In June 2020, Dr. Autumn A. Graves will be leaving her position as Head of School to become Head of School at St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville, VA. Dr. Kirk Walker will serve GPS as the 2020-21 interim Head as the GPS Board of Trustees conducts a nationwide search for the school’s next leader.
In her resignation letter to the Board of Trustees on October 28, 2019, Dr. Graves shared the following: “My time at GPS has been marked by professional and personal growth. The girls have inspired me to be my best self, and I have loved working on their behalf with the teachers, staff, coaches, alumnae, parents, and trustees. I am deeply proud of my colleagues who have enhanced the school’s value to girls of the Chattanooga region.” Dr. Graves noted that the leadership opportunity at St. Anne’s-Belfield School will take her back to her Virginia roots and enable her young children to have both of their parents in their daily lives. Graves’ husband, Vann, is currently the Executive Director of Brandcenter, a master’s program in advertising, business, and marketing at Virginia Commonwealth University. St. Anne's-Belfield School is a coeducational, independent boarding and day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. The school is located near the campus of the University of Virginia, from which Graves received her undergraduate degree.

Dr. Rebecca Stimson ’73, Chair of the GPS Board of Trustees, said in a letter to parents, alumnae, and friends, “Dr. Graves has been an outstanding leader for GPS, modeling the pioneering spirit of our Founders. She is a creative and tireless leader who has brought fresh ideas, great energy, and talent to the halls of GPS. She will be remembered for her commitment to continued excellence and for initiating new traditions and additions to the GPS campus.” “Autumn is committed to working actively in the next eight months to ensure a healthy transition to new leadership … We look forward to an exciting new chapter in GPS’s 113-year history," she added.
 
Dr. Kirk Walker, retired Headmaster of McCallie School, former GPS trustee, and past GPS parent, will serve as interim Head of School for the 2020-21 school year. Most recently, Dr. Walker served as President of the Southern Association of Independent Schools. “We expect our interim year under Dr. Walker’s leadership to be one of continued progress in the important work of preparing girls for the 21st century,” said Stimson. “The Board of Trustees will immediately form a search committee for a new Head of School and, due to GPS’s national reputation as a top school for girls, expects to attract a large pool of highly qualified candidates.”

Interim Head for 2020-21

Dr. Kirk Walker
Dr. Kirk Walker, retired Headmaster of McCallie School, former GPS trustee, and past GPS parent, will serve as interim Head of School for the 2020-21 school year. Most recently, Dr. Walker served as President of the Southern Association of Independent Schools.

Head of School Search Communications

List of 5 items.

  • Letter from Head of School Search Chairs | August 4, 2020

    Dear GPS community:
     
    We have always known that during a crisis the GPS community comes together like no other, and this spring and summer we have witnessed once again the passion, resilience, and perseverance of our students, parents, employees, and alumnae, both as we continue to navigate the challenges precipitated by COVID and as we engaged in difficult conversations about the experiences of Black students and alumnae at GPS. As always, our community has demonstrated deep empathy, vulnerability, and a commitment to action.
     
    As we begin to look ahead to the new school year, we wanted to offer a brief update on the Head of School search, which continues to be on schedule. We anticipate making an appointment at some point in the first semester of the new school year. Our consultants from Carney, Sandoe & Associates have spent the spring and summer recruiting and interviewing candidates. Interest in the head of school  position has been strong, and candidates bring a diversity of work experiences and expertise. The consultants have spoken to a number of potential candidates with ties to Girls Preparatory School and/or Chattanooga as well as candidates with no previous ties to GPS who are attracted both to the school’s mission and to the city.
     
    The Search Committee is now also getting to know the top candidates through their written materials and multiple interviews as we prepare to narrow the pool to a small number of candidates for final consideration in the fall. We are excited about the talents, energy, and deep well of experience these candidates bring! 
     
    Even as we continue to narrow the pool, we remain open to additional candidates who may emerge later in this process. Please do not hesitate to send nominations directly to our consultants (marguerite.lloyd@carneysandoe.combarbara.daush@carneysandoe.commarsha.little@canreysandoe.com). We invite you, also, to contact any member of the search committee with questions or comments. (See our December 23 update for a list of the search committee members.)
     
    As always, thank you for your support in this important work.
     
    Sincerely,
    Mary Tanner and Clay Watson, Search Chairs
  • Letter from Head of School Search Chairs | April 16, 2020

    Dear GPS Community,
     
    We know you have much on your minds and hearts as we navigate the aftermath of the recent storms in Chattanooga and the uncertainty of the global COVID-19 outbreak. It as at times like this that we are most thankful for the community that exists at GPS and the support that we can offer to each other—even if from a distance.
     
    We write today to provide you with an update on the Head of School Search process.
     
    We remain excited about welcoming Dr. Kirk Walker when he joins us as interim Head of School this July, as we continue our search for a permanent Head of School to begin in July 2021.
     
    In mid-February, our consultants from Carney, Sandoe & Associates (Marguerite Lloyd, Barbara Daush, and Marsha Little) joined us for two full days on campus, to hear firsthand from community members, including students, faculty and staff, alumnae, parents, trustees, and friends of the school, what makes GPS so special. On the heels of their visit, nearly 750 members of the community completed an online survey in which they shared their hopes for the next Head of School. Thank you for the time, care, and commitment you have shared so far in this search!
     
    The full position description is available here. It captures the essence of our community and outlines the challenges and opportunities for the next Head of School, as well as the desired experience and qualifications for that individual. Please feel free to share this document within your networks. If you hear of candidates who might be interested, or if you have additional nominations to share, please contact our search consultants directly using the contact information on the final page of the position description.
     
    We expect the recruitment and outreach to candidates to continue throughout the spring and into the early summer. We will keep you posted as the search unfolds.
     
    As always, thank you for your support of this important work.
     
    Sincerely,
    Clay Watson and Mary Tanner, Search Chairs
  • Head of School Search Update | December 23, 2019

    Dear GPS Community,
     
    I write today on behalf of the Board of Trustees to provide you with an update on the Head of School search process.
     
    I am pleased to announce that Clay Watson (Parent ’22, ’22), Vice Chair of the Board, and Dr. Mary Tanner, current trustee, have agreed to co-chair this important search. Clay is a current parent, McCallie alum, and Partner in Mountain View Auto Group. Mary served on the GPS board from 2012-2017 during which time she led the process for developing the strategic plan which GPS follows today. Mary retired from UTC after a 40-year career in higher education during which she served as a Dean and as Interim Provost. In addition, she led several academic searches for senior UTC administrators. Both Mary and Clay are committed to single-sex education and more specifically to the success of GPS.
     
    Under the leadership of Clay and Mary, the following members of our community have agreed to serve on the Search Committee:
     
    Dr. Rebecca Stimson 73 – Chair, Board of Trustees (Parent 14)
    Kerri Martin Bartlett 75 – Secretary, Board of Trustees
    Ben Vance – Trustee, Chair Endowment Committee (Parent ’14, ’17, ’19)
    Dori Thornton Waller 99 – Trustee
    Glenn Breazeale – Trustee (Parent ’24, ’24)
    Cathie Ault Kasch 72 - Faculty Member, Director of Terpsichord (Parent ’02)
    Jay Watts – Director of Athletics, Member of the Senior Administrative Team
    The Honorable Marie Williams Cleary 70 – past trustee (Parent ’93, ’03)
    Ashley Moore Palmer 99 - Alumnae Council Member
    Sarah Young Jackson 06 – former Upper School Dean of Students and faculty member (history)
     
    Additionally, we are pleased to announce that the Board has selected Carney, Sandoe & Associates (Carney) as our search consultant to help us identify and select the best possible candidates to replace Head of School Autumn Graves. Carney is a nationally recognized educational search firm with more than 40 years of experience matching school administrators and educators with prestigious independent day and boarding schools. Marguerite Lloyd, Senior Search Consultant, will be leading our search. Prior to joining Carney in 2012, Lloyd practiced law in both private practice as well as in academics – as faculty at the George Washington School of Law and as General Counsel for University of the South in Sewanee. Marguerite currently resides in Sewanee TN. Carney's Marsha Little and Barbara Dausch will partner with Marguerite on our search. Barbara has been a Senior Consultant at Carney since 2018. Prior to her work as a search consultant, Barbara held a variety of administrative roles in both higher education as well as middle and upper schools in Memphis where she currently resides. Marsha joined Carney last year from The Lovett School in Atlanta where she was Assistant Head of School from 2014-2019. All began their careers as classroom teachers.

    In addition to the professional services provided by Carney, we have
    been ably assisted by our internal search consultants who led the prior search which brought Dr. Graves to GPS. These three alumnae have already contributed a wealth of hands-on experience in helping us get this search initiated, and we will continue to rely on their wisdom and experience:
     
    Elizabeth (Lizzer) Bright Graham ’77 – Search Committee Chair
    Anita (Nini) Davenport ’77 – Board Chair 2012-2014
    Dr. Christine Benz Smith ‘72 – Board Chair 2014-2016
     
    We are confident and enthusiastic about the future of GPS and believe that our Head of School position will be attractive to a national pool of applicants. Our singular goal is to attract the very best candidates so that we can welcome our new Head of School for the 2021-2022 school year. We understand from our consultants and others in the independent school community that maintaining candidate confidentiality will be critical in order to attract the very best slate of educational leaders. Nevertheless, we plan to be as inclusive as possible in terms of involving the school community throughout the search process. Our search consultants plan to be on campus late January/early February in order to hear from as many of you as possible about our School and our forthcoming leadership transition.

    Happy Holidays!
     
    Sincerely,
     
    Rebecca E. Stimson
    Chair of the Board of Trustees
     
  • Letter from Dr. Autumn A. Graves to GPS Board Chair | October 28, 2019

    Dear Becca,
     
    I have mixed emotions as I write this letter of resignation, effective June 30, 2020. While my work at GPS continues to be challenging and meaningful, I have been offered, and have accepted, another school leadership opportunity, one that will take me back to my Virginia roots and, most importantly, enable my children to have both of their parents in their daily lives.
     
    I will be forever grateful to my GPS colleagues and trustees for their unwavering devotion to our students and our mission. My time at GPS has been marked by professional and personal growth, and during my tenure we have increased our clarity about our mission and values, created intentional programming related to the social-emotional development of girls, and grown our curricular and co-curricular programmatic offerings informed by brain research and best practices for growing girls into women of purpose and integrity. Additionally, with the support of our Board of Trustees and senior leadership team, we have significantly improved our operational practices that are positioning GPS for sustainability well into the 21st century.
     
    In preparing our SAIS interim report for the school’s continued accreditation, I am struck by what we’ve accomplished since July 2014. As I reflect on the past five years, however, what is most meaningful to me are the relationships I have built with a wide range of GPS community members. I have loved joining in solidarity for the good of girls with the teachers, staff, coaches, and trustees. I’ve been honored to travel on behalf of the school to learn the stories of GPS alumnae across the country. I love bringing their stories back to Chattanooga. These stories are inspirational for current students and their parents and are incredible affirmations for the investment of time and devotion our teachers and coaches make in girls.
     
    Equally as important have been the everyday relationships I have been fortunate to build with Chattanoogans who have worn the dress (uniform) that uniquely identifies GPS students. I have learned that the dress is more than a uniform; it's a visual representation of girls who are strong, thoughtful, resilient, and honorable. There is never a question by anyone I encounter that GPS girls are well-educated and know how to use that education to improve the lives of those around them.
     
    While the adult community has been wonderful, it is the girls who have truly inspired me to strive to be my best self. I have loved my interactions with students. Their clarity of perspective and purpose have informed so many of the strategic and operational decisions I have made. Additionally, I have enjoyed seeing girls in action in our Makerspace, rowing down the Tennessee River, singing with an angelic quality on our stage, and engaging in the Chattanooga community in ways that build leadership capacity.
     
    I am deeply proud of my colleagues who have enhanced the school’s value to girls of the Chattanooga region. I am grateful for the incredible support they have extended to me as a mother. When I first learned of GPS, Vann and I only dreamed of having children. Now almost six years later, we have expanded our family with two native Chattanoogans.
     
    The GPS community will always have a special place in my heart for both professional and personal reasons. Please know that I stand ready to assist you and the board in the transition. I am also fully committed to GPS until my last day on campus.
     
    Here's to the girls of the GPS–past, present, and future,
    Autumn
    Read More
  • Letter from GPS Board Chair Dr. Rebecca Stimson ’73 to GPS Community | October 28, 2019

    To our GPS Community,
     
    Dr. Autumn A. Graves has informed the Board of Trustees that she has accepted the role of Head of School at St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville, Virginia, beginning July 1, 2020. Regretfully, I have accepted her letter of resignation.
     
    Dr. Graves has been an outstanding leader for GPS, modeling the pioneering spirit of our Founders and leaving our school in a better place than when she joined us in 2014. Under her leadership, we have a new strategic plan and a rearticulated mission and values. She has deepened our relationships in the Chattanooga community and reinforced our unique position as a convener of girls.
     
    Dr. Graves is a creative and tireless leader who has brought fresh ideas, energy, and talent to the halls of GPS. She has built a strong and resilient team of faculty and staff who are dedicated to best practices for educating girls. She will be remembered for her commitment to continued excellence and for pioneering new traditions and additions to the GPS campus: Faculty Emeriti, Founders Fellows, an entrepreneurship focus, Cadek, GPS-McCallie Rowing Center. She believes in the power of girls and has challenged us all to be our best, to think deeply, and to be thoughtful and conscientious about our work so that we create the best school for girls.
     
    While we are, of course, disappointed that Autumn will be moving to St. Anne’s-Belfield School, we believe she leaves us on strong footing to continue the important work of educating and preparing girls for the 21st century and a changing world. Autumn is committed to working actively in the next eight months to ensure a healthy transition to new leadership.
     
    The Board of Trustees will immediately form a search committee for a new Head of School for the 2021-22 school year. Dr. Kirk Walker will serve as interim Head of School for the 2020-21 school year. A Chattanooga native and parent of a GPS alumna, Dr. Walker brings a wealth of experience to the position, having served as Headmaster at McCallie School and Head of School at the Bright School and at Ensworth School in Nashville. Most recently Dr. Walker served as President of SAIS (Southern Association of Independent Schools). We expect our interim year will be one of progress under his leadership as we continue the work guided by our strategic plan. 
     
    GPS is nationally recognized as among the top girls’ schools in the country and is located in a vibrant and growing city. We expect to attract a large pool of highly qualified candidates. As a community, we have every reason to be excited and optimistic about the future of our School. We will keep you informed of our progress over the course of the next few months. When we have more information to share, we will post updates on the GPS website.
     
    In the next few months, we look forward to celebrating the Graves family for the indelible mark they have made on our School and in our community. They are forever tied to us as they leave with two adorable native Chattanoogans—Will and Chloe. We wish them well, and we also look forward to an exciting new chapter in GPS’s 113-year history in which we will experience new leadership, new challenges, and new opportunities for continued growth and development.
     
    Thank you for your continued support of GPS.
     
    Here’s to the girls!
    Dr. Rebecca Stimson ’73, Board Chair

Head of School Position Description

Click here to view the Head of School position description.