There was a full agenda planned for the Board of Trustee’s winter meeting. In addition to hearing from students and administrators about the current school year, the Board also spent a considerable amount of time thinking about the future. Under Nick Booth’s leadership, planning is under way for a comprehensive campaign that will guide fundraising in the years ahead.
“In this campaign, our goal is to lift Brooks to new levels of academic performance,” said Booth. “We’ll do this by increasing financial aid, upgrading faculty and student housing, breathing new life into the performing and visual arts facilities and making significant enhancements to the school’s endowment.”
The last few years have seen the completion of several projects that have Booth and his colleagues excited about the direction Brooks is headed. Two years ago, Chace House opened to rave reviews from students and faculty alike and will serve as the prototype for the school’s nine other dormitories. Last year, the school renovated spaces to carve out impressive new homes for College Counseling, the Writing Center and the Learning Center. Currently in progress are two more major projects: a Chapel renovation and a turf field.
“Our campaign goals are shaped by our mission of providing the most meaningful educational experience our students will have in their lives,” said Booth. “The success of the campaign will depend on the generosity of the Brooks community — especially my fellow alumni. I am confident the support is there.”
Booth’s place on the Board wasn’t something he might have expected when he first came to Brooks in 1963. After attending Fenn School in Concord, Mass., Booth felt he was ready to go away for high school. The Brooks campus was about 40 minutes from his home, which was far enough away that boarding made sense but close enough that he could stay connected to his family.
“We always talk about Brooks being a small school,” said Booth. “But when I arrived as a third-former, the campus felt huge. Mr. Ashburn, the founding headmaster of the school, had a certain gravitas as did many of the senior faculty members. It was an intimidating place for a 14-year-old.”
Over the next four years, Booth would thrive in classes and athletics under the tutelage of Brooks legends Graham Ward, Doc Scudder, George Waterston, Ox Kingsbury, Frank Jackson, Warren Flint, Tom Vennum, Ray Eusden and Jack McVey. The same was true in athletics with talented and experienced faculty coaches.
“The school was a different place back then,” said Booth. “Brooks was an all-boys school. It was also a relatively young school with a much smaller endowment than its New England peers. It was a formal place with lots of rules, and you had to have your wits about you to do well.”
Booth did well enough at Brooks to earn admission to Trinity College, where he was a history major. “I had some great professors, but unfortunately the late ’60s was a turbulent time with lots of distractions,” said Booth. “I wish I had taken better advantage of the academic opportunity.”
Booth graduated from Trinity in 1971 and his first job out of college was at State Street Bank and Trust Company in their trust management training program.
“I had always been interested in investing,” said Booth. “And in the early ’70s, Boston and New York were at the epicenter of the investing world. State Street was a great place to get my feet wet and learn the business at a nationally recognized institution.”
After a few years in Boston, Booth moved to New York to work at TIAA-CREF.
“That was my first ex-pat experience,” joked Booth. “Up until 1978, I had spent my entire life in New England. Now all of a sudden I was living in New York, and the fast pace of the city was a great experience.”
As much as he loved New York, Booth and his young wife, Molly, whom he married in 1976, soon found themselves back in Boston. After a short stint at David L. Babson, Booth jumped at the chance to work at Wellington Management.
THE WELLINGTON YEARS
In the early 1980s, Wellington was a large and well-respected investment management company. Founded the year before the great market crash of 1929, Wellington offered the first balanced mutual fund in the United States. In 1979, 29 original partners bought back the firm and established it as a private partnership.
“When I arrived at Wellington, it was a really unique time,” said Booth. “There were 100 employees when I got there and less than $3 billion in assets. Wellington today has more than $800 billion in assets and more than 1,800 employees.”
Wellington’s globalization provided Booth with extraordinary
investor. With the introduction of segment and geographic reporting, Booth noticed that a significant source of earnings growth for his consumer products companies was coming from outside the United States.
“I had spent most of my life to that point in New England,” said Booth. “But I knew that if I wanted to be successful, I would have to venture overseas. So I dipped my toe in the international waters by going to the place I figured I would be most comfortable: England.”
Time in the UK was followed by research in the emerging markets of Eastern Europe, Russia and Latin America. Next came work on companies in Australia, Japan and China. In 2003, Wellington opened an office in Hong Kong, and Booth was asked if he wanted to move there and build the investment talent. So in 2008, he packed up once again and hopped on a plane for Asia, which, coincidentally, was around the same time the U.S. stock market crashed.
“With the economic crisis in America, it was the perfect time to be in Hong Kong,” said Booth. “We took major positions in the Asian markets and had great success because of the talented people we had working there.”
Booth continued to lead the Hong Kong office until 2011, when he decided to hang up his investing hat and enjoy retirement. With more free time on his hands, Booth has been able to renew his focus on helping the other institution he leads: Brooks School.
After he graduated from Brooks, Booth’s contact with the school was steady but not spectacular. A regular donor to the Brooks Fund, Booth stayed in touch but was mostly focused on his Wellington career. Then in 2003, his daughter, Alex, followed in his footsteps and enrolled at Brooks. Soon after, Booth was asked to join the board of trustees, and two years later, in 2006, he was named president of the board.
During his tenure, Booth has played a significant role in a number of important projects, most notably the school’s new science building that opened in 2008 and the Danforth Squash Center. But one decision stands out above all the rest when Booth thinks about his greatest achievement as board chair.
“Without question, naming John Packard as the new head of school in 2008 was a critical decision as a trustee,” said Booth. “Ensuring a smooth transition of school leadership is the single most important responsibility of any board of trustees. And in John we knew immediately we had our man.”
Together, Booth and Packard are a formidable team. They steered the school through the nation’s economic crisis in 2008. They adopted a new mission statement in 2010. In 2011, they put in place the most significant curriculum change the school had ever seen when they implemented Winter Term.
But their greatest ambitions lie in the future. With other trustees and school administrators, they have started outlining the framework for the first comprehensive capital campaign in the school’s history.
“Most of the fundraising at Brooks has centered on individual projects and on annual giving,” said Booth. “As we’ve been thinking about our mission statement and its stated goal of providing the most meaningful educational experience our students will have in their lives, we couldn’t help but notice that there are parts of the school — from the financial aid budget to arts facilities — that need our help and attention. If we want to live up to our mission, we need to take some bold steps.”
The campaign will address three primary areas: financial aid,
faculty support and a number of capital projects, including a turf field, renovation of the Chapel, new arts facilities and auditorium, and the renovation of Russell House.
MAKING BROOKS AFFORDABLE
Rising tuition levels mean that Brooks is no longer a viable option for an increasing number of families. Since 2005, the financial aid budget has increased 76 percent (it currently stands at $3,300,000), yet the number of families receiving aid has barely budged — 79 students in 2005 compared with a projected 80 students in 2014.
“Despite our best efforts, we haven’t made up any ground in this important area,” said Head of School John Packard. “Among the 40 peer schools we are benchmarked against, we rank 39th in percentage of students receiving aid.”
Lack of financial aid limits the options when the Admission Office evaluates applications and decides which students to accept.
“The numbers are hard to ignore,” said Director of Admission Bini Egertson. “Last year, 36 percent of full-pay applicants were accepted, compared to an acceptance rate of 10 percent for those seeking aid.”
In addition to losing out on a number of exceptional applicants who can’t afford to come to Brooks, the school’s dependence on tuition revenue puts it at risk in the event the country faces another financial crisis.
“Of our $26 million operating budget, $18 million in revenue comes from tuition,” said Packard. “The rest is primarily income generated from endowment and annual giving. A larger financial aid budget makes us less reliant on tuition revenue, and insulates the school from negative external economic conditions. One of the lessons we learned in 2008 was that the best way to ensure the long-term health of Brooks is to endow a larger portion of our financial aid.”
SUPPORT FOR THE FACULTY
“Being able to attract and retain teachers who have the passion and skills to bring our mission to life is essential,” said Dean of Faculty John Haile. “Brooks is only as good as its faculty”
Since the mid-1980s, faculty compensation has been an area of strength at Brooks. Out of 40 peer schools, Brooks ranks 16th in faculty salaries and benefits. But compensation can take many forms. One of the most important for boarding schools is on-campus housing.
“Whether the housing is in a dorm or in a house, having faculty on campus has several advantages,” said Haile. “First, it makes teach-ers more accessible to students. So much learning goes on outside of class, during study hours in the evening and on the weekends. When our alumni look back on their fondest memories of Brooks, they frequently single out those moments when they were hanging out with friends in a faculty member’s house, getting extra help, watching a big game or just relaxing. Second, in a part of the country where the cost of living is astronomically high, being able to offer a teacher housing on campus has a value that far exceeds its cost.”
In Packard’s opinion, freeing up faculty time is another part of the compensation conversation.
“Reducing the workload of teachers so that they have more time to spend creatively with students is imperative,” says Packard. “We want our teachers to have more opportunities to
lacrosse. The school spirit is amazing as students come together to support their classmates. We want to have those moments more often and on our own campus, which this field will make possible.”
The turf field will be located to the east of the boys 1st soccer/lacrosse field, on what is now the boys 2nd soccer/lacrosse field.
“We are working with a landscape architect to make sure the field blends in with the surroundings,” said Director of Operations Dean Ellerton. “With field hockey and soccer games going on side by side, it should create an electric atmosphere.”
As construction on the Chapel and turf field begins, longer-term planning will look at two other significant projects: a new arts facility and the renovation of Russell House.
“The auditorium is a building we need to address,” said Ellerton. “It is in bad shape, and it doesn’t provide us with the practice space that is required for our popular music program. We’ve had architects look at it, and we’re told that it is beyond salvaging. The best thing we can do is start over. Ideally, we would rebuild on the same footprint.”
Similarly, decisions need to be made about Russell House. When Chace House opened, Russell was no longer needed as a dormitory. It is currently used for faculty housing, and it will play an important role as the school renovates dorm space. A restored Russell that can once again house students would free up space in other dorms to create desirable common rooms and more ideal numbers.
“As one of the original buildings on our campus, Russell has historic significance,” said Packard. “We are thinking creatively about how it might once again help our residential program. With the help of architects, we are thinking through the options, and once we feel like we have a better handle on the work that needs to be done, we’ll begin seeking support to fund the project.”
With so many campus projects on tap, school administrators took a step back last year to think about a master plan that could guide decisions during the next decade and beyond.
“As we began to think about what goes where and how people move around our campus, we realized that we needed to be careful not to make any decisions now that would limit our options in the future,” said Ellerton.
Ellerton and others started by thinking about how people first arrive on campus, especially with respect to prospective students, for whom a first impression is important.
“We’ve known for a while that most people enter campus through the east gate,” said Ellerton. “That is our least attractive entrance, bringing you past the Facilities Department maintenance area and up to the back side of Wilder Dining Hall. In our campus master plan, we will have an intentional entrance through the south gate that will lead prospective students to an admission parking lot and up a path to the Admission Office.”
The plan will also close down Main Street to cars. A new road to the east of Main Street will join the two ends of campus, leaving Main Street open only to pedestrian traffic.
“We pass each other on Main Street many times a day,” said Packard. “It is a unique quality about Brooks that we all love. Getting cars off the road will improve on that sense of connection.”
The plans for the next five to ten years are ambitious.
“Our success in this comprehensive campaign will help us close the gap with peer schools,” said Booth. “Brooks today is a great school. As John Packard says, after this campaign we will be an even better version of ourselves.”
Which brings us back to Booth’s gift. This isn’t the first time Booth’s generosity has benefitted Brooks. With this most recent donation, his lifetime giving to the school is approaching $10 million.
“I’ve always believed in the importance of giving back,” said Booth. “I hope this gift helps ignite a campaign that is transformative. The school needs and deserves it.”