By Michele J. Kuhn
RCDS head sees 2014 retirement as ‘New Chapter’
RUMSON – Those arriving for classes at Rumson County Day School after June 2014 will no longer be greeted by the smile of Head of School Chad B. Small.
Small, 59, has announced that he will retire at the end of the 2013-2014 school year after a quarter century as the headmaster at RCDS, a private, nonsectarian school located at 35 Bellevue Ave.
Small and his wife Susan plan to retire to a home they own on Cape Cod.
“It’s the next chapter. Twenty-five years is more than enough at one school,” he said. “The timing’s right. I’m healthy. I feel good. I have loads of energy – that’s what I’m a little scared about, about what I’m going to do, but I’ll find something.”
He gave the school community – which has grown from 285 students when he arrived to a steady enrollment of 450 – an 18-month advance notice of his retirement to allow it to better prepare for his departure.
“The school really needed the time to do an appropriate search,” said Small, who holds a doctorate in education from Seton Hall University. “I wanted to give them as much time as needed.
“I love the school. My three kids graduated from the school and I’ve lived on the campus for 25 years. It’s a very big part of me.”
Born in Tarrytown, N.Y., Small grew up in nearby Edgemont. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Ohio Wesleyan University in 1976 and a master’s degree in 1979 in education from the University of Virginia.
His first job out of college was in Appalachia, teaching grades 1-3 in a two-room schoolhouse in Browntown, W. Va. He then taught fifth and sixth grades in Forest, Va. Four years later he was named principal at an elementary school in Schuyler, Va., an area made famous by The Waltons, the classic 1970s television show. The school had no gym or extras and “sometimes the kids had no shoes.”
He recalled those early days in his education career as “some of my fondest memories … I loved every minute of it,” he said. “It was a good learning experience that I could bring to Rumson, New Jersey … Those other experiences broadened me.”
He moved on to become lower school head at St. Francis in Louisville, Ky., and then headmaster at St. Richard’s School in Indianapolis, Ind.
In July 1989, he arrived on RCDS’s campus. With a laugh, he called the breadth of his career as going from The Waltons to Bruce Springsteen.”
He has loved his time in Rumson.
“I think what got me, what made us stay is that Rumson is a wonderful place. It was always willing to grow and change and it has some really, really wonderful people involved,’” Small said. ”We’ve had our ups and downs … Fortunately, the good times have far outrun the bad ones.”
His favorite memories of his time at RCDS always will be “the kids. The kids are wonderful.”
As a student, Small said he considered school to be “just OK.” As an administrator, however, he said he believes the smaller classes, “the loving atmosphere and that we’re all in this together” has helped him foster the love of learning and the emphasis to excel that is demonstrated at RCDS. The school’s athletic and arts programs help students reach their potential.
“There’s something for everyone to excel at and it’s important to excel at things here,” he said. “You don’t have to be the best student, but if you are the best artist, you are respected. If you are a musician, you are respected. If you are a basketball player, you are respected here.
“We get them ready for life,” he said. “They learn lessons that carry them through life.”
Among the programs that have been instituted under his leadership, Small is proud of the School Within a School (a specialized program to assist students with learning differences), RCDS Horizons (a national program with an affiliate begun at RCDS in 1996 that provides a summer school experience for children of limited economic means), creating a new pre-school program and a new and improved student-centered schedule. Under Small’s leadership, RCDS also has expanded its arts and world language programs, and built a strong technology program. It has increased student diversity and financial aid, and grown its endowment from $100,000 to $8 million.
Shawn Reynolds, president of the RCDS Board of Trustees, called Small “an educator who makes decisions, always with the best interests of the children in mind.
“As we look back on his career, much can be said about the construction of new buildings, athletic field renovations, increased enrollment and numerous capital improvements. However, it is the deep commitment to his staff and RCDS families that will serve as his greatest legacy,” Reynolds said.
When asked about what he will definitely not miss about being the head of school, Small had just two words: “Night meetings.”
The Rumson Country Day School was founded in 1926 as a not-for-profit, independent, non-sectarian, coeducational elementary school set on a 13.5-acre campus. The school enrolls 450 students in preschool-grade 8. The U.S. Department of Education recognized RCDS as a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence in 1999.