Chris Howes Chosen As New Dean Of Student Life

By Henry Mitchell
NEWS Editor

or decades, Tom Rahauser ‘74 has been a fixture on the campus of Mercersburg Academy. He has fulfilled many roles at the school during his nearly forty year tenure but is perhaps best known as the Academy’s longtime dean of students. As he prepares to retire at the end of the school year, Mercersburg has been faced with the difficult task of appointing his successor.

Interest for the job was high. After the Academy posted a job description through the firm Carney Sandoe & Associates, the school received over 50 resumes.  After narrowing the initial field down to 10 candidates, administrators conducted phone interviews and further narrowed the pool to three finalists. Those capable three then met with a faculty interview committee, interested students, and faculty in open sessions, all who provided their input. From this pool of qualified applicants, Chris Howes has been chosen as Rahauser’s successor. Jo Wrzesinsky, another finalist, has been retained as associate dean of student life.

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Dean of Students Tom Rahauser teaching a Spanish class in 1980s

Howes comes to Mercersburg from Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Massachusetts. He received his bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Bates College, a master’s degree in Library Science from Wesleyan University, and a certificate in educational leadership from Johns Hopkins University. Howes also studied as a prestigious Klingenstein Summer Institute Fellow at Teachers College, Columbia University, a program once attended by Mercersburg Academy faculty members Katherine Titus and Marshall Carroll.

Howes began his career at Mitchell College as a residence director and lecturer. He then moved to the Rocky Hill School, and after acquiring his master’s degree worked at the Severn School of Baltimore, where he fulfilled many roles. He has worked at Cushing Academy since 2014, serving as its dean of students.

Assistant Head of School Debbie Rutherford spoke about wanting a dean of students who is able to build strong relationships with students and other community members. “That person really has to enjoy working with teenagers… and have total faith and hope and belief in them.” She believes that, from what she gathered through her conversations with Howes, he truly embodies these qualities.

Rutherford also expressed a desire for a candidate who could either teach a class or coach a sport. She said that it was important for a dean of student life to be “authentically involved in student life, in order to better understand the ‘real life of the students.’” To this end, Howes is expected to be an assistant lacrosse coach and may fill other roles as needed.

When reached by the NEWS for a comment, Howes expressed his excitement to move to Mercersburg and to get to know everyone at the school. He remarked that the community seemed to him to be kind and welcoming, feeling that he and his family had “hit the jackpot.”

Rutherford said she expects the position to change significantly next year, and indeed the job title will change from “Dean of Students” to “Dean of Student LIfe.” Currently, Rahauser is for the most part the school’s sole disciplinarian, which Rutherford feels is too narrow of a focus. She expects the new dean of student life to be a leader of a larger team, who is able to be focus on the broader concern of student wellbeing while delegating minor disciplinary concerns to others. She also sees the new position as having a broader scope than at present, and offices as student government and the dormitory dean will now report to the dean of students.

Rutherford pointed out that it was important not to define the new position too exactly, as the incoming dean should have the opportunity to “make the position into what it needs to be.” Howes agreed, saying it was one of the reasons he was interested in the job. He said, “I love the idea of establishing and developing a new position, particularly at a school that has such a clear vision and overall mission alignment.”

While the position is due to change next year, Rutherford said that she believes that Rahauser embodied many qualities that she hopes will continue to characterize the office. “He’s such a rock… there is order and safety and health at the school because of somebody like him.”

Howes has some big shoes to fill as he assumes his new position at Mercersburg. He hopes to contribute in ways that improve student life. “We only get one chance to experience high school, so I want to ensure all of our students get the opportunity to explore all it has to offer.”


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