Brad Ryden – TGS Headmaster Fall 2020
As the headmaster search committee defined a portrait of the successful candidate—a leader combining vision and humility who loves children and is committed to Christian classical education—we increasingly wondered who could possibly meet our lofty criteria and also build on the extraordinary legacy and faithfulness of (retiring headmaster) Bob Ingram. After an exhaustive search of 165 candidates, one man clearly rose to the top of the list. In Brad Ryden, headmaster of Geneva School Boerne, we found a candidate through whom God answered our heartfelt prayers for a strong transition in leadership—a man who clearly distinguished himself from all other candidates and who won the hearts of every constituency within the school. He is an educator, a teacher, a leader, a strategist, and a team builder, and he accomplishes all of this with grace and humility. As his track record at his two previous schools demonstrates, Brad embodies the faith, intellect, and energetic joy that we pray will be increasingly evident in our community. It is therefore with confidence and profound gratitude that we announce his appointment to serve as head of school commencing in July 2020.
A former board chair at Geneva Boerne and serving chair of the Society for Classical Learning, Mrs. Leslie Moeller, wrote saying, “After working alongside Brad Ryden for well over a decade, I know that in him The Geneva School is getting a deeply thoughtful, gracious, and humble leader. Brad has a compelling talent for articulating the beauty of classical, Christian education. He is a remarkably strategic thinker who also ensures that strategic visions become reality in the day-to-day life of a school. He is adept at building great teams and then empowering and supporting them. As the parent of two sons who graduated from the high school that Brad built, I also know him as a compassionate educator who has a gift for nurturing a culture that shapes young men and women and captures their imaginations for Christ. He will be deeply missed in Boerne, Texas but I am confident that he will bring great blessings to Orlando.”
Brad currently serves at Geneva School of Boerne in Boerne, Texas where he has been a beloved headmaster for 14 years. Under his leadership, the school has grown, adding a rhetoric school to the existing grammar and logic schools and increasing enrollment from 256 students to over 700. Brad and his wife, Becky, have four children, three of whom are Geneva School of Boerne alumni. Eliot, their youngest daughter, will join them at The Geneva School as a 10th grader this fall. Please enjoy reading a little more about Brad and his family in the attached document.
With gratitude for all that God has done,
John Riley, Chairman of the Board on behalf of The Geneva School Board of Governors
What follows is a series of questions posed to Brad in order that we may get to know him.
Brad, you and some of the members of your family will be moving from Boerne, Texas, to Winter Park, Florida. Tell us about your family.
My wife, Becky, and I have been married for thirty-three years, and we have four children. Our oldest, Alex, graduated from Geneva School of Boerne in 2011, then graduated from the University of Texas’ Plan II program, and is now in his last year of medical school. He hopes to “match” with a residency in internal medicine in the spring. Our next oldest is our son Ethan who is completing his Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Texas this spring. Our third child, Audrey, is a sophomore at Texas A&M University where she is enrolled in A&M’s Department of Visualization. Our youngest is Eliot, and she will be joining us in Orlando. She is a freshman at Geneva School of Boerne.
Your personal story involves a fair amount of educational preparation. Tell us about that and how it all relates to your work as headmaster.
My father was trained as an electrical engineer, and I assumed I would follow in his footsteps until I took a freshman level course in psychology and became fascinated with the human brain. After graduating with a degree in psychology, I felt called to serve in some form of full-time ministry, so I pursued an MA in Biblical Studies as a foundation for ministerial work. I then pursued study and training as a counselor and earned an MA in Counseling. Upon completion of my formal education, I knew I wanted to work with children and families.
I took a job as a fifth grade teacher believing it would be temporary and allow me to establish a counseling practice. One year of teaching led to two, and then I was asked to take on administrative duties; I became the headmaster of grammar school at The Covenant School in Dallas. After a few years, I was asked to be the head of school. I took the same role when we moved from Dallas to Boerne, Texas, in 2006.
Looking back, I can see clearly how God was preparing me for my work in education. I believe my training in Bible and counseling combined with experiences from working as a summer camp counselor, a residential child care therapist, and elementary school teacher were preparation for the role of head of school. While much of my work now is with planning, budgeting, and communications, I am called upon from time to time to help students who are struggling or parents who need assistance with a child.
Your career path is exclusively one of educational leadership. Where and in what capacities have you served?
I consider my work as a summer camp counselor in East Texas during high school and college as an informal beginning to my training in educational leadership. During that work as well as work in a residential child care facility and in teaching fifth grade, I learned a lot about children—what interests and motivates them and how to inspire them to learn and do things beyond their comfort zone. When I was asked to become the headmaster of grammar school at Covenant, I had no clue as to what I was getting into, but my education, experiences, and training kicked in, and I realized that God had been preparing me for the role.
When I moved into the role of head of school at Covenant, I realized I needed to be mentored and was blessed to find godly, experienced men who could help and encourage me in that much bigger role. When my family and I moved from Dallas to Boerne, Texas, in 2006, I took on a position that afforded me even more responsibilities and duties than I had in Dallas. In Boerne, I have been challenged to operate the school completely on tuition revenue, to develop a high school (launched in the fall of 2007), and raise funds to build permanent structures. God has blessed us with $20 million raised over the last ten years.
You seem to delight in your students. Tell us how you form relationships with them and how they perceive you as headmaster.
My responsibilities related to fundraising and building projects over the last few years have kept me from being in the classroom on a regular basis. This year, I am back in the classroom and love the opportunity, even on a limited basis, of developing relationships with students. When I am teaching, I want my students to experience joy and wonder while being challenged to think deeply, ask questions, and work hard.
I hear again and again from students that once they get to know me, I am not the person they assumed I was. I recognize that I can come across as serious and solemn as I am often “in my head” thinking about school matters. However, my wife and children would tell you I am anything but solemn or serious at home. I try to allow myself the freedom to be myself within a role that can, at times, be very constricting. I do well when I heed my wife’s counsel to “smile more.”
Does it seem funny that you are moving from one Geneva to another? What did you previously know of Geneva Orlando, and were you friends with any of Geneva’s faculty and staff?
Yes, it is very funny to be moving from one school to another that shares a fairly unique name—Geneva. Also, I am intrigued by the fact that the first school I served, The Covenant School of Dallas, are the Knights while Geneva School of Boerne are the Eagles. I think I will find great comfort in once again being a Knight while also serving under the name of Geneva.
I have been blessed to know Bob Ingram for many years. I served on the board of the Society for Classical Learning with Bob and enjoyed fellowship with such a godly, wise, and mature man.
Can you tell us of your relationship to the broader movement of Christian classical education across the country? How were you involved in leadership there?
When I started at The Covenant School of Dallas in 1994, the Christian classical school movement was still fairly young. Early on, I made several trips to Moscow, Idaho, which felt to me like the epicenter of this newly restored approach to education. These trips as well as years of attending conferences by the Association of Classical and Christian Schools (ACCS) and the Society for Classical Learning (SCL) allowed me to connect with educators from around the country. I joined the board of SCL in 2012 and served for a time as the treasurer. It was a great group to work with and a real testament to the saying “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it.” Lately, I have been attending a few conferences outside the Christian classical movement. I have learned a lot of valuable information from the Council on Educational Standards and Accountability (CESA) on how to manage a larger school.
Every leader has a personal style with goals, themes, and ways of relating to staff members. What has been your style, and what elements of it will be particularly evident in your new work here?
I am most comfortable in leading from behind. I view my role as serving my direct reports and helping them thrive in their roles. In turn, my challenge to any school staff is to view our roles as serving the “rock stars” of a school—the teachers and coaches. Our job is to set them up for success: to make sure they have what they need in terms of resources; to guard and honor their time so that they can commit themselves to study and preparation and being in the lives of their students; and to foster a culture that values learning and hard work while recognizing that students need to be enticed and encouraged rather than driven into becoming exemplary scholars, artists, and athletes. This is why I love the TGS line: “Inspiring students to love beauty, think deeply, and pursue Christ’s calling.”
Given our Christian commitments, how did you come to faith? Can you summarize your core theological commitments? Where do you currently attend church, and what is the nature of your involvement there?
I grew up in a Christian home and came to a saving faith in Christ as a child. I think, like with many who become saved at an early age, the reality of salvation and the work of Christ on the cross did not become clear until later. For me, that began happening in middle school. While in high school, I was blessed with a youth pastor who more than made up for whatever he lacked in terms of theological knowledge with a clear love for students. He was always available to listen and love, even though he was married and had children. I believe this experience informed my conviction that the practice of our faith (orthopraxy) is perhaps as important as the substance of our faith (orthodoxy).
I was raised in a home that attended a nondenominational Bible church. During my first year of teaching in Dallas, I was intrigued by qualities shared by a number of families in the school. Becky and I visited a church attended by many of them, Park Cities Presbyterian Church, and were immediately convinced that we had found our church home. When we moved to Boerne, Texas, in 2006, we were pleased that a fellow Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) church was being planted in the city. We have been a part of Trinity Presbyterian Church since its formation. The church now has a permanent home, but for many years we met in a cafetorium. Through setting up and breaking down the sanctuary for many years, I developed lasting friendships. Becky has served on the worship team for most of that time.
Tell us a bit about yourself beyond your life at school. What are your interests, how do you spend free time, and what captures your imagination outside of the academic classroom?
My family and I love to be outdoors. We often vacation in the mountains and enjoy hiking. We are also a family of readers. We have an extensive library at home and at times seem to follow Erasmus who said, “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.” I believe that, like most people, I am captivated by well-written stories. We often read aloud, especially when we go on car trips. Our kids always wanted Becky to read aloud as she can give the characters their own voices.