From attache to headmaster

School: After a career in military intelligence, including a final assignment in Morocco, Scott K. Gibson III is returning to Boys' Latin as its leader.

August 26, 2004|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

In announcing the appointment of a new headmaster last winter, officials at the Boys' Latin School in North Baltimore would say only that Scott K. Gibson III was leaving a career in military intelligence to assume the post. On where he was living and exactly what he was doing, they were keeping quiet.

But Gibson's classified days are behind him now. And as the mild-mannered man of 42 busily prepares for the start of classes Wednesday, he is ready to talk about his past - and his vision for the future at the helm of Maryland's oldest nonsectarian boys school.

He was last stationed as the defense attache at the U.S. Embassy in Rabat, Morocco, serving as the ambassador's chief political and military adviser and gathering intelligence, his military records show.

1978 graduate

Since graduating as the Boys' Latin valedictorian in 1978, Gibson has worked on every continent except Antarctica.

He recalls commanding a squadron of 220 in a hostile-fire zone at Ahmed Al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait. At the Pentagon, he managed defense policy for the Netherlands, Ireland, France and Belgium. He spent a year at a California think tank, reviewing French cooperation as a military ally.

He recently retired as an Air Force colonel-select and moved with his wife, son and daughter to the headmaster's residence on West Lake Avenue.

"To me, it doesn't feel like a big change," he said from behind his dark wooden desk last week, "because duty is duty."

In Boys' Latin's 160-year history, Gibson is the second alumnus to serve as headmaster. The first, Jack Williams, held the position while Gibson was a student. Gibson was frustrated there hadn't been another since, and thus decided to apply.

He thought his candidacy was a long shot: Though he has taught undergraduate statistics, economics and U.S. history around the world, he has no formal training as an educator.

But he would bring to the school a new and global perspective. The board of trustees liked that. "He's a little bit outside the box, but he's a very accomplished man," said David Watts, a board member and the alumni association president.

Added Philip Federico, the board vice president and chair of the search committee: "He's a natural-born leader, and that's really what you need first and foremost in a headmaster."

So here Gibson is, devouring John McPhee's The Headmaster and other suggested books on private school leadership.

Here he is, holding a 30-minute, getting-to-know-you meeting with each of the school's 124 employees, secretaries and janitors included. He can't stop calling his former geometry and Latin teachers and cross-country coach "Sir."

"Mister" is just too strange after all these years, so he would like the 625 students to call him "Colonel Gibson" or "Headmaster Gibson." All but one, that is. To incoming sixth-grader Kendall Gibson, 11, he is Dad.

Gibson still gives dates in military style - he has been in town since "27 June" - and spit-shines his shoes daily.

He looks back fondly on his days as a Boys' Latin student, even though he says he was mediocre on the cross-country team and horrible as a wrestler, and he relied on his sister to find him a prom date. Every day, his mother drove him and his two younger brothers to school from the family farm in Joppa.

He skipped junior year and graduated at 16. Wanting to follow a family tradition in the armed forces but too young for the military academies, he enrolled at The Citadel in Charleston, S.C. He was first in his class.

Gibson holds three master's degrees. He is fluent in French and reads in German and Latin. He thinks a great challenge facing U.S. intelligence is a shortage of Arab linguists and wants to see each of his students fluent in a second language.

Hopes to teach class

He also wants to teach an African history class next year and to make sure the school is teaching its boys "moral courage." He wants to strengthen the school's vision, while preserving teachers' latitude with instruction and a culture of parent involvement.

If all goes well, he and his family will end a long run of moving every year.

"I want to raise this school as high as it can go," he said.

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