Becker contemplates Roycemore farewell
Evanston -Joseph Becker, the longtime headmaster for Roycemore School, is retiring at the end of this school year. The k-12 independent school draws students from Chicago and across the North Shore. | For Sun-Times Media~Joe Cyganowski
Updated: January 7, 2013 6:18AM
EVANSTON — When Joseph Becker first thought about retiring as headmaster of Roycemore School, he couldn’t. He simply didn’t have the time.
He was piloting the venerable independent school’s move from its original 640 Lincoln St. home to larger, more modern quarters at 1200 Davis Ave. It was a momentous step for the roughly 300 students and 50 or so teachers and support staff in the Roycemore family, taking years to conceive, finance and plan before the 2011 move-in date.
Once it was complete, however, and students from Evanston, Chicago and throughout the North Shore were settled in their k-12 classes, Becker decided it was time to make his own move. That comes at the end of this school year; new Headmaster Kevin Smith will succeed him July 1, 2013.
“It really was appropriate,” Becker said last week. “When a longtime head goes, it works best when the school is in a uniquely strong position, and in 44 years I don’t think I’ve ever seen the school in as strong a position as it is now.”
Becker came to Roycemore as a history teacher and sports coach in 1969. shortly after the former girls’ school had become co-educational, and the Nebraska native and former Northwestern University political science major realized he wanted to spend his life teaching.
He taught after taking the headmaster’s position in 1976, and he still loves doing so, but over the next 37 years he also managed Roycemore’s unique needs.
One was navigating through societal changes, from the anti-authoritarian 1960s and early 1970s to later decades “when people thought it didn’t matter what you learned but who you knew.”
Another was the financial challenge independent not-for-profit schools face. (Roycemore depends on tuition and charitable giving, while providing more than $1 million in financial aid to needy and deserving students.)
“We needed to be big enough to be viable, and still small enough to be nurturing,” he said, adding that calling Roycemore a family is far from an educational cliché.
“I stayed because of the blend of students from so many areas and backgrounds, the relationship between students and teachers and the quality of the teachers, not just professionally but personally,” he said.
Becker loves Roycemore’s culture of student diversity (almost 40 percent are students of color and 30 percent receive financial aid), academic excellence and emotional growth. Students may go to college or take other paths, but they know they can succeed whatever path they take, he said.
“When we talk about preparing kids for the real world, the world with people of economic, racial and religious diversity, I think Roycemore has been much more real than some independent schools.”
To more on Roycemore School, visit www.roycemoreschool.org.