It would be impossible to exaggerate the significance and totality of the decision to name David Fowler as Headmaster to succeed Lyle Farrell in 1971. These were very tough times for private schools (and American society,) as the war in Vietnam and rock music scored the division between teenagers and adults. By the time Lyle's 41 years of service ended, he was consumed by issues such as the length of boys' hair, while the fabric of the community was being redefined. David Fowler came to Proctor in 1964, and rose like a star through almost every administrative position. Still, his youthful commitment to student voice in school government caused Lyle, who--ironically--was a champion of democracy (particularly when contrasted to communism,) anxious discomfort. Trustees made a bold step choosing David over other candidates. Here we see David and Alice and a young family, when they still lived in Carr House.
David immediately instituted a democratic process that reconstructed student government by trashing seniority systems. He provided unprecidented power to faculty to define school structures, policies and programs. At his right hand, throughout this period of redefinition, was Chris Norris. Chris, an Outward Bound advocate, actually spent a year away, teaching at Cranbrook School (MI) and returned with that school's outdoor education director in tow: Dan Hindert. With Dan's expertise, energy and vision, Proctor immediately instituted a Wilderness Orientation program for new students that is flourishing thirty-four years later.
Meanwhile, the school acquired two significant parcels of land, including the Ragged Lake Camp property at Elbow Pond, where Hindert and Norris designed and constructed a ropes course inspired by Outward Bound. The school was suddenly co-ed, and it challenged all to transcend self-imposed boundaries and limitations.
By 1974, the idea of marrying Outward Bound's notions of intense, small group transformational experience with a college preparatory curriculum was realized, when the first Mountain Classroom headed west with a van load of students and two teachers. In the years that followed, Mountain Classroom became refined, with contacts at Native reservations, Mexican border towns, and natural sites throughout the west.
The impact of experiential education back on campus was total. Each academic department asked, "How do we make learning more immediate and real?" Land use management and forestry became valued academic majors. For the Language Department, the answer was immersion in Europe. By 1975, Proctor had faculty and facilities in Madrid and Clermont-Ferrand. Later, these programs gravitated to Segovia and Pont l'Abbe.
Empowered by David's extraordinary leadership style, the faculty created a school at which rules and regulations (and consequences) were articulated with clarity, but limited to an extent that students could exercise responsibility by making significant choices. Chris Norris's sense of structure complemented David Fowler's passion for egalitarian democracy, and the school began to flourish with a new sense of mission and community. Alice Fowler and John Schoeller teamed to make the Learning Skills program a national prototype, and the informality of student/faculty relationships helped secure a niche or market position that stimulated increased demand for admission throughout the eighties and nineties. Meanwhile, faculty and trustees conceived another experiential program that proved to be life-changing: Ocean Classroom.
Working together on strict naval "watches," 22 students sail a 130-foot schooner from Gloucester to San Juan, Puerto Rico, with fourteen field stops, while earning full academic credit for the fall trimester.
Perhaps the greatest enduring hallmark of the Fowler years is the ethos on campus nurtured by almost-daily whole school assemblies at which anyone can step forward and say anything they wish.
The revolution of 1971 was bold and lasting. It was not, of course, complete. With time, vestiges of the Unitarian school that put students to work in woodshops and victory gardens were sustained in the school that we know today.