50 Years Of Visionary Leadership

Chancellor Stephen Spahn’s 2018 Milestone Anniversary

On this very special occasion, ‘50 years in the making!’, we pay tribute to the man who has been at the helm of our school and community for a record-breaking five decades. Chancellor Stephen Spahn is distinguished as the longest-serving head of an independent school in the United States; perhaps the longest-serving head of any school anywhere!

It is impossible to capture here the breadth and depth of Chancellor Spahn’s contributions to the world of education nor to the thousands of students he inspired and whose lives he has impacted. We can share some history and early influences, ground-breaking firsts, and enduring beliefs that characterize Chancellor Spahn’s tenure and compel him forward continuously as he envisions the future of education at Dwight for new generations of students to come.

Early Role Models at Home

Spearheading a school runs in the Spahn family. For a quarter-century, Chancellor Spahn’s father, Dr. M.C. Spahn, served as Headmaster of the Franklin School, which later became the Anglo-American International School and ultimately joined forces with Dwight in 1993.

Under Dr. Spahn’s leadership from 1950-75, Franklin flourished in the post-World War II era and moved into the future by welcoming girls and expanding facilities. He had arrived a few years prior in 1946, to teach math and brought his son to school every day to attend kindergarten. As a child and later as a young man, Stephen Spahn observed his father at work, ultimately joining him on campus from 1966-68 to work in college guidance and teach philosophy and economics.

Stephen Spahn learned many lessons from his father, foremost among them that with will, anything is possible; and to always maximize students’ strengths.

Serving equally as an early role model was Stephen Spahn’s mother, Ruth, who stressed the fundamental message to her children that when you fall — literally and figuratively — always get up no matter how difficult it may be. Combining the fundamentals learned from his parents, a teenage Stephen Spahn, whose passion was basketball, focused on his strength, shooting, and never gave up, becoming one of the best all-time shooters in the Ivy League.


Mentors Abroad

While studying at Wadham College, the Warden, Maurice Bowra, introduced Stephen Spahn to the Head of Educational Studies, Alec Peterson, who was instrumental in creating the International Baccalaureate and served as its first Director-General. Stephen Spahn credits both men as mentors and Alec Peterson especially for expanding his own perspective. At that time, the world was becoming more globalized and Alec Peterson characterized what constituted being a well-educated person in the new era:

“If relocated anywhere in the world, he or she will not only be able to survive, but also thrive and prosper.”

This underscores the early, yet enduring, value of the IB in preparing students to be global leaders. Stephen Spahn, who had been shaped by experiences working abroad during his college years, championed the IB and its emphasis on international-mindedness, ultimately serving on the Board of Governors and as a founding member of the Guild of IB Schools of the Northeast. He also saw the need to cross borders decades ahead of other educators at home. In 1972, together with Sir Maurice, he launched Dwight School London, making Dwight the first independent school in the U.S. to establish a campus abroad.


Assuming the Mantle and Ingraining Our Spark of Genius Philosophy

When Stephen Spahn first became a young Headmaster in 1967-68, he codified his father’s belief that when you maximize a student’s strength in one arena, you open the door to learning in all others, which is the cornerstone of Dwight’s signature spark of genius educational philosophy.


“I believe that every student, every human being, has a spark of genius. Every student has something at which he or she excels or can excel, and it is our job as educators to inspire young people to find and pursue that passion. If you believe in someone deeply, so can that person believe in him/herself,” asserts Chancellor Spahn. “I knew that I had the spark of genius in me, and my passion was to help students discover their own sparks. It remains my mission to this day.”

There are so many stories – thousands of success stories of Dwight graduates from the last half-century who have made or are making their marks on the world in every field imaginable, engendering pride in the Chancellor and their alma mater. So many credit him as a mentor and for seeing something unique in them before they could see it themselves — foreseeing a career or path travelled as adults.

Over the years, Stephen Spahn cultivated generations of teachers and supported their unique sparks of genius as well; only inspired faculty can do the same for students. Indeed, Dwight’s entire community is dedicated to supporting our spark of genius approach, nurturing happy, confident, and successful contributors to society.

Leading the Way Around the World and into the Future


From a small boy’s school, a global network of five Dwight campuses would ultimately emerge, along with our campus in the cloud, Dwight Global Online School. In charting the course for Dwight, Stephen Spahn, together with outstanding administrators, faculty, and staff, broke new ground in international education, and continue to do so, providing students around the world with unprecedented learning opportunities.

“I am passionate about what I do,” shares Stephen Spahn. “The two primary sources of inspiration for me come from our guiding spark of genius philosophy and being on the frontier and innovating. I enjoy pushing the school forward and testing new ground. As those who know me know well that I have a hard time living in the present, as I’m always thinking about what’s next! I thrive in what the future holds and in bringing the best minds together to make possible now what we can envision our students will need to succeed tomorrow.”

Indeed, those who know Stephen Spahn, including all of us at Dwight, can attest that his lifetime commitment begins and ends with students. They lie at the heart and soul of everything he does. He is tireless in his dedication, takes pride in their accomplishments, and is passionate about their passions.

Truly embodying the word “visionary” in all that entails, Stephen Spahn can oft be heard beginning a sentence exuberantly with one word: “Imagine …”