Reflecting on his time as DCD board president, Mark Epker exudes positivity and gratitude toward the school’s leadership, faculty and staff, parents, and fellow board members. Board presidents at independent schools must navigate many challenges during their tenure, but Mark’s stewardship during these past two years has been extraordinary, especially given the circumstances surrounding the pandemic.
Mark stepped into the role of board president with deep knowledge of how the board operates from having served as a member since 2011, including on the Strategic Planning, Audit, and Building Committees and for three years as treasurer and chair of the Finance Committee. In October 2019, he began his tenure as board president with the goals of executing the main initiatives outlined in the strategic plan: making progress on the curriculum and schedule reviews, building and maintaining the financial strength of the school, and helping to initiate the new capital campaign that would move DCD forward into its next chapter.
Crisis planning is commonly anticipated among board leadership, but the thought of a global pandemic and its potential impact on our school community was not at the top of Mark’s mind when he took on this new role — until the early days of February when news of COVID-19 and its global impact began to surface.
“It was not what I had anticipated when I took on this role,” he says. “You know you are always going to have challenges, nobody ever has a straight path, but this was different.”
In the early days of the pandemic, Mark recalls hunkering down on Zoom with the board and Head of School Allison Webster and then later with DCD’s Covid Response and Planning Team to make sure our community stayed safe and connected and that we continued to live and fulfill our school’s mission.
“I feel so much joy in hearing from parents,” he says, “whether it’s a thank you for what we’ve been able to do as a school or a story or an anecdote of what a DCD teacher has been able to accomplish with a student.”
Mark won’t take credit for what DCD has been able to carry out during these unprecedented times, insisting that, “In a crisis, you need a good leader, and that’s Allison. From the very beginning, students’ well-being from a social, emotional, and academic standpoint was her top priority, and she knew that children needed to be in school. By August 2020, that’s clearly what was going to happen. I took my cues from her,” reflects Mark. “The board really focused on how we could support Allison and her team.”
Mark acknowledges that his biggest challenge was how to keep the school financially strong while keeping our community fully engaged. The expenditures to enable in-person learning with increased levels of staffing, physical plant expenditures, testing, and safety precautions for learning both inside and outside were significant. Knowing and understanding the culture of our school so intimately and the value students, teachers, families, and board members place on being a part of the DCD community, engagement also became a major priority for him. Check-in calls, Zoom connections, and outdoor, socially safe gatherings proved to be critical in maintaining our school culture.
As he departs his role, Mark is pleased with DCD’s financial health and feels we have weathered this storm in the best way possible. When asked what has given him the most joy as DCD’s board president, Mark smiles broadly and says it’s seeing the kids on campus. “Hearing their squeals of joy and knowing that the kids and teachers could be here physically every day and living up to our mission makes me feel so good.”
As for his original goals, he feels the school has been able to make significant progress despite the challenges of the pandemic and is excited about the school’s current health and future trajectory, especially under the stewardship of Kristen Cloonan, DCD’s new board president.
“I love DCD!” Mark exclaims. “It’s odd not to be a current parent since this is where we’ve been since 2006 when my daughter Charlotte ’16 began in pre-K. Now with daughter Molly ’18 and Teddy ’21 graduated, I forgot that I wouldn’t see the eNews in my inbox every Saturday.” Though Mark has completed his role as board president, he will continue his service in a board member capacity.
Mark’s unwavering commitment to DCD has been such a gift to the school and the entire community. And with four alumni in the Epker family, we know he will never be too far from the halls and space he has graced for fifteen years!