January 25, 2022
Dear St. Christopher’s Community,
In May of 1986, Headmaster George McVey took a chance on a young Philadelphia teacher and coach, a recent graduate of Haverford College who majored in English and played varsity baseball for four years, serving as captain and team MVP his senior year. Little did Mr. McVey know–or perhaps he did–that the novice educator would be running the Upper School at St. Christopher’s within six years. Surely, however, he could not have known that Tony Szymendera would be the leader of that division for nearly thirty years.
Thankfully for the boys, faculty, and families of St. Christopher’s, this is not a retirement notice for Tony Szymendera–he’s just rounding third base, so to speak.
It is, however, notice that effective this summer, Mr. Szymendera will take on a new leadership challenge and responsibility for St. Christopher’s. Effective July 1, Tony Szymendera will become St. Christopher’s Director of Strategic Priorities, responsible for the implementation of a host of JK-12 strategic priorities outlined in the School’s Momentum 2025 Strategic Plan, as well as other innovative priorities identified by the leadership of St. Christopher’s School in the years ahead.
As this is not a retirement notice, I will not attempt to fully enumerate Tony’s many accomplishments over nearly thirty years of leadership in the Upper School. I will, however, attempt to do justice to some of them.
First, however, I am delighted to share that Kim Hudson, who serves as Director of the Center for the Study of Boys, Upper School Academic Resource Teacher, and Chair of Distinguished Teaching and Collaborative Research at St. Christopher’s, has agreed to serve as Interim Head of the Upper School for the 2022-2023 school year, allowing for a thoughtful and thorough search for Mr. Szymendera’s successor to take place over the next 12 months.
Dr. Hudson is well qualified for the role, having served in the St. Christopher’s Upper School since 2006, assuming a variety of leadership roles over the past sixteen years, including directorship of our Center for the Study of Boys since 2014. Dr. Hudson is a valued member and leader of our Upper School faculty, revered and respected by our boys, and a trusted colleague on campus and a confidant to our families. Through her work with the International Boys’ Schools Coalition, Dr. Hudson has helped to establish St. Christopher’s as a leading school in best practices for boys around the globe. Dr. Hudson earned her B.A. in psychology, Master’s in teaching, and Ph.D. in education, all from the University of Virginia. She is the 2013 recipient of the Andrew Jackson Bolling III Faculty Award and the 2015 recipient of the Mary Armstrong Jennings Award.
As for Mr. Szymendera and his numerous contributions to the Upper School and all of St. Christopher’s, it is hard to know where to start and where to end. Remarkably, in the School’s 111 years of history, Mr. Szymendera is its only Head of the Upper School. Before Mr. McVey tapped Mr. Szymendera for the role in 1992, the School’s Headmasters served as the effective Head of the Upper School. Therefore, the role, and its impact on the growth and development of what is now the largest division at St. Christopher’s, has been largely–if not entirely–shaped by Tony Szymendera.
Some of the many notable changes and enhancements in our Upper School over the past three decades of Mr. Szymendera’s leadership include:
- A near-doubling of students and faculty in the division, from the low 200s and 30s in the early 1990s to more than 370 students and over 50 faculty today; remarkably, Mr. Szymendera has hired nearly 90% of current Upper School faculty members and has been part of the transformation of nearly 2,000 Upper School Saints into St. Christopher’s Alumni.
- A significant increase in coordination with St. Catherine’s, shifting from a separate, two-division model that had occasional moments of cooperation to a fully integrated and paired approach with a shared schedule, shared course offerings, a common grading scale, and a fully coordinated commitment to all aspects of program delivery.
- A transformation in the division’s approach to offering both academic and emotional support for our boys; the Upper School of today includes several academic resource faculty and a full-time counselor, plus a deeply embedded vertical advising system that ensures that every student is both known and loved and that students who possess a greater variety of learning styles can thrive in and contribute to the Saints community.
- A significant increase in the diversity of both the student body and the faculty of the division. For example, at the beginning of Mr. Szymendera’s tenure there were just four female faculty members in the Upper School; today there are 24. Additionally, student racial diversity increased from very few students of color in the early 1990s to today, when nearly one out of five students in the division is a student of color.
- Mr. Szymendera’s tenure has included the construction of the Gottwald Science Center, the Kemper Athletic Center, the Luck Leadership Center, the Arts Center, and multiple renovations to Chamberlayne Hall. Mr. Szymendera influenced and supported the design and development of each of these facilities, ensuring they remained true to the needs of faculty and boys, not just in that moment, but for decades to come.
- A continued focus on innovation and best practices in both our pedagogy and curriculum. Over the past thirty years, St. Christopher’s as a whole, and the Upper School in particular, has iterated and enhanced both what it teaches and how it teaches, and Mr. Szymendera has been at the forefront of that movement. Programmatic enhancements such as the Second Century Vision, the growth of our Advanced Placement Program, and new course offerings such as “We The People” and “Richmond 2050” have been shaped and profoundly influenced by Mr. Szymendera.
I would be remiss if I did not mention Mr. Szymendera’s success in his spring-afternoon role–Head Varsity Coach for our baseball program. Thankfully, he will continue in that same capacity in his new campus role, and our baseball program will be better for it. Coach Szymendera has coached over 700 games since he became head coach in 1988, winning 461 games, including 27 winning seasons, 13 Virginia Prep League (VPL) Championships, two VISAA State Championships, and 17 consecutive appearances in the state tournament. He has been recognized six times as the VPL Coach of the Year and three times as the VISAA State Coach of the Year.
When I asked Mr. Szymendera to reflect on his time here, he said: “It has been my honor and pleasure to serve St. Christopher’s and its outstanding young men for so many years as Head of the Upper School. I have been similarly fortunate to work alongside so many incredibly talented and dedicated faculty members during that time. I am beyond thrilled to continue working with and for them in my new role. I have no doubt that we will meet our strategic goals in a manner that will maintain and enhance St. Christopher’s as the best school for boys in Richmond, in Virginia, and beyond.”
Please join me in thanking and congratulating both Mr. Szymendera and Dr. Hudson in their new roles and supporting them and our school through this exciting transition this summer. At a later date, I will share an update regarding the process and timeline we will adopt in selecting the next Head of the Upper School at St. Christopher’s, whose tenure will begin in the summer of 2023.