News & Politics

The Head of Sidwell Friends Suddenly Announces His Resignation

Tom Farquhar will retire at the conclusion of the 2014-15 academic year.

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

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.”