McDonogh’s annual Winter Faculty and Staff meeting on Wednesday, February 12 was full of surprises as Head of School Dave Farace ‘87 announced three new, fully funded endowments - a Master Teaching Chair, a Distinguished Teaching Chair, and a dedicated fund to further support faculty professional development.
The endowments were created and named by current McDonogh parents Dr. Susan Cummings and Dr. Kris Jenner (Olivia ‘15, Maddie ’18, and Kristopher ‘20). The generous gift is an expression of their gratitude for the outstanding educators and role models at McDonogh who have impacted their children. The couple shared that the gift is also directly related to their own formative years as students when their teachers challenged and inspired them.
Master Teaching Chair Named in Honor of W. Wright Abbot IV
Upper School English teacher Wright Abbot was speechless when it was revealed that a Master Teaching Chair would be named for him. In his 38-year career, he has been an inspiration, a treasured colleague, and a mentor. His passion, humanity, and commitment to the life of the mind not only inspires students to love literature but also to learn lessons of even greater value about themselves and the world.
In announcing the naming of the Chair for Abbot, Farace said, “One student speaking about his influence offered, ‘Mr. Abbot was able to teach me how to become not only a better writer and thinker but also a better person.’”
Farace also shared reflections of the well-respected teacher from former headmasters. He noted that Bo Dixon called Abbot a “mission keeper,” and on one occasion, Charlie Britton said, “The level of rigor Wright brings to the classroom, what he demands of students, creates an amazing dynamic. He has an incredible ability to forge relationships with students and get the most out of them.”
The portrayal that drew the most laughter was when Farace concluded, “One student describes him perfectly by saying, ‘Mr. Abbot is the Dumbledore of the English Department.’”
Rob Smoot ‘77 Awarded W. Wright Abbot IV Master Teaching Chair
After the W. Wright Abbot IV Master Teaching Chair was named, Farace kept the audience in suspense as he announced the first recipient of the honor. In keeping with tradition, he dropped clues as to the person’s identity as he described the qualities that rendered him worthy.
“The first recipient of the W. Wright Abbot IV Master Teaching Chair personifies the term ‘McDonogh Family,’” Farace said. “In this teacher’s classroom, there is a family-like atmosphere with lots of give and take, respect and love, fun and joy. At the same time, students are held to the highest level of engagement and achievement. It’s because of this person that many former students have not only continued their studies in this teacher’s subject area but have gone on to pursue related careers.”
Eventually, it became clear that the honoree was an Upper School science teacher. Then, identifiers such as long-time coach, wrestling mat, Cardboard Boat Race, and greenhouse guru were woven into the narrative. If those hints did not give his identity away, the nicknames Bunk, Schmorg, Schmogie, Smoot, Smootaire certainly did.
The award became official when Farace, beaming with joy, concluded, “Born and raised on campus, there is no doubt he loves McDonogh like no other. A devoted father, son, grandfather, teacher, mentor, coach, colleague, friend, and now the first recipient of the W. Wright Abbot IV Master Teaching Chair, Rob Smoot does it all, and he does it with incredible passion, care, and joy. He epitomizes what it means to be part of the McDonogh Family, and those of us who have been part of his journey over the last 38 years have been better for it.”
Distinguished Teaching Chair Named in Honor of Susan Hillis Newton
A devoted, patient, and trusted teacher, advisor, colleague, and friend, Sue Newton was shocked and humbled by the announcement that the Distinguished Teaching Chair established by Cummings and Jenner would bear her name.
In making the announcement, Farace shared, “When you add it up, during her 21-year tenure at McDonogh, Sue has contributed to the development of thousands of students in countless ways.” He spoke about her many roles outside of the classroom and emphasized that her greatest contribution is the legacy of teaching excellence she has created inside math classrooms for decades. He described her dedication to her students and willingness to stay after school to help them long after the buses have gone.
“Sue’s devotion to her students and colleagues is unwavering,” Farace said. “She regularly ‘adopts’ students who need a special boost or extra attention beyond math. Over the years, her mentorship has been transformational.” He concluded, “An exceptional person and a steadfast supporter of the greater McDonogh community, it is most fitting that this Chair will be named the Susan Hillis Newton Distinguished Teaching Chair.”
The Chair will recognize new teachers with 10 or fewer years of experience. The first recipient will be named later this year.
Faculty Development Fund Named in Honor of John W. Wood III
John Wood has been described by some as a ‘revolutionary in a bowtie’ and there is a good reason why. In announcing that an endowed fund in support of professional development would be named for Wood, Farace said, “John is fiercely curious about everything, which is evident in his exhaustive research on nearly every topic; there is nothing that he overlooks. History is not a static field for John; it’s not just about learning and teaching dates and facts, it’s about interpreting, reasoning, synthesizing, understanding perspectives, and developing the core processes that help his students make sense of the world.”
Farace added, “He never misses an opportunity for professional development, and he often applies for grants that allow him to travel and deepen his learning.”
The namesake of the John W. Wood III Faculty Development Fund will also be the first to benefit from the generosity of Cummings and Jenner. Addressing the inventive teacher, Farace concluded, “John, we know you will use the funds in the coming year to feed your curiosity and further your pursuit of learning, which will benefit our students.”
Congratulations to all the honorees.