As far as he knows, Todd Eveleth is not related to Dr. Samuel Chester Eveleth, the man for whom the Eveleth School, now serving as the Abbot Library’s temporary quarters, is named.
But the 12th head of school in the 111-year-history of Tower School does have a connection with the town and the school he now leads.
His father lived on West Shore Drive and attended Tower in the late 1940s while his grandfather was working at the General Electric plant in Lynn. The family lived in Marblehead for six years.
As for Eveleth himself, he has landed in Marblehead after serving as head of school at The Nantucket New School, which like Tower serves students in preschool through eighth grade.
As he settles into what he hopes and expects will be his last professional job, Eveleth took a moment to discuss his background, philosophy, some of the challenges Tower School is facing and what excites him most about the move to Marblehead.
Q. Give me a quick sketch of your career to this point.
A. I was out in Nantucket as a head of school for five years. It was a great run. There are complications to living on Nantucket, as I’m sure you can imagine. We increased enrollment by 40% during that five-year period, so I felt very good about that, and built a couple of apartments for faculty housing. In general, it was a great experience. Prior to that, I was at the Fessenden School in West Newton for about 17 years. I was a teacher, coach and dorm parent there. I started out as an English teacher exclusively in the classroom, became the department chair, moved to dean of students and then became division head. We lived on campus. I raised my two children in dorms all over the Fessenden campus, so we’re very much in tune to living in school-owned housing, as we will be doing at Tower.
If you had told me 25 years ago when I got into education that someday I would be looking at administrative jobs, I probably would have said, “I doubt it.” But along the way, I saw the difference — both good and bad administrators — could have on the full community.
That pushed me towards pursuing an admin role, going out to Nantucket. It was an experiment in, is this a role that could work for me? Very quickly, we realized that in a small school where I could know the students and still support leading the teachers, that it would work.
My first job before Fessenden was up at Cardigan Mountain School — a junior boarding school up near Hanover, New Hampshire, and it was all hands on deck there. We were only there for three years.
Prior to that, I was a journalist.
Q. Really? What did you do?
A. I went to Syracuse to get my master’s in journalism, and then I was working for a couple of newspapers and some golf magazines out in western New York.
Q. And you said you did some coaching at Fessenden, too?
A. I did primarily varsity football, varsity hockey, and then in the spring it was everything from lacrosse, baseball, even tennis. But hockey and football were my two more higher-level coaching roles.
Q. Is that something you’ll have time to get involved in at Tower?
A. I’m not sure at Tower, but I’m looking to be involved in the community. When I was out on Nantucket, I coached youth hockey, both boys and girls, on the island. So, we’ll see how that develops in the coming years.
Q. Is it fair to say that that Tower is just a slightly bigger version of the Nantucket New School?
A. It would be fair to say that. There’s certainly more resources, more people, more students, but I think the culture is very similar in small pre-K to 8 schools. These schools are about the people, whether it’s the parent constituency, the students or the teachers. I think in COVID, that was so clear. It was about the quality of the people that you had supporting the kids during that crisis that really mattered, and not how many hockey rinks you had on your campus. I love the culture of a small co-ed school where it’s about connecting with the kids at a very intense level.
Q. When you were interviewing for this job, what did the members of the school’s board and faculty say about what Tower needs in a leader at this point in time?
A. It’s my hope that this is a job that I can be at for a very long time. I hope to be a stabilizing force for the long term. At a time where there was a pandemic, at a time where there was been some tragedy [the sudden death on Nov. 15, 2018, of Head of School Tim Delehaunty at the age of 49], [the faculty] did an incredible job kind of maintaining the mission and the incredible experiences that the kids were having. I want to be there to support that work for years and years to come.
I’d also like to buy some vans. It’s kind of a hokey little thing, but it’s such an amazing area. People often talk about the geography of being out on this peninsula a little bit, but the reality is it’s an amazing location for experiential and place-based learning. I want to be able to get my students out into that environment as much as possible.
That’s one of those low-hanging fruit items that I feel like could really make a big difference.
Q. Have you had time to think about Tower’s place in the town of Marblehead more broadly?
A. As I’ve met with every faculty member this summer — I have a couple more to go — but that has been my top item. Time and time again, they talk about these incredible things going on here, but the story is not getting out there.
Our focus is on the students in front of us, but at the same time it’s up to me to let the greater community know that may not have an understanding of Tower, both in Marblehead and beyond, that this is a world-class education.
I’ve worked at schools that were pre-K to 8 or 9 that had wait lists from 20 different countries, and the experience that the kids are getting here is as good, if not better, as those.
We’re sending these kids to incredible secondary schools. They’re finding great success in the local public schools. I think that needs to be a story that is heard with a little more frequency.
I’ve got a teacher this summer who’s leading a group of students to Cuba, there’s so many items like that that are going on in this building, and I’m excited to kind of spread that word about the quality of the experiences that are here.
Q. Do you have goals or a mandate to meet in terms of enrollment?
A. I think there is a mission-appropriate level of enrollment. I think there’s a balance between maintaining a culture that we are so successful in as a small school and moving the needle on enrollment. That’s a process that we’ll approach in a very thoughtful way.
But absolutely, we are looking to tell the Tower story out there to make sure that we are increasing our enrollment.
Things are good at Tower. There’s an endowment that’s growing. There’s a sense we haven’t done a capital campaign here in a long time. There are literally people coming to me excited about the next capital campaign. On the financial side, I think the view is pretty rosy, considering what’s been going on here in recent years.
Are we going to grow? Absolutely. But it’s coming from a position of strength in terms of what the kids are getting. That’ll be a big part of my job, for sure. But we are excited to open with almost 240 kids this fall, and that number will hopefully grow steadily and thoughtfully in the coming years.
Q. Can you describe your educational philosophy or the culture you hope to bring to Tower?
A. I want to make sure that every student, every teacher is finding joy when they come into this building. I think that you can absolutely have kids who are engaged in challenging, thoughtful, project-based work that’s going to challenge them, but at the same time, they are thrilled and happy and running from the cars [into school] each morning. I want to make sure we’re that kind of school where kids are happy and glowing and you can hear it in the hallways.
Q. Do you have any “signature moves” as an educator?
A. I wouldn’t say I have a signature move, but you won’t see me at this desk very often if you’re around campus. Part of why I like to be in a small school is so that I can know these children on a very high level. I wouldn’t want to run a school with 1,000 students where I was just pushing numbers and managing spreadsheets. I want to be out in the hall, bringing a little glimmer of connection with each one of these students.
I have a letter hanging on my wall — a faculty member at my first school gave it to me — from John Steinbeck about the qualities of the three best teachers he ever had in his life, and part of that is about connection. Even though I am removed from the classroom, I hope that my go-to will be making connections with these kids.
I want to be a presence both here in the hallways and around the greater community. I want to be at the core of the community as much as I can be. It’s going to be home for us, and my wife and I are excited about that.
Q. Given the population you are working with, what is your approach to diversity, equity and inclusion?
A. We want to be a school that reflects the diversity in the surrounding communities. We want all of our students to have an understanding of what it means to feel like they belong in a place, regardless of their background. That’s important work.
The world is getting more and more diverse. Any person that graduates from Tower should be able to operate in a very diverse environment. I think that will be the focus that we bring to the DEI process — making sure that our kids both feel like they belong and understand how to make others feel like they belong in the community.
Q. When you’re not working, what do you like to do?
A. I love to golf, fish. I love to cook, be with family. My wife’s family and my mom both live up in Maine, so we do get up there pretty regularly to connect with them.
I’m an avid reader. I’m from Maine originally, so I’m a big Stephen King fan when I need to take a book on the beach.