Meet Headmaster Rick Bryan ’70

Rick Bryan is clearly thrilled to be named the next headmaster of University School. His enthusiausm shines through as he fondly recalls his days as a student - from developing special bonds with teachers, to being prepared academically, to walking to school as the Shaker campus tower came into view.
“When I attended US I would take the bus from Stratford Road to Fairmount Boulevard, up to Fairmount Circle, and then walk over to the school. You went over a rise and you could see the tower to the school. I was talking to my brother on New Year’s Eve and I was saying: ‘Remember all those times walking there? And now I am running the school!’ It’s just incredible.”
Mr. Bryan has had a distinguished career in independent school education. During his 31 years at Nichols School, 19 as headmaster, he left an enduring legacy, transforming the campus with enviable facilites and state-of-the art technology. Former Nichols School Board of Trustee President Bill Gisel described Mr. Bryan’s leadership as characterized by humility, transparency, respect, intellectual curiosity, and most of all a burning passion for education. 
“One of Rick’s most valuable attributes is his openness to new ideas and his courage to promote changes,” Mr. Gisel said. His achievements at Nichols School included the construction of a mathematics and science building, a middle school, a performing arts center, and a gymnasium and all-weather fields; the successful completion of three capital campaigns, raising more than $55 million; and the growth of the endowment to $26 million.
In addition to the many brick and mortar accomplishments, Mr. Gisel noted that, “Rick brought to Nichols a warmth, a spirit and sense of community. Thanks to Rick, hundreds of young men and women are living lives they never imagined. Their success is wrapped in a moral fiber that assures they will pay forward to future generations the extraordinary gift he bestowed on them.”
After his retirement from Nichols School in 2013, Mr. Bryan served as president of the board for the New York State Association of Independent Schools, and most recently as the executive director of the Education Collaborative of Western New York, a consortium of 15 independent schools.
“I was beginning to miss the daily life of schools and particularly leading the strategic direction of schools,” Mr. Bryan said. “What captured me when this opportunity came from the Trustees, was the idea of coming back to my old school, being a part of it, and being able to lead it. I really feel this great calling out of ‘responsibility, loyalty, and consideration’ to serve my school, and it is such an honor. Becoming headmaster is an incredible opportunity to advance the institution that did the most to shape me.

The impact of US teachers

Rick Bryan’s first association with University School was through the day camp, which he attended for three years before coming to US in the fall of 1963. “I was one of two new kids who came into (US teacher) Dick Peyser’s sixth grade classroom, of only 18 students,” he recalls, “Immediately I knew that I was behind academically, especially so in grammar and math. I had to do a lot of after-school work and I had all of these faculty members who were willing to give up their time to work one-on-one and help me. When I entered Trinity College in 1970 I felt better prepared than a lot of other freshmen. I knew how to write a paper, I had a sense of purpose and direction, and I felt comfortable asking professors for help.”
Mr. Bryan didn’t plan to study education, but enrolled at Trinity with the idea of becoming a lawyer. His grandfather was an early partner at Baker Hostetler in Cleveland and Mr. Bryan spent much time with him and hoped to emulate him. “It just wasn’t to be,” he said. “In the middle of my senior year I began to change my direction and think more about teaching. I took a basic introduction to education course at Trinity and liked it.” In April that year, he received a job offer to teach history and coach wrestling, football and baseball at Charlotte Country Day School. He graduated from Trinity with a bachelor’s degree in history, and later earned his master’s degree in history from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
That summer before he started his first teaching job, Mr. Bryan consulted his US teachers for help. He taught summer school on the Hunting Valley campus, worked with (Upper School teacher) Dick McCrea ’51 to organize his history curriculum, and learned from Tom Callow about the best way to coach. Later, Headmasters Rowland McKinley and Rick Hawley were very helpful in guiding his teaching career and shaping him into an administrator. Mr. Bryan was thrilled to see Mr. McCrea at the Alumni Holiday Luncheon in December. “The opportunity to thank him publicly in front of our alumni was wonderful,” he said.

A meaningful partnership

Rick Bryan was able to make the move to Cleveland quickly because his wife, The Rev. Judith Brown Bryan, was so enthusiastic about the opportunity for both of them to return to their roots. Throughout their 42-year marriage they have been supportive of each other’s careers. 
After three years at Smith College, one of which was spent studying in Paris, France, Judith and Rick married and made the move to Charlotte, where Judith went on to finish her degree at Queens College. In Buffalo, she worked to get her master’s degree in social work at SUNY Buffalo while Rick shared the duties of bringing up their two daughters whose medical conditions required a significant time commitment for the family. Judith, now a Presbyterian minister, so appreciated the role Rick played when she made a four-year commitment to attend Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Syracuse. She remembers that, “I had to commute to Rochester for three days every week for four years and Rick took over at home. I would also take an annual three-week residency at the San Francisco Theological Seminary. During those commitments, Rick enabled me to have the time I needed to grow in my work so now I am happy to support him.”  Her road to becoming ordained minister included attaining reading literacy in Greek and Hebrew so she could read original texts.  She enjoys providing pastoral care and operating a women’s ministry. She will continue to return to Buffalo every month or so to keep those programs going. 
Judith is energized to get to know the US community better and will be devoting a great deal of time to that in the months ahead. As part of this commitment, both Judith and Rick are looking forward to hosting students and holding parent and alumni events in the Headmaster’s home, on campus, and in the community.

Their daughters are flourishing in adulthood. Ginny lives and volunteers in Buffalo. KC is the girls’ varsity lacrosse coach for Chagrin Falls, where she and husband Justin White reside. Justin works for Oswald Insurance Company. Their son, Mac, will enter US in grade 5 next fall.

Living the Motto

Headmaster Bryan addresses the students on the importance of applying the principles of the school motto in daily life.

The Goals of the 2020 Curricular Initiative

For three years prior to being named headmaster, Mr. Bryan served as a Trustee of University School. He chaired the Education Committee during US’s most recent re-accreditation by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and during the development of the school’s current strategic plan. Every seven years US completes a self-study, this time shepherded by Assistant Headmaster Dr. Bill O’Neil, in preparation for re-accreditation. Out of that process, clear initiatives emerged.

In January 2017, Mr. Bryan launched the 2020 Curricular Initiative with the plan of immediately creating a K-12 Faculty Curriculum Committee that will lead the accomplishment of those goals in the next few years.
“The 2020 Curricular Initiative was the product of much work by the directors under Dr. O’Neil’s leadership,” he said. “I think we have an opportunity to not only advance the curriculum in many different areas but also to have faculty leadership implement it. The enthusiasm as a result of that meeting – one-third of the faculty volunteered to be on the committee – is pretty exciting. The faculty wants forward progress because they believe that is best for the boys. We all want what is best for the boys."

To align the Middle and Upper School curriculum to emphasize mastery within and among academic disciplines and to provide opportunities for acceleration in languages, mathematics, and science.

To build on the School's courses and themes that embrace global awareness, cultural awareness, equity, and social justice. To provide opportunities for students to broaden their experiences and perspectives locally, nationally, and internationally.

To develop a K-12 curriculum that invites students at all grade levels and in all disciplines to engage continuously with technology and collaborate through technology on tasks involving activities such as research, analysis, problem-solving, design, and fabrication.

To expand programs for students to develop the skills and perspectives asked of them by a rapidly changing world: to meet new experiences by learning skills, solving problems, being open to the unfamiliar, and collaborating with others. Such programs include internships, lab work, travel, and experiences that encourage innovation, creativity, and learning by doing.

To embrace the continuous development of the curriculum through an ongoing faculty conversation characterized by looking outward, collaborating, sharing interdisciplinary perspectives, and imagining the future of our students.

Shaker Heights Campus

20701 Brantley Road
Shaker Heights, Ohio 44122
GRADES Junior K-8
Phone: 216-321-8260

Hunting Valley Campus

2785 SOM Center Road
Hunting Valley, OH 44022
Phone: 216-831-2200
University School serves 870 boys in Junior Kindergarten to grade 12 on two campuses in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. The School’s mission is to inspire boys of promise to become young men of character who lead and serve. Dedicated faculty, rigorous curriculum, and experiential programs foster intellectual, physical, creative, and moral excellence.