Changes at Fay School extend to top

Headmaster Stephen White will retire after 19 years at the helm of the Fay School in Southborough. Robert Gustavson, of the Fenn School in Concord, will be taking over the post July 1. Headmaster Stephen White will retire after 19 years at the helm of the Fay School in Southborough. Robert Gustavson, of the Fenn School in Concord, will be taking over the post July 1. (Bill Polo/Globe Staff/file 2007)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By John Dyer
Globe Correspondent / June 8, 2008

Big changes are coming to the Fay School.

At the same time the prestigious 142-year-old boarding school on Southborough's Main Street is beginning a $43 million expansion, its headmaster of 18 years, Stephen White, is stepping down. Robert Gustavson, assistant headmaster at the Fenn School in Concord, will replace him.

The expansion shows that the country's first junior boarding school is set to remain up to date in the competitive world of private schools, both educators said. The Fay School "is not just standing still and stuck in the past," said Gustavson, a Wayland resident who is slated to start work in Southborough on July 1.

The first phase of the expansion includes erecting five cottages on the 6.5-acre former Kidder estate, purchased in 2006, which White said the school had coveted for 40 years because it cut the campus in half. The cottages would re place a dorm on campus that this term is housing 60 boys.

"The theme here is building a New England village," said White. "Everything will be in keeping with Southborough."

Other changes include a new water-treatment plant, a new front entrance, and a new health and wellness center. The new entrance would give cars more room to pick up and drop off the school's day students, removing congestion from Main Street, said White. "The backup will be on our property," he said.

Construction plans for a proposed classroom building for Fay's first prekindergarten and kindergarten classes, and a proposed new gym and fine arts building still need approval by Southborough, said the town planner, Vera Kolias.

Under current plans, White said, the historic 1891 Charles Kidder House would be demolished. But, after preservationists criticized Fay's intention to destroy it and other historic homes, the school now intends to incorporate the 1819 Goodnow House on Middle Road with the new gym and fine arts building. "They helped us see how important" the Goodnow house was, said White.

Fay School enrolls 380 students from first through ninth grades. It has around 110 boarders, hailing from 17 states and 17 countries, White said. The expansion would allow the school to add 90 pupils.

White said the expansion is the largest since Fay underwent a facelift in the 1970s, when it replaced old wooden houses with concrete and brick structures. This latest spate of building is essential, given the competitiveness and cost of Fay and other top private schools, he added.

"What our parents, what our customers, today expect of us is not to be merely caretakers to their children," he said. "If they are going to pay for an independent education, they start asking 'What's the environment where my child is going to study?' "

Tuition at Fay runs from $18,000 a year for first-grade day students to $42,000 for international boarders in the upper grades, said White. The school's annual budget is $12.6 million. Its endowment is $40 million.

The March 24 groundbreaking for the expansion was a factor in his decision to leave Fay, said White, 55. Now that he had accomplished a major project, he said, it was time to move on.

"It's been my life's work," he said. "I couldn't go to another school. I'm retiring from boarding school life. You can't imagine the weight of the responsibility that goes with being the head of a boarding school, especially with young children."

Gustavson, 42, said his educational philosophy meshes with Fay's mission of academic excellence. But he added that, as headmaster, he will seek to emphasize developing every aspect of students' characters. As a former hockey coach, he said, he sees the benefits of athletics and other activities.

In that sense, Gustavson does not view himself as an innovator as much as a guardian of the kind of education Fay has been delivering for years, he said.

"What a school like Fay needs to do is focus clearly on its fundamental mission. If an independent school does a good job at that, it will distinguish itself."

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