Olney Friends School Head to Retire in June

March 07, 2011

Head of Olney Friends School Richard F. Sidwell announced to students, faculty, and parents he will retire at the end of the fiscal year, June 30.

Sidwell will have served eight years in the position, preceded by four years as business manager.

“The last eight years have been among the most instructive years of my life. ‘We challenge students to grow’ is the first sentence of our mission statement. Olney Friends School challenges adults to grow as well. Certainly serving as head has stretched me, challenged me, and provided endless opportunity for personal growth,” he said.

“I feel this is an ideal time for new leadership. New energy will enable the school to stay on the growing edge as it moves forward,” he added. While Sidwell’s contract as head concludes at the end of June, he will remain available to assist in the conclusion of the school’s comprehensive campaign, which runs through the end of the calendar year.

“Olney Friends School is truly a remarkable institution where enduring values are continually translated into contemporary practices. May our work during this transition open an exciting new chapter for the school and all of its constituents,” he wrote in a letter to parents.

During Sidwell’s tenure as head of school, Olney received its single largest outright donation to date, of just under one million dollars. Renovations to the exterior of the historic 1910 Main Building represent the latest in a series of significant facilities improvement projects. In addition, the school has placed a priority on both local community service and involvement in wider educational circles.

Sidwell is a board member of both the Friends Council on Education (FCE) in Philadelphia, dedicated to Quaker K12 education; and the Ohio Association of Independent Schools (OAIS).

“Rich demonstrates a vibrant courage, optimism, and vision in every aspect of his life and work. He has been a beacon of light, hope, and hard work in his leadership of Olney Friends School, and he has served the Friends Council’s network of schools as a leader in the sustainability movement,” said Irene McHenry, head of the Friends Council on Education in Philadelphia.

Sidwell chairs the Barnesville Area Rails to Trails Committee; he is an active member of the Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce; and he is a founding member of the Raven Rocks nature preserve.

“Rich has an undying passion for the quality of education that Olney provides to students. His leadership, dedication, financial savvy, and intelligence are all part of what has made Olney Friends School so successful. Olney is one of my favorite places in Barnesville, and I am thankful for the fact that Rich has always made me feel so welcome. As a result of my ties to Olney with its diverse group of students, I now have friends from all over the world,” said John Rataiczak, Barnesville Area Chamber of Commerce president and manager of Wesbanco, Barnesville.

For alumni of the school, Sidwell’s leadership is inextricably bound up with the school’s own “near-death and rebirth” experience, explains board chair Ernest Hartley of El Dorado, California, class of 1957.

“These have been rebuilding years for Olney,” said Hartley. He notes the school management passed from the Ohio Yearly Meeting (Conservative) of Friends (Quakers) in 1999 to an alumni board.

“At the time of the transition, the future of the school was uncertain. Today, it is thriving. We are grateful to Rich for his dedicated and adept service,” he said.

Another board member, Emily Stanley, class of 1978, from Glyndon, Maryland, seconded this assessment. She wrote in a letter to Sidwell, “From my perspective as a teacher at a small private school who has seen several heads in action, I have regarded you as exemplary in your role of sustaining a culture of trust and openness. This is a far harder task than most people imagine, and one that is nearly invisible if it is done well. Somehow you have helped to grow a climate that has permitted all to thrive.”

The school will conduct a national search for a new leadership. A search committee will be named “in the coming weeks,” Hartley said.


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