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The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

The Student News Site of Menlo School

The Coat of Arms

Healy Celebrates 10 Years at Menlo

Pete Zivkov
Healy addresses the crowd at the 2016 Holiday Assembly. Photo courtesy of Pete Zivkov on Menlo Flickr

“The first word that comes to my mind regarding my time here is ‘joyful.’ The second word that comes to mind is ‘busy.’”

This previous summer marks ten years since Than Healy began his tenure as Menlo’s Head of School. Throughout his decade at the institution, Healy has overseen a major schedule change, initiated the MTerm, Borderlands and Menlo Abroad programs, while also navigating the tumult of a global pandemic. Despite doubts he possesses about the implications of new education factors such as artificial intelligence, Healy still has faith in the resilience of the school’s community to overcome future challenges. 


Menlo’s Purpose as an Institution Under Healy’s Leadership


Since the very beginning of his tenure as head of school, Healy has emphasized the need for teaching ethicality as a core focus of Menlo as an institution. 

While part of Menlo’s mission as a college preparatory school is to prepare students for their next four years, Healy believes that the years of life after college are more relevant. “They’re going to make a positive impact, which means that they have to have the tools and the ethical foundation and the resilience and the grit and the stamina,” he said.

Alumni feedback discussed shortcomings in Menlo’s fulfillment of its mission statement. This was a contributing factor in the creation of the MTerm program, a two-week hands-on community engagement seminar, which Healy believes provides an essential experience of immersion in local communities for students.

Furthermore, upon hearing students refer to the Menlo environment as “a nice bubble,” Healy set upon establishing programs like Menlo Abroad — and later, during the pandemic, Borderlands —  for students to expand their horizons. “The real value of this program is that it teaches perspective and humility better than anything else we do,” he said in regards to the Borderlands initiative.

In Healy’s view, the MTerm programs have provided students with many opportunities to step out of their comfort zones and learn about various prevalent issues in both the world and the Menlo community. 

However, these programs were abruptly halted as Healy’s most arduous challenge arrived. 


Menlo’s Perseverance During the Pandemic 


When the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020 and the school was forced to shut down in March of that year, Healy had a plethora of doubts and uncertainties. 

According to Healy, there’s often a roadmap set by other leaders which he can follow to help him navigate difficult times. During the pandemic, however, there was no map at all. “We were all feeling our way in the dark.”

As a result, he often questioned his own decisions. “I just had constant doubts,” Healy said. One observation he made early on in the pandemic was that there was no solution to satisfy everyone in the Menlo community. “Different people needed different things,” he said.

Nevertheless, Healy’s faith in the school trumped his skepticisms. “Everybody rallied,” he said. “The students rallied, the teachers rallied, the coaches rallied, the parents rallied.”

“That was not the story of every school,” Healy added. “This place just decided that we were going to be successful and everybody [was] going to play their part.”

Healy also credited the school’s ability to weather the pandemic to Menlo’s endowment and the willingness of others — such as CFO Bill Silver — to “spend against the pandemic” and maintain the student experience. 


Menlo’s Excellent Faculty


In addition to prioritizing providing the best possible experiences for Menlo students, the pandemic reemphasized to Healy the importance of the school’s faculty. “[Teachers’ importance] was on even clearer display as faculty members reinvented themselves no fewer than 5 times in 18 months – a spectacular display of pedagogical capacity and deep commitment to our students,” Healy said.

Back when he started in 2013, Healy oversaw a change in the evaluation of Menlo’s teachers. Teachers are now evaluated periodically — in their second year at the school, in their fourth year and every four years after that — with the assumption that no significant concerns arise. “100% of the time [the evaluations] include areas of strength, and 100% of the time they include areas for growth,” Healy said during his annual State of the School address in May 2023. 

The high pedagogical quality in Menlo’s teachers enabled the administration to implement a faculty salary higher than any other school in the Bay Area, Healy added.


Looking to the Future


When looking to the future, Healy’s main concern lies in the emergence of artificial intelligence. Generative AI programs specifically, have become more prevalent in education since the launch of ChatGPT in November 2022.

In Healy’s opinion, the potential perils of an AI-focused society present a worthwhile challenge for Menlo’s learners: to avoid the crutch of access to immediate solutions and embrace the process of learning and making mistakes along the way. “You have to skin your knee before you can develop resilience,” Healy said. “Nobody becomes more resilient when everything works out for them.” 

Healy believes that Menlo still needs to improve in this area. “We’ve really insulated [generation Z], from bumps as much as possible, in part because the consequences feel so high if you ‘fail’,” he said. 

Part of this issue, in Healy’s eyes, is the competitive nature of the school and students’ grade-centered mindset. “I think a lot of students walk around feeling like ‘straight A’s are the only acceptable option for me. And on top of that, I’ve got to be perfect in this other factor. [I’ve got to] be an Olympic level athlete and I’ve got to be like, a Julliard caliber musician’,” Healy said. “That’s absurd.”

He vehemently said that perfectionistic pressures detract from students’ growth as people. “What a stupid thing to tell an adolescent that’s trying to figure out which end is up, and what’s for lunch and how to be an adult,” Healy said. “And yet society is sending lots of messages that ‘if you don’t do all this, your life will be over’.” 

“It’s [about] supporting the development of resilience, the very resilience that we need for a more disrupted, divisive, challenging world,” he added. 

Despite the challenges ahead and Healy’s worries about the constant pressure placed on students’ shoulders, he’s optimistic about his time to come at Menlo, especially given his experiences in his first decade serving the school.

“There’s a lot of headwinds that we’ve got to get through, and I have faith that this community is going to get through [them] together.”

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About the Contributor
Lucas Kawamoto
Lucas Kawamoto, Assistant A&L Editor

Number of years in The Coat of Arms: 2

Favorite aspect of journalism: Writing features!

Interests outside of school: Swimming, entrepreneurship, creative writing, watching tv and basketball.

Class of 2026

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