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Retired Westmont President Tapped To Lead Year-Old Providence Hall

David Winter will take reins of Protestant high school while headmaster search is under way.

Providence Hall, Santa Barbara’s only Protestant high school, has hired former Westmont College President David Winter to lead the year-old school on an interim basis, officials announced Thursday.

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David Winter
Winter, 77, served as Westmont president from 1976 to 2001, and joined Providence Hall’s board of directors four months ago. He said he had no intention of being the school’s headmaster.

The vacancy opened up July 1 when the contract expired for headmaster Ron Grosh, who will return to the consulting work he did before moving to Santa Barbara from Ohio two years ago to get the school up and running, officials said.

Providence Hall is located at Anacapa and Micheltorena streets, and says it instills in its students the critical-thinking skills they’ll need for college, but through the lens of a “historical Christian worldview.” Santa Barbara’s other Christian high school — Bishop Garcia Diego — is rooted in the Catholic tradition, making Providence Hall the only local Protestant school.

Last year, Providence Hall, which shares a campus with the private, K-8 Notre Dame School, enrolled 27 students, most of them freshmen and sophomores. This fall, school officials expect enrollment to be 45. Students need not be Christian to attend, but faculty must be Christian to teach.

Although tuition costs $19,000 a year, nearly two-thirds of the students qualify for financial aid, said Randy Clark, president of the Providence Hall board of directors. The school has been financed largely by about 45 donors, among them former supermodel Kathy Ireland, who serves on the board of directors, he said.

Clark said Winter — who earned a doctorate degree in sociology and anthropology from Michigan State University — is widely regarded as a superstar in education circles throughout the nation.

“We happen to be lucky enough to have him in our backyard,” he said. “His name is one of those names that brings a pause in peoples’ conversation out of awe.”

While Westmont president, Winter was recognized as one of the 100 most effective college leaders in the United States by a survey of higher education officials and scholars conducted by the public Bowling Green State University and funded by the Exxon Education Foundation.

Winter, who lost 90 percent of his eyesight in 1998, said he plans to do his best to help the school grow.

“I think every community needs a variety of options in education,” he said.

Specifically, he wants to help the school broaden its offerings in the performing arts, much as it already offers a rich array of extracurricular sports, such as basketball, cross-country and volleyball, he said.

“We hope to have music, drama and art in greater abundance than we did before,” he said.

The school employs eight full-time teachers, who abide by the Socratic method of instruction, which entails asking students questions in an attempt to get them to draw their own conclusions and think critically. The school also teaches the concept of intelligent design alongside that of evolution. In addition, its curriculum places heavy emphasis on mathematics, science, literature — much of it Greek — and the humanities.

Officials say it could take up to a year to find a qualified permanent headmaster. For a while, it appeared as if they had found one from outside the area, Winter said, but at the last minute the individual decided against taking the job, citing a reluctance to uproot his family to move to Santa Barbara.

Winter has served as an interim leader before. After retiring from Westmont, he returned five years later to serve as interim president during the 2006-07 academic year. He also was a member of the board of Oaks Christian High in Thousand Oaks during its formation period.

Winter is open about the heartbreak that accompanied the swift loss of his eyesight a decade ago. It occurred without warning, over a period of about three weeks.

“My eyes are fine, it’s the optic nerves that connect the two eyes to the brain,” he said. “What occurred is something like a stroke, where you don’t get enough blood to the brain. In this case, the optic nerve did not.”

He said the loss has been emotionally painful, but — as loss often is — instructive.

“I’ve used this as a basis for sharing with large groups and small groups,” he said. “Into each of our lives things happen and occur that come to us that are very, very hard to accept. We could spend the rest of our lives fighting it or be resentful and angry or we can come to terms with it and accept it as something we can deal with.”

Noozhawk staff writer Rob Kuznia can be reached at [email protected]

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