During the February blizzard, Marion Town Administrator Paul Dawson faced a big problem: Fire, police, and other crews had been working for upward of 36 hours without food, and as conditions worsened to the point of near shutdown across the community, local restaurant options dwindled to zero. Then, he got an idea. He decided to call the recently installed Head of Schools at Tabor Academy, John Quirk.
“Since it’s a boarding school, they had students to feed, and John had offered a couple of times to help in case anything came up during the storm,” Dawson remembers. More than 75 percent of Tabor’s nearly 500 students live on campus. “So, I decided to take him up on it. I said, ‘Here’s my dilemma; is there anything you can do?’ He told us to bring everybody over during the students’ dinner hour for a hot meal, and he opened up the male and female locker rooms so that personnel could shower. It was just really good teamwork there.”
At last week’s first official meet-and-greet between the Marion Board of Selectmen and the new Tabor Head of School, who started his tenure in July of 2012, Dawson recalled this story as an example of “wide-open lines of communication,” which emerged as the dominant theme of the session.
“When in doubt, I want you to feel like you can pick up the phone any time,” Quirk said. “My family moved to Marion for Tabor, but we also moved to Marion to be a part of the town. I hope residents will see in me an investment in that partnership.”
Marion Selectmen Chair Stephen Cushing, Vice-Chair John Henry, and Clerk Jonathan Dickerson all expressed a desire for such meetings to take place on a recurring schedule.
“This can’t be done too often,” said Henry, who is up for re-election in May.
Dickerson agreed. “When you think of Tabor, you think of Marion, and when you think of Marion, you think of Tabor,” he said.
Officials referenced land-use litigation between Marion and Tabor as an example of a communications breakdown, which escalated in recent years when the school undertook construction on new athletic facilities even as the town denied zoning permits.
A judge in Boston ruled in June of 2012 that the school overreached when trying to build certain features of the facilities without permits, but was otherwise not subject to site plan review for the new field itself. The case remains in land court, but Dawson said that the parties hope for amicable resolution in the near future, with Tabor already having agreed to fund an engineering study on the potential impact of the track’s synthetic crumb-rubber surface on the Sippican Harbor.
Although Quirk was not involved in the most contentious stages of those proceedings, he said he does see several lessons in what has transpired between the entities.
“The better work and business go, the better you get to know people,” said Quirk, who succeeded Jay Stroud after the latter’s 24 years as Head of School. “I will be looking at growth and development in the context of how it fits into the town’s needs.
“I say this not in my capacity as a decision-maker, but in my capacity as an educator: Our focus will not be on getting bigger, but on getting better,” Quirk continued. “We need to think about our place on the water in terms of maintenance, aesthetics, and sustainability. There’s a lot to it. I like living in a town where people spend time thinking about the health, safety, environment, and aesthetics of a community. You want to live in a town where people are civically minded.”
By Shawn Badgley
From Left to right: Marion Selectmen Chair Stephen Cushing, Clerk Jonathan Dickerson, Vice-Chair John Henry, and Tabor Head of School John Quirk