The lazy, quiet days of summer are a strategically savvy time to announce important changes at a high-profile school where President Obama’s daughters are students, especially when the school is in the midst of a sex scandal. That’s just how Sidwell Friends is handling the resignation of its head of school, Tom Farquhar, who got the job only a few years ago, in 2010. Just before the weekend, a message went out to parents from Farquhar and board of trustees head Lissa Muscatine, announcing that Farquhar would retire at the conclusion of the 2014-15 academic year. Farquhar said he will pursue a career as an organic vegetable grower. Muscatine said the search for his successor has begun.
“While changes in leadership are never easy,” wrote Muscatine, “we are fortunate that Sidwell Friends finds itself on such solid footing as we enter this period of transition.” Farquhar, in his letter, did not explain his reasons for retiring but called his career there a “special privilege.” He started as a teacher in 1978.
The announcement comes just months before a trial in DC Superior Court that is certain to involve a lot of Sidwell’s dirty laundry. It centers on a lawsuit filed by a parent, Arthur “Terry” Newmyer, against the school and the school’s psychologist, whom Newmyer claims had an affair with his wife while also counseling his five-year-old daughter. Among those subpoenaed to testify are Elsa Walsh, wife of Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. Their daughter is a student. In addition to Malia and Sasha Obama, the student body includes the grandchildren of Vice President Biden.
At the end of his letter, Farquhar wrote that being an organic vegetable gardener was a career path he chose after graduating from college but apparently set aside for teaching. “I’ve always wondered whether the garden is a metaphor for school, or vice-versa. Both are places where, at times, we can be amazed by transcendent beauty, warm fellowship, and extraordinary growth.”