The local education community has lost a major player with the departure this month of Norman Colb, who has retired from his post as Menlo School headmaster after 20 years. Mr. Colb's tenure at the Atherton school, which serves students in middle through high school, began at a time when the school and Menlo College were ending their co-existence as a single entity; it continued through years of transformation.
He led the private institution through significant developments including the construction of new middle school buildings and the addition of a sixth-grade level; the expansion of overall enrollment to nearly 800 students today; the renovation and expansion of the historic Douglass Hall, still the gem of the Valparaiso Avenue campus; and the nurturing of a dedicated and demonstrably effective teaching staff. "My primary goal has been to help build a school that is exceptionally attractive to the very best teachers. ... My theory has been: If you can attract and retain superb teachers, great teachers, everything would flow from that," he said in an interview with the Almanac last month.
Another of Mr. Colb's goals has been to spread an important -- though, in this pressure-cooker area known for its wealth and entrepreneurial culture, often-ignored -- message: Parents, let up a little. Let your kids be kids who embrace and retain a love of learning. The overemphasis on grades so typical of high-achieving parents whose hearts are set on getting their children into the most prestigious universities doesn't promote genuine learning, Mr. Colb maintains. "Enjoying the use of one's mind and learning is what should be emphasized," he says, adding that too often, engagement with the life of the mind is extinguished by excessive parental pressure.
Such pressure also creates unhealthy stress for students as well, he says. In a talk earlier this year, Mr. Colb told parents: "If you worry about (children) incessantly, they'll worry about themselves. If you're calm and competent about them, you give them a gift that lasts a lifetime. What kids need from us is authentic, patient, loving, unloaded, unworried time."
When Mr. Colb announced his retirement in December 2011, he intended to "hang up the chalk," he told the Almanac. But as the date approached, he had second thoughts. As he leaves Menlo School, and his Menlo Park home, he and his wife, Susan, head for Reno, where Mr. Colb will head Sage Ridge School. He leaves a rich legacy at Menlo School, and beyond, as graduates make their varied impacts and imprints on the world. They are beneficiaries of an education that, in Mr. Colb's words, was intended to instill an understanding of "one's relationship with the wider world, and one's obligation to the wider world."