Interview With Mr. Saburn


Kaileigh Strong (she/her), Writer

How do you feel you’ve adjusted to Bancroft?

That’s a good question! I don’t know, I think I’ve adjusted fine. I’ve enjoyed it. Kids are great, faculty and staff have been supportive and approachable. Students, in particular, have been friendly and welcoming. So yeah I feel good! I’ve enjoyed it.

I think people are happy that you’re here. We’ve had a lot of changes in faculty but you’re a nice friendly face. It’s a bit of a relief for a year. 

It’s funny that you say that. And I appreciate that. Yeah there’s been a lot of change and that’s hard no matter what age you are. When you’re in my shoes, you know, what worked someplace else might not work at the new place–


–I’ve done this a few times and for many years but there’s no guarantee it’s gonna work. 

We have such an established vibe and community here, sometimes people fit right in or they clash. 

Yeah, there’s gotta be the right match. It’s like applying to a school or college. I used to say when I was in college counseling. A student needs to be–

I didn’t know you did that!

–One of my many hats I’ve worn. A student needs to be challenged but not overwhelmed and a student should be comfortable but not complacent. But it’s true every school has its own culture. And you’re looking at college now, you feel it. 

Yeah definitely. You feel it. I agree. What other positions did you have before this?

I have taught history, I’ve taught English, I’ve been a dean of students, I’ve been an advisor, I’ve been a bus driver in boarding schools, I’ve coached all kinds of sports: football, baseball, softball, ski jumping. 

What’s your favorite sport that you’ve coached?

Football. I love coaching football. That’s the one sport I miss coaching. 

Who’s your team? Who’s your football team?

I’m a Pats fan! Not a Red Sox fan but I am a Pats fan. 

What’s your baseball team?

Baltimore Orioles.

My dad’s from New York so he’s a Yankees fan and my mom’s a Red Sox fan. 

Oh isn’t that fun. We have a divided house in my family. Anyways, I’ve done lots of things. I’ve been an interim head of a lower school, the interim head of an upper school, I’ve been a college counselor, yeah so I’ve done a lot of things in schools. 

Do you like being an interim head? Or do you find it sad that you only come in for a year? What are your thoughts on that?

Yeah, that’s a great question. It’s different. You know, I’ve been a head for 23 years combined at two different schools and I retired for a year. And honestly I was not looking to do this, but because I knew Bancroft from years ago I said I would talk to them. It’s a very different charge though, in terms of when you’re the one year head as opposed to the head that wants to be there for 7-10 years, you have a lot more runway to roll things out. In terms of this, I like it. It’s kinda funny. I was formally introduced to the middle school yesterday and said this is who I am. Last Thursday you found out who will follow me. I’ll be gone in 8 months. So it’s weird. What you wanna do is stabilize things, address the major things, you really don’t have a role in the search for your successor. You wouldn’t normally, whether you’re interim or full time. Yeah it’s different. I don’t know if I would do it again. I would only do it again in this situation where it was a school I knew or a mission I know was important, meaning the school’s mission. It’s hard, it’s a lot of work.

Is it a lot of pressure? 

It is a lot of pressure, but not nearly as much as when you’re trying to be the long term head. 

I get that. 

You have a little more, well, leeway isn’t the right word. 

I mean, you are responsible for the kids here now. For example, I will graduate with your signature on my diploma. So that’s your impact on me personally and my grade. It’s interesting to me. Last year’s seniors graduated under Mr. Cassidy and we’re gonna graduate with you as our head of school. 

And, you know, the seniors as a group, you’ve had so many changes in terms of divisional leadership too. 

Definitely. I think my grade has had a lot of change that has been hard. 

And change is hard. You go through loss, and you go through all those emotions. But anyway, to answer your question, it’s a different job than my last job. I was head for 16 years. It’s interesting. Last year I was with friends in Rhode Island around a fire pit and I was saying I became a head of school in 1998. In the New York, New Jersey, Metropolitan Area. In 2001, 9/11 occurred. So that was the beginning of my career. 

That’s hard. 

Then the 2008 financial collapse. And my last year was 2021 which was the year we “came out of covid.” So my career was bracketed by 9/11 and covid. 

That’s really interesting. Two major events of tragedy. 

Yeah, globally. And to be a leader in those situations there’s no playbook. Nobody had been through something like 9/11 as a head of school or as a school. And nobody had been through covid. 

It’s a really crazy parallel. 

Yeah, yeah so that’s why I have white hair. 

So do you think being the head of school during “the last year of covid” gives you any motivation? Does it keep you going? Do you want to give a good experience to the kids who have gone through it?

That’s a good question. I think there were a lot of lessons learned. 

It was definitely really hard but I think that the lessons we learned are something we can take from it. It just sucks how it had to happen. 

I totally agree. And when so many people were sick a few weeks ago, I was like “Oh my lord.” I really want your class, for example, to have as near normal a year as you could possibly have in this day and age with all the pressure that’s on kids today. It’s a lot. 

And with that many people missing from school, when we have a school of this size, the dynamic changes. When you think of that in terms of faculty and when so many people have left. So many changes. It’s not bad now but we’re just getting used to the new Bancroft. It’s just interesting. 

And I’ve been thinking about this. In this “new normal” when you work in schools you develop a community over time. I was retired last year so I wasn’t around kids. My last year we were behind masks and we had plexiglass at every desk. And I taught an 8th grade class where students had to read aloud. They were behind plexiglass, with masks trying to read aloud. Anyway, the three months prior to that, nobody had their normal school community. You can’t go through those types of things as a leader and not have it impact you. I mean in 9/11 and the aftermath of that, the counseling role you had to play as the leader of the school. There’s a term I learned in graduate school. My advisor used to use it. He said, “When you’re in a leadership role in schools, there’s the burden of presumed competence.” People expect you to know the answer because you’re Tim Saburn, Head of School.

But you’re really just a person.

I have literally had faculty and parents ask me during that covid year when the vaccine would be developed. The leading health experts in the world don’t know. And they would legitimately ask me that. 

Because you’re in charge of their kids. It’s crazy how it changes your character when you go through so much like that. As a parent and as a leader.

Again, there was no rulebook. I hate to say it but we were all just guessing. 

So, I imagine since you came into this knowing it was a one-year thing, you never considered applying for the full time position. 

No, no I didn’t. And usually when a school has an interim head, they make it pretty clear that you’re not gonna be a candidate. What could happen is the school has somebody as an interim that people like and then they give the person a 5 year contract. But yeah, the answer is no. That wasn’t what my wife and I planned on. And I’m not the right person to take the school to the next level. 

It was confusing to me because Mr. Taylor was given the position of interim head and then he was hired for the full time position. So I thought that was always the case. 

Well that was a bit of a different situation. It was mid year so they didn’t have the time to search for someone new. I have seen somebody brought in as an interim and that converts to the full time appointment. It’s not usual. But I’m thinking that through, that’s a good question. 

I just had never seen anything like this, obviously, so I thought that was how it always went. 

Ms. Allen is the interim head of the lower school. And I’ve asked her twice if she wants to stay long term. And she was like “No this is what I agreed to.” Same thing. But you know where I have seen it as a head of school, and, similar to Mr. Taylor; if it was an internal appointment because something happened at a late date or mid-year. They’ll appoint an interim, somebody in-house, who knows the school, knows the operation. Then they do a search and they say the person who should be running this school is the interim. And I could bore you to tears with all that because there’s an argument about if you do a search and the interim is in the search and then they’re chosen.

Then there’s a bias.


I get it. It’s definitely not very easy. There’s no simple way to do it. 

The whole head search is a whole different animal. For both the school and the candidates. The candidates are looking at you, meaning the school, and the schools are looking at the candidates. And I withdrew from a head of school search many years ago–

It’s the same as applying to college. They are looking at you just as much as you’re looking at them. 

–Correct! And I was like “This is not what I thought it was.”

I think the only thing we didn’t cover was is there anything you miss from your old places of work?

That’s a good question!

Oh my gosh thank you I came up with all of these myself. 

No, that’s a really good question! Uh, yeah. 

That’s why I asked!

Each place is different. So this is what you need to know about me. I worked at a boarding school in Vermont and then I worked in two day schools in New Jersey. I was Mr. Taylor. I was the head of upper school and I also was a head of school. Those schools were secular schools so there was no religious affiliation. The school I retired from was an independent Catholic school. So there was that faith-based piece to it. And one of the things I do miss is–my office was in an old mansion. At the end of the hall was a chapel. When I had to make really tough decisions, or when I was feeling really sorry for myself I would walk down to the end of the hall and have a moment of quiet. And in a job like this, not that you couldn’t find it here on campus in a different way perhaps, particularly with the beauty of the campus, but I think people would look at you a little oddly if the head of school was just sitting up in the tree quietly meditating. 

Having a place to go. I understand.

And it’s safe. Honestly, it was a safe space. And I’d go in there and sometimes there’d be a student in there. Sometimes there’d be a member of campus enhancement. It was a space to kinda just go. So I do miss that. Other than that I miss pork roll. It’s a New Jersey thing. You could do a whole article on this. This is a big deal in New Jersey. Some people call it pork roll. I’m a pork roll person. And some people call it Taylor ham. I swear to god this is a huge controversy. And you can’t really get it outside of New Jersey. So I miss pork roll. 

I respect that. 

Other than that, you know, there’s friends that I miss. 

Of course. Always.

Honestly I’ve told this story a million times. The feel that I got from Bancroft back in the 90s when I was here for a professional development thing, it’s similar. You know, being able to hear the kids walking by, and recess. 

Yeah I think that’s something Bancroft does really well. It preserves the spirit. 

It does. And I think we need to do a better job of telling our story. There’s great things going on in the classroom and amongst kids. Seniors walking one way and pre-k walking the other way.

That is something we lost during covid. Because the divisions couldn’t be together. But now we’re getting back into that. 

It’s a very special part about this place. 

It’s something you can’t get at just a high school. 

I will say this. So I grew up in New England and started my career in New England. It’s really nice to be back in New England. 

New England is a great place, especially during the fall. 

Exactly exactly. I’m very happy here and I think it’s been a good move for me and for the school. Now there’s a new head coming. And I had nothing to do with that. Which is the right way to do things. I mean that’s sort of a relief. To be honest with you I said to my wife, “What if they don’t get anyone?” and not if they don’t get anyone but what if there’s no fit. It goes back to that whole thing of fit. 

Yeah. Well that’s all I have. Thank you. We’re happy to have you. Thank you for your honest answers. I really appreciate it. 

Thanks for asking me!