Getting to know…Stephen Hickman

In December, the Collegiate School announced Stephen Hickman as the new Head of School. Hickman set up office at Collegiate in July and has been preparing for what will be the school’s 99th year. He recently sat down with the Citizen to discuss his new role.

Henrico Citizen: Talk about what prepared you to take on the job as Collegiate Head of School.

HickmanMy preparation really goes back to when I was in high school. I felt that my future was in education. I had some wonderful mentors and teachers and coaches. Even when I was in business for roughly 17 years – I was in the securities industry working with NASDAQ for most of that time – I never lost the passion for education. It had done so much for me; education literally changed my life.

HC: Are there any teachers you remember specifically from your childhood?

HickmanWell, that’s just a tough question. I was blessed to go to a school like Collegiate in Memphis – Memphis University School. I was able to go there, quite frankly, because my mother sacrificed a lot. She was a single parent trying to raise two sons, and back then that was not an easy thing to so. She made a lot of sacrifices. I give you that background because all of those years were just critical. They pointed me in a different direction. I had a basketball coach that had a lot of great influence on me. You were able to establish those close relationships with teachers. They just knew you so well, and that’s one reason why if someone asks me what my core values are about education, what I believe so strongly in, my answer is knowing each child well. I think it’s powerful, it works, and quite frankly I know it works because it is what helped me a great deal.

HC: What are some challenges kids face now as opposed to when you grew up?

HickmanI do think that they are exposed to things at an earlier age. The things some of our young people see are probably two or three years ahead of where I was when I was in school.

HC: A lot of that exposure takes place outside of school. What role can a school play in helping kids deal with that?

HickmanIt’s important to have a set of core values that you live with day to day. That’s where you can make the most impact. I think kids, even though they may not admit it, they like that structure. Recently I was struck by a quote from the founding headmistress, Miss Helen Baker. She said, “Above everything else, I would have you live for humanity’s sake. I would have you be good citizens in the widest sense.” That call to citizenship was inspiring then, and it’s inspiring and relevant today. When a school has values built around what it means to be a good citizen then you can really provide a framework and a structure for young people.

HC: Education is full of trends. Are there any big trends right now you see not just as fads but as truly valuable concepts that are here to stay?

HickmanThis school has a reputation for being student-centered and forward-thinking when it comes to instruction and assessment. A lot of the dialogue about how to strengthen students’ creative and critical thinking skills, how to collaborate, communicate and problem solve – those are all more than just trends. They are skills that young people need to have. Also, technology offers some amazing opportunities to individualize instruction.

That’s not to say we throw out what we did in the past, but that the tool kit is much bigger. It’s a balance. I don’t think there is a silver bullet. All of those things in the right combination will be effective.

HC: How has your background in business helped you prepare students for real-world scenarios?

HickmanThe application of science, math and economics to solve problems really excites kids. What you learn stays with you longer when you are able to use it to solve a problem. Most recently, I had a group of four young men who participated (and came in second) in an AT&T business challenge. I organized and coordinated it but the four outstanding young men really took it on. I think the thing that got them so excited is that they were applying what they learned in a way that helped them see results. We need to find application for what our young people are learning.

HC: How focused should educators be on equipping students for specific careers?

HickmanI think in a school like Collegiate, my personal philosophy is that it is important to expose young people to all the disciplines – the classic liberal arts approach. At the same time, there are opportunities within that to pursue something specific that may be a passion. That is where the creativity needs to come into schools. But never give up that broad education. That’s what makes for a good citizen.

HC: One of the aspects of a broad education is learning to interact with different types of people. Is diversity a realistic goal for Collegiate, with the cost of tuition and the demographic you attract?

HickmanWe have a number of initiatives around diversity. It’s something we believe strongly in, and it is one of the things that attracted me to this school. I think our investment in significant financial aid dollars allows us to broaden out student base in terms of socioeconomic diversity and to continue to attract students of color and different religions.

When I left my last school we had approximately 25 percent of the student population on some type of financial aid, and about 25 percent were students of color. There is always more you can do there, but we were proud of that.

HC: What is your favorite novel?

HickmanIn high school I was assigned Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, and . . . I probably have grown away from Vonnegut, but as a 15-year-old, it just opened up reading for me in an entirely different way. I think that’s one thing we have to encourage as educators: You never know what is going to click with a young person. I probably credit that creative book selection as something that really triggered in me something that said reading can be really fun.

HC: Are there any books that you would hope high school students would read?

HickmanThat goes to the argument around whether you believe in a canon or not. I have a strong bias towards classics. I’m not sure there is one, but rather a broad exposure to some of the great pieces of literature. I’ll leave that to the students and teachers to pick which ones work the best in their classes. Somewhere along those lines you have to find that one piece of literature that excited you. It becomes less about homework and more about reading the next page so you can find what happens to that character. Not sure if there is one book, but whatever triggers that love of reading.

HC: What do you do when not at school?

HickmanMy wife and I enjoy walking. Occasionally I try to get in the weight room, but with life at school the consistency is not what I want it to be. I’ve got three grown children, and they each have their own interests. My youngest enjoys playing golf so when I’m with him I look forward to playing golf. My middle son is a movie buff – his knowledge is incredible. As a result, I enjoy talking about movies and seeing movies with him. My daughter loves to read and is passionate about making a difference in her community.

HC: What innovators or thinkers do you really look up to?

HickmanA couple different people. I have recommended over the years some books by Parker Palmer that get to the reason why people teach, the “calling” aspect of teaching. He really challenges you to think about your profession and why you’re doing it and how to be the most effective.

In particular, as head of school you are torn in a bunch of different directions, working with a bunch of different constituencies who all want to get to the same place but don’t always agree on how to get there. So I certainly spend a lot of time reading about different ways people have led. I read a good book on Lincoln and his cabinet – a great read in bringing many different perspectives under one roof for the sake of the country.

From the innovation standpoint, I was always intrigued by the creativity of Steve Jobs and some of the things he did at Apple. I spent two years in Silicon Valley with NASDAQ. I was there from '87-'89 and had the opportunity to see all the incredible innovation and creativity going on at the time. That was a fascinating thing to watch. People were reinventing the way that we did things. It forces you, as someone who is asked to lead, to keep that in mind – always be open to a different way of doing things.
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Henrico Schools to host College and Career Night Nov. 1


Students of all ages are invited to investigate options for life after high school at Henrico County Public Schools’ 2017 College and Career Night. The annual countywide event offers a chance to talk with representatives of more than 100 universities, colleges and professional programs, as well as about 50 representatives of career options such as businesses and branches of the military.

College and Career Night will take place Wednesday, Nov. 1 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Henrico High School, 302 Azalea Ave. > Read more.

Business in brief


Henrico-based nonprofit Commonwealth Autism recently received the Standards for Excellence Institute’s Seal of Excellence for successfully completing its accreditation program. Commonwealth Autism voluntarily opened itself to analysis by a peer review team during the last 18 months that examined the organization’s compliance with the “Standards for Excellence: An Ethics and Accountability Code for the Nonprofit Sector.” These standards cover areas such as: mission, strategy and evaluation; leadership – board, staff and volunteers; legal compliance and ethics; finance and operations; resource development; and public awareness, engagement and advocacy. Commonwealth Autism was one of six organizations in the Richmond region to be recognized and the first in the region to achieve full accreditation. In addition to this accreditation, Commonwealth Autism is recognized as an Accredited Charity with the Richmond Better Business Bureau and holds accreditation from the Code of Ethics for Behavioral Organizations (COEBO). > Read more.

Purify Infrared Sauna opens at GreenGate


Purify Infrared Sauna recently opened its second Henrico location at GreenGate Shopping Center in Short Pump.

Owner Mary Woodbridge opened her first Purify location on Patterson Avenue in July 2015. The new store is located at 301 Maltby Boulevard, Suite C, west of Short Pump Town Center. > Read more.

Henrico Master Gardener training program accepting applications through Oct. 27


The Henrico County Office of Virginia Cooperative Extension is accepting applications for its next volunteer Master Gardener training program, which provides instruction in all aspects of horticulture.

Applications for the 2018 training program will be accepted through Friday, Oct. 27. Classes will be held from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays from Jan. 16 through March 22. > Read more.

Henrico Schools to host Oct. 30 job fair


Henrico Schools will host a job fair Oct. 30.

The event, to be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Fairfield branch library, is designed to attract potential full-time and substitute registered nurses, instructional assistants, bus drivers and school nutrition workers. > Read more.

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The Innsbrook Wellness Forum will take place from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. at Markel, 4501 Highwoods Pkwy., in Carpenter Room B. Dennis Spurier from Bon Secours Physical Therapy and Sports Performance will present “Office Ergonomics.” A free light lunch will be provided to those who register in advance. Admission is free and open to the public. For details, email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Full text

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