What’s Next For Poly’s Head of School?

TJ Iannelli and Chelsea Lin

Audrius Barzdukas is set to depart from his role as Head of School at Poly Prep at the end of the school year, and the future of Poly’s administration is going to endure quite a big change. The future and first ever Interim Head of School will be current Philosophy Teacher John Rankin. 

Students and families learned about Barzdukas’s departure through an email announcement from Barzdukas on May 8, followed by another email that same day from the Chair of the Board of Trustees, Andrew Foote. Barzdukas noted in his email that he will “transition into an advisory role” after June 30, 2023. 

Foote did not respond to multiple requests for comment on behalf of the Board of Trustees. Barzdukas was unavailable for comment for the Polygon.

Barzdukas wrote in his email “Enrollment is strong and our college outcomes are outstanding.” He continued: “Our students are thriving. Our finances are stable. Faculty and staff have increased along with student programming and support. We have built fields and improved our facilities. The school has a strong strategic vision for its future.” 

Rankin has been a part of Poly Prep’s community for 39 years and is set to start his 40th year in his new role. Starting his career at Poly Prep in 1984 as a member of the English department, he eventually became academic dean in the late 1990s and into the early 2000s. Not long after, Rankin became the assistant head of school until 2020, when he became one of the founding chairpersons of Poly’s philosophy program. Rankin also served as advisor to the Polygon for many years. 

On becoming a teacher again, Rankin said, “25 years since I’d been in the classroom, I’d forgotten how hard it is… it gives me a whole new appreciation for what our teachers go through.” Rankin noted that one of his biggest concerns to address as Interim Head of School will be bringing greater attention and respect to the practice of teaching. Rankin also said, “There is going to be a concerted effort to try to address some of those things that the [proposed] union has been concerned about.”

Rankin wanted to address any concerns about the future of the school with these changes going forward: “We’ve had some disruption that a lot of people know about, but if you look at a more granular level, like what’s the experience of any student in a classroom. I would say we’ve got people doing a very good job with that. I think people should feel reassured with respect to the kind of education that’s being offered here at Poly. Organizationally, we’ve just got to try to straighten things out a little bit.” 

Assistant Head of School Michal Hershkovitz also wrote in an email to the Polygon, “I have learned a lot during the four years that I served under Mr. Barzdukas and am grateful for his support as I worked with division heads, chairs, faculty, and deans to advance our academic program.” In another email to the Polygon she noted: “I look forward to another year of growth for our community and especially for our students. The Poly community is strong and fully dedicated to ensuring the best educational experience for all of our students. I’m certain that we will successfully navigate the leadership transition by keeping the well-being of students and employees at the forefront of all we do.” 

Head of Upper School Sarah Bates wrote in an email to the Polygon: “I think any departure, either expected or sudden, is an opportunity for reflection and appreciation.” She noted that over the past seven years, Poly has encountered challenges and embraced change as a complex and longstanding institution. “Personally,” she wrote, “[Mr. Barzdukas] has provided me leadership opportunities, first as an Upper School dean and now as the Upper School division head, and has supported my professional growth in ways that I will forever be appreciative of.” 

Bates also noted that “Poly has always been and will always be more than one person…Regardless of who is the ‘face of the school,’ I know that the people who work here are caring, compassionate, and committed to making the student experience the best it can be.”

In response to the changes in Poly Prep’s administration, students and families have expressed surprise and anticipation for the upcoming transition. Junior Shriya Nanduru remarked, “I was really shocked when I heard about Mr. Barzdukas leaving and I didn’t really see it coming. But I’m excited to see what changes Mr. Rankin will bring to the school while he is [Interim] Head of School.” Junior Marisa Triola, said, “I was very surprised that Mr. Barzdukas was leaving because he’s been here for a while, my entire time at Upper Poly, and I wasn’t expecting it at all.”

This new role has been a transition for Rankin. “It’s been very tough to teach all day and then try to have a bunch of conversations all the time… I haven’t done the actual work of being the head [of school] yet.” Even with his experience, Rankin said, “It feels at times, in terms of administration and teaching, that I have done about everything in this school that one could do, but there are a lot of parts of this job it’s clear I haven’t done. There is going to be a bit of a learning curve, but I’m excited about it.” 

There is going to be a bit of a learning curve, but I’m excited about it.

— John Rankin

Regarding the search for the new Head of School, the board will initiate a “nationwide search for Poly’s next permanent Head of School,” led by Foote, as Barzdukas noted in his email to the school. Foote wrote in his email to the school: “The search committee process will be overseen by Andrew Foote, Chair of the Board of Trustees, and will include representation from important stakeholders in our Poly community including parents, faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, and others to identify a permanent Head of School in line with our broader strategic planning initiatives and rooted in our Poly values of Diversity, Excellence, and Brooklyn.”

Rankin said, “I would tell you frankly, to be perfectly honest, I’m somewhere near the end of my career. I’ve been at this a long time and this feels like the right thing for me and Poly right now,” He also noted that he hopes that he will be able to guide Poly Prep in the right direction with his new and possibly final role.