Meet Webb’s new head of schools

The Webb Schools’ seventh Head of Schools Theresa Smith in her office Tuesday. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

by Andrew Alonzo |

Theresa Smith, 52, is lucky number seven.

In July, the Denver native was officially confirmed as The Webb Schools’ seventh head of schools, succeeding Taylor B. Stockdale who served from 1988 until last month.

Smith told the Courier Tuesday that her appointment was both inspiring and a huge honor.

“I think one of the exciting pieces about working here is, if you’re trying to provide the most compelling, relevant education that students can get in the world, we have the history and tradition of doing that and the resources to continue to expand on what it looks like in the future,” she said.

Smith has been at Webb for 12 years, three as associate head of schools, three as assistant head of schools, and six as director of academic affairs.

In her new job she will collaborate with the school’s board of trustees to ensure Webb and its 400-plus student body are living up to its mission statement. She’s also hoping to establish new connections and reaffirm old ones in and around Claremont, including at the local colleges.

“I promise to uphold our mission,” Smith said. “I promise to continue the strong traditions and success of the institution. And I promise to continue to be bold in thinking about our future.”

Theresa Smith was recently named The Webb Schools’ seventh head of schools. Courier photo/Andrew Alonzo

Throughout her years at Webb Smith has taught a variety of humanities electives as well as Spanish, reading and writing composition, and art history. This year she will teach just one course, honors constitutional debate.

The former high school debate champion for extemporaneous speaking is excited to pass along what she knows to students.

Smith said she views school as a “place for challenge and adventure.”

“I had incredible teachers who taught me that learning isn’t about memorizing information, it’s about thinking, analyzing and constructing meaning,” she said. “My parents, neither of them went to college, so they often talked about school as a place of opportunity and really emphasized the importance of it.”

She had a distaste for history early on at Cherry Creek High School in Greenwood Village, Colorado. But after being mentored by some key teachers, a passion for the subject developed in her junior and senior years. After graduating in 1989 Smith headed west to attend the University of California, Berkeley, from where she earned a bachelor’s in history and a minor in Spanish in 1993. She then went on to the University of California, San Diego, earning master’s degrees and doctorates in European and Latin American histories.

Smith taught at Claremont McKenna College from 1999 to 2001 before being named an Ahmanson-Getty Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“I really loved researching and writing, but my experiences that were more compelling were those in the classroom, and I really wanted the opportunity to get to know students better,” she said. “I found at the college level, there weren’t as many opportunities to do that.”

She then landed a job at private Oakwood School in North Hollywood in 2002. There, she taught history to high school students, was chair of the social studies department, and filled in as director of winter immersion programs across nine grades.

“In independent schools, the idea of how you create the most engaging and relevant education for teenagers is a hugely exciting question,” she said. “And because teenagers are at this incredible moment in their life, they have a lot of opportunity to engage in that dialogue with you.”

Smith moved to Claremont when she took a job at Webb in 2011. She lives on campus with her husband John Ferrari, a freelance writer and captain in the United States Navy Reserve. After graduating from Webb last year, their son Joseph now attends the University of Chicago.

Webb’s boys and girls schools — The Webb School of California and Vivian Webb School — will consolidate into one in 2024. Once complete, The Webb Schools will become Webb Collegiate.

“It’s an exciting thing for us,” Smith said. “We’ve just finished 100 years and we’re looking at our next 100 years, and we’re excited to continue to innovate. We have a long history of evolving.

“We have a very thoughtful and deliberate process during this evolution. We have a traditions and ceremonies committee that’s made up of all the constituents in our community and they’re coming together to help ensure that as we make this transition, we maintain the best of the best: the best of our traditions that really allow us to celebrate the values of the school. It’s an evolution, it’s not a change really.”

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