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Maret Welcomes Dennis Bisgaard

Maret celebrated the installation of its tenth head of school, Dennis Bisgaard, at an all-school assembly on Tuesday, November 7, 2023.

President of the Maret Board of Trustees Leigh Comas captured the buzz in the room as the ceremony got underway: “In a mere 129 days, Dennis has become part of the fabric of our school. He has embraced our community and our community in turn has welcomed him with open arms. So it's no surprise that the joy and excitement in this room is palpable.” 

The historic moment in the school’s more than century-long history was marked with heartfelt speeches, thoughtful gifts, joyful song, and plenty of laughter. Members of the community were eager to officially welcome Mr. Bisgaard to Maret. 

Emilie Allen ’27 and Neve Ayvazian ’27 shared reflections on their initial worry over the changes Mr. Bisgaard might bring and their positive first impressions of him in September. Expressing their confidence in him, they issued an invitation drawn from Maya Angelou’s poem, “On the Pulse of Morning”: “The horizon leans forward offering you space to place new steps of change.” 

Also drawing on imagery of the journey ahead, middle school humanities teacher Lesley Younge, welcomed Mr. Bisgaard’s leadership “as we chart new paths together, honor our core values, and nurture our students into their bright futures.” Members of the Head of School Transition Committee then presented Mr. Bisgaard with a letter tray, ornately carved with lily pad handles and a frog peering over the edge. The tray was handcrafted by former faculty member Bob Ferguson using wood from one of the original oaks that stood on Maret’s front lawn.

Kindergartener and choirs singing Home

Kindergarten, the 5th and 6th Grade Chorus, and the Upper School Choir perform "Home."

It wasn’t long before the enthusiasm of the assembled students, faculty, trustees, and invited guests spilled over. The cross-divisional performance of “Home,” made popular by Phillip Phillips, brought the crowd to its feet. MPA President Ana Greenstein P ’28, ’31 and Alumni Council President Ron Allen ’06 kept the energy high with a shout-out to Mr. Bisgaard’s family and the gift of a concrete garden frog for the newest member of the pond. Even more cheers went up when middle schoolers gave Mr. Bisgaard jerseys from each of the four Houses — Cleveland, Klingle, Woodley, and Garfield — and when leaders of the upper school student council presented him with a Maret sports jersey to help him “rock his Maret spirit on the inside and out.”

With a career in education spanning four countries, nine other schools, and five previous headships, Mr. Bisgaard’s years of experience as a teacher, coach, and administrator “are invaluable” remarked Sylvia Davis White, vice president of the Board and chair of the search committee. “I feel confident that we are putting both our students and our faculty in very capable hands. How lucky are we?”

Very lucky, indeed. Three special guests spoke to Mr. Bisgaard’s educational leadership prior to Maret—Bobby Edwards from McLean School, Meg Goldner Rabinowitz from Georgetown Day School, and Felicia Wilks from The Spence School. Woven through all of their remarks were powerful themes of empathy, kindness, respect, integrity, and scholarship—underscoring the values that Mr. Bisgaard and Maret share.

Bobby Edwards, Felicia Wilks, and Meg Goldner Rabinowitz on stage

Guest Speakers Bobby Edwards (McLean School), Felicia Wilks (The Spence School), and Meg Goldner Rabinowitz (Georgetown Day School)

Ms. Wilks, head of school at Spence and a former student of Mr. Bisgaard, traced the power of his influence back to his days as her English teacher:

He asked us to share who we were and what we thought with each other honestly and respectfully. He taught us to be close critical readers and analytical thinkers… He taught us to bring compassion, humility, and empathy to our interpretation of the characters and stories we read. He taught us that people and their stories were complex and worth being curious about. In all he did and said and all he was, he taught us to be thoughtful and generous and not to judge characters or people too quickly or too harshly…

Mr. Bisgaard has taught hundreds of students and has led thousands of students and teachers and staff at the schools where he has worked before coming to Maret…Mr. Bisgaard's positive influence will continue to touch the lives of people he will never meet and that is awesome, but I can tell you what's more awesome than that, and that's having Mr. Bisgaard in your own community.

When it was time for Mr. Bisgaard to speak, he observed, “Maret is a community of individuals who go out of their way to hold doors open for one another.” He went on to say: 

I believe that simple but meaningful daily gesture just might be a symbol for what kind of community we want to be or become even more fully—one in which doors are held open to new learning, to new ideas, to new experiences, one in which doors are held open to embracing others' unique identities…a place where doors are being held open for others to enter a space of not knowing, of grace and patience, and of forgiveness. 

Dennis at podium with gold and black Maret banner behind him

Dennis Bisgaard

He pledged that he and the faculty would continue to create the best possible journey for Maret students — “a journey that will help students embrace and find joy in deep scholarship, in lifelong learning, in the arts, in athletics, and in cultural and global competency.” Acknowledging the complexities of daily life and the serious side of school that can bring stress and anxiety, he emphasized the need to promote joy, laughter, friendship, and community. To that end, he urged working together:

There's an African tradition of teamwork and collaboration. It's called Ubuntu. The philosophy behind Ubuntu is that we are human only through our connections with others, and the saying goes, “I am because we are.” Our core values are respect and integrity, excellence and creativity, the individual and connectedness, and joy. Let's fully embrace connectedness and joy. Let's embrace our own kind of Ubuntu. 

Drawing to a close, Mr. Bisgaard said, “You all know me as Mr. Bisgaard. Bisgaard in Danish is actually pronounced 'Bisgaard.' I'm fine and good with Bisgaard, but if you ever want to remember the other pronunciation, it almost rhymes with Peace Corps, whose mantra is ‘Ready to go the distance to make a difference.’ I like that. The rhyme and the mantra work for me.”

Based on the enthusiasm in the crowd today, the Maret community is ready to go the distance with you, Mr. Bisgaard!

Watch a recording of the installation on Vimeo.