Interim US Head Brings Comfort, Models Growth

Jon Garman brings to the role humility, and half a century of experience with the Friends community, in a transitional year for the school


Connor Weisman

Jon Garman, beloved Friends History teacher, former Athletic Director and 12th Grade Dean, and now Interim Upper School Head, stands in front of his office.

Brayden Mathias, Editor-in-Chief

Last spring, as Friends School prepared for summer and a new Head of School was on his way in, a beloved principal and teacher surprised the community with the news that he was on his way out.

In March, Upper School Principal Steve McManus announced that he was departing Friends to lead the Edmund Burke School in Washington, DC. Fortunately, Jon Garman – a veteran History teacher, administrator, parent of two alums, and alum of the class of ‘75 himself – agreed to step in as Interim Principal.

“It’s comforting,” says longtime friend and colleague Michael McVey. “Losing Mr. McManus came as a bit of a surprise. And so, immediately, many of us got worried about this year … and what [the school was] gonna do. But when they said they were going to have Mr. Garman take over for a year, we all breathed a sigh of relief.”

Garman had originally planned to retire at the end of the 2021-22 school year, after a 39-year career at Friends that included multiple leadership roles, such as Athletic Director and Dean. For colleagues, students, and families, Mr. Garman provides a sense of security and stability in a time that has seen numerous changes and uncertainties.

“What he has is a tremendous dedication and love of this school,” says McVey, who teaches music in the Upper School. “He’s always been very outgoing about that, and I think he heard the need and wants to help the school out.”

Despite the Interim Head position coming as a surprise at the end of his career, Garman says it makes sense now.

“I think actually this is the right time in my career, because I have the qualities that are needed,” he says. “Like asking for help. Like trying to be a better listener.”

There was a time, decades ago, when Garman aspired to lead the Upper School before. Looking back now, he says he wasn’t ready then.

“When I really wanted to be a principal 20 years ago, I don’t think I would’ve been a very good principal,” says Garman. “[When you’re young,] you feel like you don’t have to listen to people. That’s a mistake. You feel like you don’t have to ask for help. That’s a mistake.” 

McVey, who has worked with Garman for decades, and grown alongside him, agrees.

“When we were young and confident and sorta full of ourselves, maybe we didn’t listen as well as we do now,” McVey says. “In fact, I’m sure we didn’t. Now we listen better.”

These days, Garman says, he feels as though “the older I get, the less I know.” Coming into this year, he says, he had “big shoes to fill” left behind by the beloved Mr. McManus. It’s been lots of new information for him, but he says he’s been able to rely on other faculty members to help him in the areas he doesn’t know as well.

The upper echelons of Friends School administration have seen a number of changes in the past few years. At the end of the 2020-2021 school year, Head of School Matt Micciche stepped away after 16 years. Dennis Bisgaard then took over as Interim Head of School for the 2021-2022 school year.

For the 2022-2023 school year, Christian Donovan took over as the school’s 13th permanent Head of School. Christian (who prefers to go by his first name) says that, since he arrived in July, Garman’s help has been invaluable.

Mr. Garman has been tremendously helpful, [due] to the fact that he has deep institutional history and knowledge,” says Christian.

For a school deep in a transition, the appointment of Garman to Upper School Head has brought qualities and experience that are immensely helpful. He has provided a huge amount of comfort in the transition. It is comfort for people who’ve been at Friends for years like McVey, and it’s a comfort for new folks such as Christian.