DAVIDSON – New Davidson Day Head of Schools Gene Bratek felt like part of the club as he introduced himself to incoming students Aug. 18.
Bratek joined the Davidson Day School family Aug. 1, taking over for Kendell Berry who parted with the private school earlier this summer after two years of service. Prior to Berry, Bonnie Cotter left the role after six years.
Joining Bratek as a newcomer this year, is Mary Steensma, head of the lower school. Steensma has spent the last 10 years as head of the lower school at Wakefield School in the Plains, Va.
Bratek said a changing administration isn’t a sign that something is wrong with the school or the leadership, but that they have accomplished the goals the board set for them and need someone to take charge of the next phase.
“It’s an exciting opportunity for any head of school to have the fact people are anxious to make it a better place and atmosphere with excellence in all that they do,” Bratek said of the commitment and team efforts of trustees, faculty and parents. “The school already was very good, but they don’t want to be very good. They want to be outstanding.”
The board views Bratek as the right person for the job.
“As stewards of DDS, the board of trustees views this change not only as the next step forward for DDS, but also as a healthy, vital part of building on the foundation we have established and driving forward our mission as a diverse independent school that cultivates academic excellence through collaboration, creativity and character development,” said Richard Gordon, board of trustee chairman in a press release earlier this month.
Growth has been a key motivator of the trustees’ agenda in recent years. Davidson Day officials at one time talked about having a second location in Mooresville, before scrapping the plan. Earlier this year, the school approached the Town of Davidson about building onto what neighbors called an already crowded campus. Nothing was ever solidified.
Bratek, who served as the Providence Day headmaster for 21 years, was noted for doubling the enrollment and overseeing a building campaign that increased the size of campus while raising the academic bar and reputation of the school. He also served as headmaster for Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School outside Atlanta, where he developed a five-year strategic plan for increased enrollment and capital and academic improvements.
For now, Bratek said he has no specific plan for school growth other than perhaps looking at options to increase athletic fields and has not discussed it with trustees. His first meeting with them is not until later this month.
Enrollment is estimated to remain around 550 this year as it has in the past. Bratek said the focus since his Aug. 1 hiring was to get the school off to a great start before going into the strategic planning.
“The school is going well and the future is bright,” Bratek said. “I’m delighted and excited about the prospects and hope to continue to improve the school.”
Schools with new principals
Gene Bratek is the latest of several changes in principals in the Lake Norman area. Other new leaders are as follows:
• Blythe Elementary – Leora Itzhaki.
• Christ the King School – Brendan Keane.
• Huntersville Elementary – Jeff Ruppenthal.
• J.V. Washam Elementary – Paula Rao.
• North Mecklenburg High – Lynn Rhymer.
• Woodlawn School – Bob Shirley.