Chanley Small named new head of Upper School


Following a five-month search, Chanley Small was named Westminster’s new head of Upper School in February 2022. A multistep process involving several parties identified and evaluated 155 candidates, resulting in Small’s appointment and transition from interim to permanent head of Upper School.  

The role opened at the end of the 2020-2021 school year with the departure of former head Cindy Trask. Trask left Westminster to be the head of school at St. Catherine’s School in Virginia. The search process began in October 2021 with the engagement of an external search firm. Westminster’s president, Keith Evans, worked with this consultant to create a description of the position and seek potential candidates nationwide.

“Essentially, what the consultant does is help to advertise the job, screen candidates, see if they qualify,” said Evans. “Then they do some initial interviewing and come forward with a smaller group of candidates they’d think would be good for Westminster.”

The next step included forming a search advisory committee of six faculty members. Evans consulted with Thad Persons, Westminster’s dean of faculty, who helped design the search process.

“We knew that that’s something we’ve done before. We knew that we wanted to get a number of voices in the room,” said Persons. 

A survey was sent out to Westminster faculty asking for recommendations of three to five of their number to part of the committee. The resulting group included Danette Morton, head of Middle School, Michael Reese, an Upper School photography teacher, Meredith Miller, Upper School coordinator of student support, Sabrina Johnson, an Upper School English teacher, Ellen Vesey, an Upper School math teacher, and Persons.

The committee interviewed candidates and worked to narrow down the options to two individuals who were brought onto campus to meet representatives of faculty, parents, and students.

“We were really thinking about how whoever the incoming head was going to be in working with students and managing faculty and staff,” said Johnson. “Particularly thinking about how somebody could help support us and not necessarily micromanage us. And of course, working with parents who have invested in their kids’ education.”

All candidates were required to turn in a written statement of purpose and have initial interviews over Zoom to gain a broad perspective of the applicant pool. To most effectively evaluate candidates, the search advisory committee completed antibias interview training prior to meeting with candidates. Evans, Persons, and a consultant from the external search firm created interview questions and parameters for the role. In particular, they were seeking qualities and values aligned with Westminster. 

“One of the things that we really saw as important was that we needed somebody who was going to have pastoral care, in the sense of dealing with emotions,” said Johnson. “Pre-Covid, it would’ve been more about if they’re paying attention to scheduling and details like that. And that was definitely part of it, but it was also knowing that the whole world has just been through two years of trauma. We wanted to make sure that that person was aware of what we’d all been through.”

Chanley Small was previously Westminster’s academic dean. She underwent several rounds of interviews before a one-day in-person interview in January. Small’s transition from academic dean to head of the Upper School allowed her to appreciate her new role and apply the knowledge she gained as dean.

“It was a very narrowly defined role,” said Small of her tenure as dean. “It was just about coursework, working with department chairs and students who have issues with classes or registration. So the piece of this role that has expanded my knowledge about my learning has been the much broader role of a principal involving student life. Even things around discipline and working with parents in new ways. I’ve learned a bunch of lessons as academic dean that I found I could easily expand on, and this has allowed me to take those skills in new directions.”

In terms of forging a legacy with the role, Small’s goal as head of school is to change Westminster’s external image and leave the school with a new awareness of our school motto. 

“Something I’ve been thinking about a good bit is referring back to Reverend Charney’s message during Christian Emphasis Week. ‘To grow in wisdom and in stature’ is a motto we should lean into. We’re always going to be an academic powerhouse, but I’d love for the broader Atlanta community to describe us as more than that. As humble leaders with empathy and integrity and overall good character.”

So far, Small has embraced her new position and connection with the people of Westminster, which is unique to the office.

“The thing that drove me the most to the role is really the people that I work with,” said Small. “And that’s both the students and the faculty. They’re immensely capable and motivated, and that makes it really fun to come to work each day. Because our students are so talented and motivated, they will go on and do remarkable things in their lives and in their careers. To be a part of that and to be able to influence that trajectory is really a blessing and a responsibility.”