor of working with the most remarkable students, faculty and staff I’ve ever encountered. I hope to make my last year at Ross my best year yet.”