On May 3, WT Board President Jennifer Gonzalez McComb '89 presented The Gary J. Niels Chair for City as Our Campus at a Leadership Dinner honoring and thanking Niels for his 16 years of service as Head of School. The first endowed chair at Winchester Thurston, it was established with nearly $1.3 million in contributions.
The endowed chair honors Niels's service and leadership, recognizing that he was the longest tenured Head of Winchester Thurston School other than its two founders, Alice Maud Thurston and Mary A. Graham Mitchell. The Gary J. Niels Chair for City as Our Campus will be held by the Director of City as Our Campus at Winchester Thurston.
Niels's far-reaching legacy at Winchester Thurston includes many accomplishments, such as the transformation of our campuses, many years of record enrollment, enhancement and growth of important programs for students and faculty, and remarkable advances in philanthropy. But as they considered how they wanted to officially thank Niels, the Board of Trustees determined that the most significant and lasting impact of his Headship is the development of WT's signature innovation, City as Our Campus.
Once a nascent idea embedded in a strategic plan, today City as Our Campus is the defining identity of Winchester Thurston; it is the way in which students and faculty live the mission of "active engagement." It is the way that rigor and relevance are married in a dynamic educational program that not only expands each student's intellect, but also imbues him or her with important values. It is the locus of opportunity, of civic engagement, of research, of invention, and of problem solving.
Moreover, through his wise guidance and leadership, Gary has positioned WT in the national spotlight as an example of progressive education for our 21st century students, and placed us in the company of some of the most highly regarded independent schools in the U.S. Winchester Thurston was the first school in the nation to receive both the Malone Family Foundation Malone Scholars grant and the Edward E. Ford Foundation Leadership Grant, and held that accolade for six years. Today, City as Our Campus serves as a model for other schools, and has been celebrated and promoted by the National Association of Independent Schools as an example of innovation that set it apart from other institutions. The program has attracted more than $4 million in philanthropic support, and is named by WT parents as a key differentiator in the educational experience offered to WT students.
"This endowed chair indicates the extraordinary esteem in which we hold Gary, not only as a leader who has brought our school to an unprecedented level of success, but also as an educator with absolute dedication to students and teachers, who has acted always with the school's Mission and credo at the center of every decision," said McComb. "Endowing the City as Our Campus chair in Gary's name is the highest honor we can bestow, as it will ensure we recognize his leadership and legacy in perpetuity."
Along with the endowed chair, the Board also unveiled A Celebration of City as Our Campus, an interactive digital installation that will showcase the history, projects, and impact of real-world learning at WT, as well as thank Niels for his leadership.