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Welcome Greg Bamford

CWA welcomes the first Associate Head of School for his extensive knowledge and vision, rooted in education

By Joanna Manning

As a teenager, Greg Bamford could not have known that a conversation with his ninth-grade English teacher would steer him toward a life in education. Mr. Bamford can recall everything about the scene in his parents’ kitchen as he talked with his teacher on the phone, working through an essay line by line.

“That just blew my mind, the idea that a teacher would be available

in that way,” he said. “It had never occurred to me that you could have that.” Every now and then their conversation would be interrupted by the click of call waiting, and Mr. Bamford soon realized that his teacher was spending his evening helping other students as well. That was the moment that he realized the power of relationships in education.

“This is what education can be,” he said. “It can be these series of conversations between kids and the adults in their lives who care about them, where they’re getting the guidance and support they need. Until that moment, I had never considered going into education, but after my experience at Overlake, it was always in my mind that this would be a way that I would want to spend my life.”

Now the first Associate Head of School for Strategy and Innovation at CWA, Mr. Bamford has come to this position via a somewhat circuitous path, albeit one that was always rooted in teaching and learning. As a student at Georgetown University, the Jesuit philosophy inspired him to enter a period of service following graduation. He joined the Catholic Charities Volunteer Corps in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he met his wife Shannon, and committed himself

to discovering how he could be of service to the world.

This process of discovery led him to answer the call to teach, first at the Hawken School in Ohio, and then later at his alma mater Overlake, where he taught English and history, coached lacrosse, chaired the English department, and served as the service learning coordinator.

In the midst of this rigorous schedule, he earned an Ed.M. in educational leadership from Columbia in 2007.

After eight years at Overlake, Mr. Bamford became curious to see what other models of education were in practice and began visiting different types of schools and studying educational trends. He developed an interest in design thinking, a teaching methodology first incubated at Stanford University. It teaches students to think through problems as designers, with an emphasis on empathizing with user needs, prototyping, and testing.

His research led him to establish Leadership + Design, a nonprofit that works with teachers, boards, and school leadership teams to help them imagine their future through a design lens. Though his work with Leadership + Design was making measurable impacts in schools, Mr. Bamford began to miss working directly with students and being part of a school community. Four years after founding the organization, he departed to take a head of school position at the Watershed School in Boulder, Colorado.  

The Watershed School was, upon Mr. Bamford’s arrival in 2014, a young organization in the thick of substantial growing pains. It was not fiscally sound, not accredited, and did not have an operating surplus. Nevertheless, he describes it as a special place that was focused on building community, teaching character, and teaching students how to solve real-world problems.

“My focus [at Watershed] was on taking something very innovative and helping it connect with its market, helping parents understand the value of it, and making sure we were planning sustainably for the future,” he said.

Under Mr. Bamford’s leadership, enrollment increased by 82%. The school built its cash reserves, hired additional math and art faculty, and earned accreditation. For the first time, the school was able to think long-term about its future, and Mr. Bamford felt comfortable passing on the mantle of leadership. He was ready to apply what he had learned at Watershed to a new school. When an opportunity at Charles Wright opened, his family jumped at the chance to return to the Pacific Northwest.

“I was interested in how we could take some of the lessons of a smaller, younger school like Watershed and translate them with the benefit of a really established, well-rounded program like Charles Wright,” he said.

Charles Wright is now the lucky beneficiary of Mr. Bamford’s extensive knowledge and experience. He has hit the ground running this year and is spearheading, at last count, 22 new initiatives.

“Greg knows schools,” said Middle School Head Diane Hunt. “He has seen so many models of good schools, and has so many connections with school leaders, that if there’s anything we want to explore, Greg has seen it in action, succeeding. And he has a resource to check in with.”

One exciting new initiative he has brought to campus is the “Portrait of a Graduate,” which asks school leadership to think about what types of enduring skills students will need to succeed in the conceptual age— skills such as curiosity, risk-taking, resilience, and problem-solving. Once those skills have been identified, the school can plan strategically around those goals.

More than simply being current in educational trends, however,

Mr. Bamford is a devoted “process guy” who seeks to engage with and understand multiple perspectives on any problem he is working through.

Lower School Head Nick Zosel-Johnson said, “he really understands how to collect all key stakeholders before making a decision, and he’s committed to getting to know any group of people he’s working with in order to understand their needs.” To that end, Mr. Bamford has implemented a three-year plan to immerse himself in every grade for one full day, aligning with the design-thinking methodology of empathizing with user needs. He kicked off this project with a visit to the junior kindergarten class earlier this year.

“He participated fully with junior kindergarten,” Mr. Zosel-Johnson explained with a slight smile, “including recess, sitting in the log cabin playing with the kids. They were ordering milkshakes and hamburgers—that kind of thing—and he was assisting.”

Though he’s only been on the job for several months, his colleagues are energized by his insights and his ability to synthesize ideas. Head of School Matt Culberson appreciates how Mr. Bamford’s skill set rounds out the leadership team. “He’s a big thinker and a visionary,” Mr. Culberson noted. “He can see out quite some distance. His ability to carry conversations and ideas, to sustain that thread of thinking and intent is quite impressive.”

When Mr. Bamford is not at school, he and his family can be found riding bikes along Five-Mile Drive in Point Defiance or, in nicer weather, kayaking in Commencement Bay. The spirit of play he brought to his junior kindergarten visit is alive and well in his own family, too. They enjoy Dorky’s Arcade and the fun, funky vibe of Tacoma’s 6th Avenue.

“Tacoma felt like a hidden gem,” he said. “We felt really lucky to be able to come back.” //

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