Interviewing Craig Gemmell, President at Brewster Academy, Brewster Academy International and Founding Head at Brewster Madrid

This week, we've had the pleasure to talk to Craig Gemmell, President at Brewster Academy and Brewster Academy International, Founding Head at Brewster Madrid. 

Tell us briefly about the history and mission of Brewster Academy.

Brewster Academy has been educating promising students from diverse backgrounds on the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee in Wolfeboro, NH, USA for 203 years. For its first several decades after its founding in 1820, Brewster Academy educated the children of Wolfeboro’s residents. Brewster admitted boarding students starting in the early 20thcentury and over the last 30 years has developed a strong reputation for innovation. Among Brewster’s many “firsts” include being the first school in the US to have a 1:1 laptop program (1994), serving as a critical partner with Yale University in developing one of the first Social-Emotional Literacy Programs in the United States (2011), developing a now widely-used project-based learning curriculum (2014), and now being the first New England Boarding school to develop a network of campuses in Europe.

Brewster’s mission: Brewster prepares diverse thinkers for lives of purpose. We live this mission every day—in admission, in the classroom, and in the broader community.

Tell us about your career path and your current role at Brewster Academy.

I have been in school in one way, shape, or form since I was five years old. After university I took a one year appointment at Pomfret School in Connecticut and stayed instead for four. After a stint at Duke University, where I studied marine ecology, I was drawn back to New England boarding schools for a second time when I took a one year appointment at Groton School, one of the top boarding schools in the US. One year turned into twenty-one, and I finished my tenure there as Assistant Head. I was selected to be Brewster Academy’s Head of School in 2014 and started officially July 1st, 2015. I chose Brewster because of its immensely student-centered approach and had a very fulfilling seven years there supporting others to support and challenge students. During my time at Brewster I came to realize that Brewster should scale its influence because Brewster’s program is powerfully transformative for students. This was when the notion of a global network was born.

My current role is actually a bunch of inter-related roles. First of all, I’m The President of Brewster Academy. In this capacity I work along with Brewster’s amazing Head of School, Kristy Kerin, to chart the course of Brewster and the broader network. I am also the President of BA International, a subsidiary of Brewster established to develop a global network of schools. Finally, I’m the Head of School at Brewster Madrid. I chose to take on the work of getting Brewster Madrid started because imagined that rolling my sleeves up and getting into the details of successfully starting a school in Madrid would inform how we’d start future schools. Little did I know that the actual act of building something new—and the thousands of attendant details and decisions involved—was going to be so fulfilling!

What is the element that sets you apart or of which you feel most proud in your school?

I am proud that Brewster’s mission is decidedly different than that of most schools and am even more proud that we truly live our mission every day—in all of our work.

What role does diversity play within your center?

Diversity is a term that is thrown around quite casually in the 21st century, but diversity has been an important driver that has shaped Brewster’s course and approach to learning. Of course we strive to build a community comprised of students from a range of ethnic and cultural backgrounds because of the various perspectives a diverse student body brings. And of course we create a culture and climate in which students gladly learn from each other and about each other in ways that benefit all. But what runs through Brewster is an abiding commitment to matriculating and purposefully serving a cognitively diverse population. Brewster has long know that not all students think alike, not all students learn alike, and a truly student-centered education is the only means of serving a cognitively diverse population.

Why did you choose Madrid to open a new Brewster center?

I came to Madrid first in March of 1989 with too little money and carrying a backpack. Madrid blew me away—the people were welcoming, the climate was refreshing—particularly since I flew to Madrid having just endured a difficult New England winter—and, importantly, the place felt very safe. When I first started thinking where to start a global campus network, I thought of Madrid. In a serendipitous moment in this project, I met Ricardo Carreno, who grew up in Madrid and was at the time working at another New England boarding school. Turns out he was very interested in bringing American educational practices to Madrid! After completing a global market scan in which we examined affinity for American-style education and unmet market demand among other factors, Madrid stood out.

Why did you choose to be a member of AmChamSpain?

First of all, we are an American business and are finding our way in this market and this culture just like so many other American businesses new to Madrid, and we would love to have fellow American colleagues to learn from and partner with. Secondly, we want American companies to know about us as a great option for their employees.