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New Head of Nightingale-Bamford Is a Mister

Wednesday, October 12, 2011 - 08:52 AM

Behind every top girls' school is ... a man?

In a move sure to prompt discussion, Nightingale-Bamford, one of the city’s top all-girls’ private schools, on Tuesday named Paul Burke, the current head of the upper school, to be its seventh leader.

Dorothy A. Hutcheson, the school’s colorful and outspoken head of school, is in her 20th year at the helm of Nightingale. Last year, she announced she would leave in 2012.

The selection of Mr. Burke is most notable for the obvious anomaly that Mr. Burke is not a woman.

Nightingale’s founders and all of its leaders have been women. The Brearley School, perhaps the best known of New York City’s all girls’ schools, was founded by a man but has been run by women since 1926. (Stephanie Hull, Brearley’s last leader, left abruptly last summer; the reasons remain a much-discussed mystery.) Spence School and the Chapin School are also run by women.

Mr. Burke, 38, an American history teacher, started his career as a college counselor at the Salisbury School in Connecticut. In 2000, he moved to New York and joined the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn, where he was a college adviser for three years before becoming a dean of students. (He still sits on Packer’s board of trustees.) In 2008, he became the head of Nightingale’s upper school.

“Paul is deeply respected as a teacher, a leader, an innovator, and a speaker,” Ms. Hutcheson said in a statement. “He has a profound sense of fairness and a fabulous sense of humor, both of which — believe me — are essential characteristics for a successful head of school.” (Ms. Hutcheson, 53, has a framed saying hanging in her office: "Remain absolutely and serenely good humored.")

Mr. Burke, who will take over July 1, graduated from Williams College and earned a master's degree in educational administration from Columbia University Teachers College. He is married to Christine Rowe Burke, a senior marketing executive; they have twin 5-year-old sons and a 3-year-old daughter. He was the unanimous choice of the nine-member selection committee.

Nightingale is a small school on the Upper East Side of Manhattan that educates about 550 girls from kindergarten through 12th grade. Its founders hoped the school would educate women’s “heads and hearts,” and parents who know Ms. Hutcheson say she executed that mission with aplomb.

Unlike many of its peers, Nightingale strives to keep the students it admits and work with the ones who have trouble. At other schools, counseling out children who cannot keep up with the work is common practice.

In a recent interview, when asked if a man could lead an all girls’ school, Ms. Hutcheson said she thought it possible. “We’re beyond all that, aren’t we?” she said.

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