In April 2021, Mark Brooks shared with the MCDS community his joy in becoming our head of school, turning his interim role into a permanent position.
Mr. Brooks has a combined sixteen years of head of school experience, including his time at the Center for Early Education and the Pilgrim School, both in Los Angeles, and leading MCDS through the pandemic last school year. Mr. Brooks served as president of the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS) Board of Trustees and as a trustee of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). He is currently the secretary of the Enrollment Management Association and a trustee of the Ahmanson Foundation, and he serves on the board of The Principals' Center at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Prior to his career in education, Mr. Brooks had a distinguished legal and leadership career at both SeeBeyond Technology Corporation and Honda North America. Onward caught up with Mr. Brooks to learn more about his personal background and his goals for the future.
Onward caught up with Mr. Brooks to learn more about his personal background and his goals for the future.
You’ve been working at MCDS for over a year now. How is it going?
Very well, thank you! I have thoroughly enjoyed spending the past year getting to know our community. I learn something new that I love about MCDS every day.
What initially attracted you to MCDS, and why did you decide to stay on as our permanent head of school?
Initially, I was attracted to the history, mission, and beliefs of the school. The IB curriculum, as well as the school’s dream to expand the IB curriculum, was very exciting to me as an educator.
Additionally, I was attracted to the MCDS community. I admired its resilience—that the MCDS community was willing to take on the challenge of opening a school during a pandemic when so many said it couldn’t be done. I have spent my career doing things others said could not be done. As such, opening during a pandemic was a significant appeal to me.
I was hopeful that my experience running two very different yet similar schools—one was a turnaround school and the other required a complete rebuild of the facility—would be helpful as we navigated completely uncharted waters.
It did not take long for me to fall for MCDS. I found a school with a truly exceptional community filled with exceptional educators, a great academic program, and bright, inquisitive students.
How does your legal background help you in the head role?
My legal background is something I use daily. As a lawyer, my job was to creatively solve and explain complex problems. As a head of school, I face numerous challenges that can be made into opportunities for school improvement.
We see you thoroughly enjoying the morning drop-off time, helping students get out of their car and start their day. How do you like to interact with students?
I look forward to interacting with the students every day. My family jokes that I’m a “school nerd,” as I am always excited to get to school in the morning. I like to get to school early and get the paperwork done so I can get out of my office and spend as much time with the students and faculty as I can. The highlight of my day is being with the students, parents, and staffulty. I am planning to spend more time in the middle and high school stacks this year as we slowly transition from our pandemic mode of operations.
Tell us a bit about your interests and hobbies. Where can we find you on a Saturday afternoon?
Outside of school, I spent lots of time with architecture (you might find me in Spring Green at Taliesin), planning summer projects (this year I’m building a cape on my family’s cottage in Maine), working out, and tinkering with my old car. I hope you soon may find me at a Madison area barn taking riding lessons; growing up, one of my first jobs was working at an equestrian facility and ever since I have loved horses. Late in the afternoon or early evening, you may find me at the movie theater catching the latest thriller. Late at night you might find me reading. I like to read several books at a time. This summer I read The Code Breaker, Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies, and Chickens, Gin, and a Maine Friendship: The Correspondence of E. B. White and Edmund Ware Smith.
Are you enjoying Madison? What have you found most surprising about your move from California to Wisconsin?
Very much! What I have found surprising is how much I like Wisconsin and Madison. I appreciate the friendly and welcoming spirit, the beauty, and the accessibility to so much culture and open space in the same city. I enjoy being in a college town. This summer, I enjoyed partaking in the culture, including American Players Theatre, the Saturday farmers market, hiking and biking the trails, and enjoying the outdoor restaurants downtown.
We’ve heard that your son Will is an elementary school teacher. Have any of his experiences influenced how you work to support our faculty and staff?
Yes indeed. As he is a young teacher, I am constantly reminded of what a resource these new teachers are. I love talking with Will about the techniques he is implementing to improve student outcomes. Will has also made me mindful of teacher pay; he inspires me to work hard to provide our teachers with the best wages and benefits possible.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I would describe my leadership style as hands-on, open-minded, collaborative (genuinely wanting to learn from others), and flexible. I am willing to make the tough decisions after I have heard (and I want to hear!) every opinion and viewpoint. I am persistent in my belief in others, and I have high expectations of myself and those around me. As a leader, I am optimistic. I do not believe there are problems—only solutions.
Leading a school in a pandemic is not an easy task. What have been some of the greatest challenges and how have you worked to overcome them?
Communication has been one of the biggest challenges. Building relationships with families when we asked parents to stay out of the building was a great challenge for me. I love getting to know every family and missed the chance to talk in person in the lobby or after an assembly. Equally difficult was thinking through everything we do as a school and how that activity could be done within the pandemic restrictions, so as to provide our students with as many opportunities as possible without placing them at risk.
Moving forward, what are your goals for the school?
When I envision the future, I want to be sure we are true to the vision that founded our school. The vision of MCDS nearly 25 years ago was a strong emphasis on math, science, English, and world languages, alongside art, music, theatre, and athletics. I believe the IB curriculum and approach to education supports students becoming the best learners they can be; thus, its continued usage and expansion is important to me.
I also hope to continue improving student outcomes and achievement—and not just academically. Academic achievement is not in competition with personal and social development; the two complement one another. Supporting the emotional well-being of students is one of the most important parts of what we at MCDS do.
Continuing to build the school’s student body and reputation is also important. I want MCDS to engage with the wider Madison community, as well as form strong links with key stakeholders in Madison and beyond.
Lastly, I hope to continue providing professional learning and development for staffulty as part of my passion to raise standards for education. My goal is to sustain motivation and commitment, as it will maximize the potential of the school and each individual.