VAIL — Mike Imperi wasn’t looking for a job when his phone rang last summer. He picked it up and someone he had never met asked him if he had heard of Vail Mountain School, and if he would consider throwing his hat in the ring to be the new head of school.
Fast forward to July 1 and his first day in his new job, running the school.
“It was apparent that Mike was the stand-out candidate among many highly qualified individuals, and we are thrilled to have him join the VMS community,” said Tom Washing, chair of the Vail Mountain School Board of Trustees.
You’d expect the new headmaster to have impeccable creds in education, and he does — head of the Alexander Dawson School at Rainbow Mountain in Las Vegas, principal of Dawson Middle School in Lafayette, experience leading expeditions in more than 16 countries and decades in the classroom.
But it’s that adventure travel, including two trips to the 19,341 foot summit of Mount Kilimanjaro and his years in the classroom that made the board sit up and listen.
Imperi has a passion for the wisdom in Asian religions and culture, which he taught for 16 years, along with psychology and history at the Singapore American School. He keeps a Lao Tzu quote in his office: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: We did it ourselves.”
Imperi and Vail Mountain School agree that much school-related learning happens outside the classroom.
“After visiting over the past few months and meeting the people, it’s clear to me that it’s a terrific fit,” says Imperi.
Vail Mountain School has been around since 1962 and opened its doors before the first lifts on Vail Mountain began to spin. Imperi said he has no intention of changing the character and values that make the school what it is.
“It’s the glue that holds the community together, and that is one of the strongest draws for me,” Imperi said.
The board of trustees adopted a five-year plan focused on curriculum, technology, enrollment, finances, staffing and facilities.
“What’s different about the school’s situation is how we must implement the plan,” Imperi said. “We face a unique set of challenges and opportunities as an independent school in a remote mountain town, but we also have extraordinary possibilities afforded by this location, the information age and a very supportive community.”
Technology makes it possible to experience other cultures, Imperi said. Kids can grow up with the Rockies in their backyard and still get a world-class education comparable to big city schools, and Vail Mountain School students have plenty of travel opportunities.
“It’s a great time to be a student, especially at VMS,” Imperi said.
Imperi said he wants to add to the school’s foreign language program, bring technology into the classroom, expand athletics and develop individualized education for all students. That includes athletes who need flexible schedules, international students learning English and children with different learning styles.
“We’ve got to meet the students where they are, challenge their strengths and support them through their struggles. For every kid, that’s different. One size does not fit all — it fits only one,” Imperi said. “The idealist in me would like to build a learning community that is capable of challenging and preparing virtually any child to succeed in college and beyond, regardless of their genius or obstacles.”
He also said wants to reward great teachers with best-in-class salary and benefits
Julie Schlossinger, lower school director at Vail Mountain School, found herself asking Imperi’s permission.
“He responded that his leadership style is to offer suggestions and support, but that in the end, he trusts people’s expertise and their ability to make decisions and take ownership,” Schlossinger said.
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935, and firstname.lastname@example.org