Dr. Dennis: A 15 Year Legacy
Sitting in his 10th grade English classroom, engrossed by and excited about all that his teacher was saying, a young Brooklynite realized that he wanted to devote his life to education. The teacher knew just how to relate literature that can often seem archaic to the real world, acquainting a room full of high schoolers with the beauty and importance of words. It was this thoughtful, gifted teacher who inspired Head of School Dr. Bruce Dennis’ impressive career in schooling, the past fifteen years of which have been spent at Packer.
Dr. Dennis fittingly began his career as an English teacher in Brooklyn, New York, undoubtedly influencing his students the same way his English teacher had influenced him. In his early 30s, Dr. Dennis began his administrative career, becoming principal of Pleasantville High School and then Scarsdale High School, both in Westchester, NY, before becoming Superintendent of two different New York school districts, first in Long Island and later in Bedford, Pound Ridge and Mount Kisco. His resumé filled with experience, Dr. Dennis was hired as Packer’s Head of School in 2004, and the 2018-2019 academic year will be his last with that title.
Much has changed at Packer under Dr. Dennis’ leadership over the past decade and a half. Upon his arrival, the freshman grade consisted of about 70 students, compared to the the current freshman class’ 103 members. The building itself has evolved as well; there are now new science labs, air conditioned libraries, updated classrooms, and the recently constructed additional building, the Packer Early Learning Center. Courses have grown more interdisciplinary, and the curriculum has grown more globally minded. Overall, Packer has become a larger and more formidable presence in the world of New York City independent schools.
However, despite the notable collection of tangible, boastable successes listed above, Dr. Dennis believes that his greatest achievement during his time at Packer has been the faculty he has hired. Dr. Dennis has hired 80% of Packer’s current faculty, including today’s entire administrative team.
“The legacy I leave will manifest through the faculty I have hired, who are incredible people that make Packer what it is,” said Dr. Dennis when asked how he hopes to be remembered. The faculty will be the living embodiment of all that Dr. Dennis believes makes an institution great, continuing to better the school even after he leaves.
“Something that I always really appreciate about Dr. Dennis is his sense of humor,” said Ms. Ali Iberraken, dean of the Class of 2020. “I really appreciate the community feel that we [at Packer] have, and our warmth to each other. I think that a lot of that comes from the tone that Dr. Dennis sets in his gregarious, fun attitude, which trickles down.”
Despite having worked at a number of different schools all over New York, Dr. Dennis names Packer as “the most relationship-driven school [he] has ever worked at.” Those relationships include both strong faculty-to-student connections, which can act as a guiding force in students’ academic or personal trajectories, and authentic student friendships, which are often lifelong.
“Like kids and adults everywhere, Packer students are not perfect, but I’ve always been impressed that our students are genuinely kind to one another, and seem to genuinely like each other” Dr. Dennis said. When asked what piece of advice he would give to current students, he explained that he would “urge us to treasure the closeness and the personal connections that make Packer the great school that it is”
After this year, Dr. Dennis hopes to remain connected to Packer, but in an informal way. He is of the opinion that “when someone leaves, he needs to leave and not linger.” Believing that Packer will only continue to flourish and improve after he departs, Dr. Dennis wants to give his successor space to accomplish her own goals and realize her own vision for the school.
Next year, Dr. Dennis plans to stay busy; he will remain involved in the educational world as a consultant working with other schools and their boards on leadership and governance matters. He is also, however, eager to devote some time to himself. Having always regretted giving up on piano as a young boy, Dr. Dennis hopes to begin taking lessons again. His love of English never having faded, he plans on reading every day, and also intends to hone his tennis skills.
Liv Furman (‘20) was a student of Dr. Dennis’ grammar boot camp course during her freshman year, and will miss his presence at Packer.
“He was always willing to offer a helpful hand and always dropped a funny joke,” she said, speaking fondly of his leadership. “I really feel I’ve learned so much from him.”
While Packer will surely miss his determination, his compassion, his brilliance and his incredible devotion to this school, its community members will continue benefiting from all that he has done, feeling the effects of his leadership in the rigor of their classrooms, the richness of their extracurriculars, and the warmth of their environment. Immensely grateful for the past 15 years and keenly aware of the positive change that has accompanied them, the Packer community will not soon forget the tremendous impact of Dr. Dennis.