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New Independent School to Open in Bentonville

July 23, 2015
Bentonville, Northwest Arkansas Families to Benefit from World-Class Educational Option, Led by Dr. Clayton Marsh, Deputy Dean of the College at Princeton University
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Luis Gonzalez
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BENTONVILLE, Ark. (July 23, 2015) – The Walton Family Foundation has announced plans to support the development of a new independent school in Bentonville. The institution will serve as a new educational choice for families in the Northwest Arkansas region.

Dr. Clayton Marsh, currently the deputy dean of the college at Princeton University, will be the founding head of school effective January 2016. Dr. Marsh was selected for the position following an extensive national search.

“When we made the decision to build a new educational option for Northwest Arkansas from the ground up, we knew finding an innovative leader would be the first important step,” said Karen Minkel, Home Region program director at the Walton Family Foundation. “After meeting Clayton, we quickly realized we had found just that – someone who could build upon our vision and create an extraordinary educational opportunity.”

Dr. Clayton Marsh, founding head of school, Thaden School

At Princeton, Marsh’s principal responsibilities include working with academic departments to develop new courses and programs; leading efforts to enhance the university’s liberal arts curriculum; and encouraging innovation in teaching. In addition to his significant administrative responsibilities, Marsh also teaches courses at Princeton.

“I’m honored to have the opportunity to create a new school on an open canvas in the heart of our country,” said Marsh. “And the conditions in Northwest Arkansas could not be better – a welcoming and dynamic community, a readiness for innovation in education, and, of course, the inspiring beauty of the Ozarks.”

Minkel also outlined the school’s significance within the foundation’s strategy for the Home Region program.

“One of the key points in the Home Region’s 2020 strategic plan is to create a world-class system of Pre-K-12 schools,” said Minkel. “Our planning process helped us assess the current level of accessibility for parents and students to high-performing charter schools and traditional public schools. Our assessment also revealed that an independent school would add to the range of quality options available.”

Area residents have recognized the need for this type of institution. A feasibility study conducted by the Walton Family Foundation revealed that 68% of Bentonville residents polled would support an independent school. A similar level of support exists across the region’s other school districts.

Marsh is a native of Kansas City, Missouri, where his parents and many of his close friends live. He holds a doctorate in English and comparative literature from Columbia University, a master’s in English from Stanford University and a bachelor's degree in English from Princeton University.

Marsh has extensive experience in the independent school sector. For eight years, he was a faculty member of The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, one of the country’s finest independent schools, where he taught English and coached football and wrestling.

“Independent schools have played a formative role in my life – both as a student and as a teacher,” said Marsh. “They ignited my lifelong passion for education and defined the core values and goals that have motivated and shaped my work with students of all ages.”

In addition to his work as a teacher and academic leader, Marsh practiced law for many years after earning his juris doctor degree from the University of Michigan Law School. As a litigator in New York City, he worked on complex commercial cases. He subsequently served as university counsel at Princeton, where he supported a broad range of administrative units, including its office of design and construction.

Dr. Valerie Smith, president of Swarthmore College and former dean of the college at Princeton University, expressed confidence in Marsh’s ability to build a high-achieving academic institution from the ground up.

“Clayton is an extraordinarily gifted, insightful and inspiring colleague, teacher and administrator,” said Smith. “He will be the perfect fit for the top leadership role at an academically driven school. With his vast range of experience and zest for learning, he is uniquely qualified to shape the destiny of this institution.”

As the founding head of school, Marsh will create an institution that is committed to academic excellence, equality of educational opportunity and civic engagement.

“I am particularly excited to begin building an exceptional team of teachers who have mastered the art of cultivating student potential,” said Marsh.

The school will also offer a challenging curriculum, small classes, a diverse student body and distinctive architecture.

As head of school, Dr. Marsh will lead all aspects of the independent school’s development, including curriculum and infrastructure. The school is initially expected to serve students in middle school and high school. In the spring of 2016, Marsh will release a timeline for the opening of the school and the specific grades it will offer.

Marsh and his wife, Margaret, will relocate to the region next summer. They have three children, Jack, Anna, and Robby. Marsh looks forward to returning to the rivers and streams of Northwest Arkansas where he discovered his passion for trout fishing.