Ted Sizer, 12th headmaster of Phillips Academy, died on Oct. 21 of cancer at his home in Harvard, Mass. He was 77. Sizer was a national leader in education who was dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and a faculty member at Brown University. His belief that high school students should earn their diploma by presenting exhibitions to demonstrate what they knew, rather than to graduate after logging in a prerequisite number of high school courses, is currently followed in over 100 Essential Schools across the country. He wrote several books on education, the first of which was Horace's Compromise. This piece by Andover resident Meredith Price focuses on the changes Sizer made in Phillips Academy during his tenure, 1972-1981.
If you had been the parent of an aspiring ninth-grade day student, you might have thought twice about sending your child to the Phillips Academy of the late '60s and early '70s. You might have heard of student unrest culminating in the firing of a gun in the air by a campus security guard who was chasing students who had broken into a building. You might also have been somewhat appalled by the unkempt dress of the students at the all-male school. Andover's 12th Headmaster would have soon allayed your concerns.
Walking into the Underwood Room of Kemper Auditorium to meet two dozen PA students in the spring of 1972, Ted Sizer found himself among a hostile audience of students. Body language and, in some cases, body odor spoke to responses to the nationwide tension over Vietnam and drug use, but also to school issues: a headmaster had recently died and the single-sex school seemed to most students — and some faculty — irrelevant.
"Hello. I'm Ted Sizer. What can we do to make our school better?" were his first words. Postures straightened, some leaned forward as if to doubt their ears. A headmaster-to-be was asking them for advice.
Had they known Sizer's history - he was among the first Harvard deans to enter University Hall when students took it over - they would not have been so surprised. Listening eagerly and patiently to the ideas and feelings of any member of the Phillips Academy community was a priority for him.
He and his wife Nancy and their four children moved into the Headmaster's House in July 1972. In a paper on "Speculations on Andover" he presented to the Trustees, as Helen Eccles wrote, "his proposals for intellectual and moral education at Andover for a very diverse student body—including girls."
At his installation in September as the 12th Headmaster of Phillips Academy the president of the Phillips Trustees announced that the trustees of both Phillips and Abbot Academies had voted to combine their schools into a new, coeducational Andover, something Ted stipulated before accepting his new job. Applications to the new school soared.
Change was in the air. An open, genuine concern for hearing all sides before deciding "what was right" was a hallmark of the Sizer years. Providing moral education in chapel talks, at Commencement, and in academic electives was a high priority. Not once did I leave one of his addresses without feeling guilty about my own parochial focus.
In 1974 he began to offer the resources of the school to many students in other high schools while PA was in session. Short Term Institutes, six-week programs in astronomy, chemistry, French, German and visual studies enrolled over 200 students during the next three years, including some from Andover High School.
To serve more students, he significantly enrolled more day students, increased the size of the Summer Session and created a new part of it, (MS)2, an intensive three consecutive summer program for disadvantaged minority students. First tried in 1970, the cluster system to offer closer contact between students and faculty expanded into six separate groups including at first a Day Student Cluster directed by Andover native Joe Wennik.
The girls made their mark right away in the classrooms (this writer was accused by his first female student of "treating me like a girl"), on the athletic fields, and in all other facets of school life.
The seniority system for the faculty was no longer the rule. Department chairs would serve for only five years. More and more women joined the faculty as administrators and teachers, perhaps the most notable among them Nancy Sizer, Ted's wife, a distinguished teacher of history in her own right. Members of Ted Sizer's generation assumed other important leadership positions. Faculty seminars on educational theory sprang up, stimulated by a succession of provocative speakers to the entire school community. Kenan Grants were awarded to faculty for independent research. A new publication, The Andover Review, presented articles on secondary education. Alumni Visiting Committees were formed to assist various department and divisions. The Bicentennial Campaign met its target of $50 million to increase financial aid, raise faculty benefits and improve the plant.
In the spring 1981 Andover Bulletin editor Helen Eccles wrote, "He brought a breath of optimism with him and a can-do faith in humanity." Those traits transformed Phillips Academy into a place where faculty wanted to teach and students wanted to learn. For several years students wore white caps to the Exeter contests asking what had become a rhetorical question: "Wouldn't you rather be at Andover?" More and more students sought PA, and the school flourished, on its way to now receiving more applications than any other secondary school in the country.
Ted Sizer's contributions to Phillips Academy were unparalleled. His death, a great loss.
Meredith Price taught English at PA from 1963-2002. For the past eight years he was taught his Intensive Writing Workshop at the Andover Summer Session.