Director of Cranbrook Schools Arlyce Seibert leaves behind a legacy and standard of excellence that has left a mark on administrators, alumni and students.
By Susan Peck
Photos courtesy Cranbrook Schools
Sometimes, a photograph captures the spirit and essence of a person, freezing a moment in time.
Claudia Daggett, executive director of the Independent Schools Association of the Central States, says she remembers one such image of Arlyce Seibert, director of Cranbrook Schools, who is retiring this year after a 47-year career.
“I’ll never forget the bio photo of Arlyce that symbolizes everything about her,” Daggett says. “She is marching through a spectacular stone archway, scarf flowing behind her, her face beaming with pride, as she’s leading a group tour of her beloved Cranbrook campus.”
You can see she was a proud captain of this magnificent institution, Daggett says, and the picture “reflects her deep affection for the important history and legacy embodied there.”
Daggett saw the devotion firsthand recently, when Seibert took her on a golf cart tour of the renowned Cranbrook Educational Community, a National Historic Landmark founded in 1904 newspaper mogul George Booth and his wife, Ellen Scripps Booth, located on 319 acres in Bloomfield Hills. It consists of a private preparatory school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade with five campuses: Cranbrook Schools, Cranbrook Academy of Art, Cranbrook Art Museum, Cranbrook Institute of Science and Cranbrook House and Gardens — featuring the work of famous architects and sculptors such as Albert Kahn and Marshall Fredericks.
“The kind of enthusiasm and passion that Arlyce has is very rare,” Daggett says. “She has enormous knowledge and love for the grounds, architecture and rich background of Cranbrook, but you can see that her primary concern is her relationships with the students, faculty and alumni.”
The Arlyce Effect
A term coined by American meteorologist Edward Lorenz, the Butterfly Effect is a concept to describe how a small natural force can produce large effects over a period of time. Seibert’s leadership is described by Cranbrook Schools President Dominic DiMarco as having that kind of “transformational effect.”
A native of Ohio and longtime Bloomfield Hills resident, Seibert began her Cranbrook career after earning a bachelor of arts degree in history and political science from the University of Detroit and a master of arts in teaching from Oakland University. She was recognized early on with an Excellence in Teaching Award and an Alumnae Appreciation Award from Cranbrook.
“Some of the many notable achievements during her impactful career include building a separate girls middle school (mirroring the boys middle school), new locker facilities for boys and girls, and an ice arena expansion to include girls hockey,” DiMarco says. “The grounds needed attention, and Arlyce implemented a large-scale renovation that included the fountains and landscaping, and also upgraded campus safety and security measures.”
DiMarco says Cranbrook Schools has atop rating from Niche (a school rating platform that uses data from the U.S. Department of Education) because of its highest standards of education, largely due to Seibert’s visionary and forward-thinking. “She’s spearheaded initiatives particularly in science, mathematics and experiential learning that established Cranbrook as a global educational leader,” he says.
In 2006, she was designated an outstanding head of school for her highly effective and transformative leadership abilities by the prestigious Klingenstein Center for Independent School Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Seibert is a member of the Headmasters Association — the oldest head of schools organization in the country. She also serves as immediate past chair of the Independent Schools Association of the Central States Board of Directors, president and regent of The Cum Laude Society and member of the Global Online Academy Board of Directors.
Under Seibert’s stewardship in 2016, Cranbrook Schools was the first school in the Midwest to form an educational collaboration with the Edgerton Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an initiative that would empower Cranbrook faculty to accelerate innovation and design thinking in their curriculum and teaching. “We became a testing site for Edgerton Center with the potential to change the way K-12 curriculum is developed nationally,” DiMarco says. “These are the kind of advancements that keep Cranbrook at the forefront of unparalleled creative and intellectual growth opportunities.”
While Seibert’s exceptional leadership success could easily be measured by statistics of increased enrollment, dollars raised or new buildings and initiatives completed, she said in a recent Tradition Cranbrook alumni magazine article that she believes “the true test of a head is in meeting the challenges that impact the very heart and soul of the community.”
“In confronting those rare moments when some of us are not our best — moments of bullying, racism, of intolerance, of bad judgment — that is where a head is measured. In guiding the school during times of tragedy … that is where a head is tested and stands or falls,” she adds.
“In all of my years at Cranbrook, I have never had a higher priority than the people who make up this truly special place,” she says.
Scott Looney, director of Hawken School, a private college preparatory school in Ohio, served under Seibert at Cranbrook for 11 years as director of Cranbrook Kingswood Middle School for Girls and later assistant director of Cranbrook Schools in 2006. He describes his mentor, Seibert, as “the air traffic controller that knows everything that’s happening in the school at all times.”
“Arlyce has two speeds — sprint and rest — nothing in between, and whether it’s an issue with a second-grader, one of the 250 teachers she knew very personally or anything else on campus, she didn’t miss a thing,” Looney says. “I think because she came up through the ranks, she knew every facet of the school, inside and out. Not a week goes by, in my current position at Hawken, that I don’t stop to ask myself when confronted with a problem, ‘What Would Arlyce Do?’, because she displays the most extraordinary instincts I’ve ever seen in a leader.”
During his tenure at Cranbrook, Seibert presented him with the opportunity to run the girls middle school for a year.
“It didn’t make any sense to me, given my skill set, but after I took on the challenge, I could see they needed a little dose of me there — it was a perfect example of her brilliant insight and direction,” Looney says.
Her ability to think outside of the box in the most skillful way, Looney adds, is something “unbelievable to watch and impossible to duplicate.”
Her peers attribute Seibert’s successful leadership model to a few fundamental things. “Arlyce taught me the importance of being an empathetic listener, and to be inclusive when it comes to decision making —considering everyone’s input, even if the process takes a lot longer,” Looney says. “And she has a witty sense of humor with a contagious laugh that helps keep a healthy perspective.
“Many times the quiet observer, Arlyce wasn’t one to lead with her ego — she never liked to take personal credit for her accomplishments, believing it was the team of people working with her that was responsible for the successes. Arlyce knows the art of delegating, and the strength of using her faculty’s individual complementary skills to work together at the highest level.”
Educational search consultant Thomas Hudnut served on several educational boards with Seibert, including The Cum Laude Society, and says it’s her degree of caring that distinguishes her from the rest. “We’re in an age in which too few people stay in one place for a long time, but Arlyce spent her entire career at Cranbrook because she cares so deeply about the school and the people there,” Hudnut says. “She was a unifying force for all of the campuses and has become part of Cranbrook’s history, like no other director before her.”
DiMarco says he feels Seibert will be forever defined by her steadfast philosophy of “in every situation, do what is best for the child involved.”
“We saw that Arlyce’s internal compass led her in the direction of making decisions based on a student’s best interest — even if that wasn’t the easiest route — whether it was an educational or personal matter,” DiMarco says. “Her wisdom earned our trust, as we watched her always do what she felt was the right thing, for the right reasons, for each child.”
Mentor and More
While Seibert didn’t have a family with John — her college sweetheart and late husband of 42 years — she took on a mentoring and motherly role annually to over 1,600 Cranbrook students that she referred to as “her children,” and grateful parents said she cared for them like they were her own.
Bloomfield Hills resident Robert Taubman, CEO of Taubman Centers Inc., has two sons and a daughter currently attending Cranbrook Schools and a 31-year-old son who also graduated under Seibert.
“When my three youngest children lost their mother earlier this year, it was Arlyce, and the school, who embraced them in a supportive and loving way that I will never be able to thank her enough for,” Taubman says. “I really feel that protecting and nurturing the children she is responsible for is not just a vocation to Arlyce — it’s the greatest part of her being.”
Taubman’s daughter, Gogo, a sophomore this year, says she couldn’t have handled this year without Seibert’s care and counsel. “When my mom passed away, Arlyce stepped in and made me feel safe and protected in an amazing way,” Gogo says. “She was present for me when I needed her most.”
Gogo says she’s watched Seibert always go above and beyond and “do anything for her students.” “I couldn’t be luckier to have her for an adviser, as she’s helped me by standing behind me personally, and advising me on classes and college choices — something I’ll remember forever.”
Taubman says his son Alexander, a Harvard University graduate, still maintains a close bond with Seibert, and visits her often when he is in town. “If you ask him who was the one person who most impacted his education and gave him a thirst for knowledge, it would be Arlyce,” Taubman says. “I think one of Arlyce’s greatest joys is seeing how far her students have come in their lives, and keeping up a close relationship with them long after graduation.”
Ari King, a 2018 graduate, has a success story at Cranbrook that his mother, Hilary King, says started with her first meeting with Seibert.
“We were considering transferring Ari from another middle school, so we were looking into Cranbrook as an option,” King says. “Arlyce gave me the most welcoming and professional introduction to the school, but more importantly, with legal pad and pencil in hand, she noted my every question and concern, and took time to thoughtfully answer each one of them with a curiosity and respect for our needs that was extraordinary.
“I knew after that meeting with Arlyce that Cranbrook would be a good fit for our son. Ari thrived at the school in a big part because of the encouragement and direction he received from Arlyce. For example, she was his biggest cheerleader when he created a GPS-enabled app called Discover Cranbrook that provides a tour with history of the campus.
“She has the gift of bringing out the best in each child, and helping them to be the special person they were meant to be,” King says.
Seibert was Ari’s adviser for three years, and he says she was “incredibly giving” to him and the other students, one time presenting them with a special momento that he says he will cherish. “But the most important thing she gave was her time,” Ari says. “There is no substitute for that and no better gift.”
Deborah Wahl, global chief marketing officer for Cadillac, graduated from Cranbrook in 1981 and had Seibert as a history teacher in the eighth grade. The Cranbrook alum says her classes with Seibert inspired her to continue to learn about people all over the world and to be open-minded. “One of my passions in marketing is the study of cultures and the impact, and I’ve done marketing all over the world,” Wahl says. “I would attribute a lot of that curiosity to what I learned in those early days and to Seibert who left a lasting impression on me.”
Wahl joined Cranbrook Schools’ Board of Governors last year, she says, “to be more involved with the school that has given me so much.”
“What I’m looking at, too, is how can we contribute to growth for the school overall and improve upon the amazing legacy that Arlyce has left us,” she adds.
Looking to the Future
With Seibert’s departure this year, Cranbrook Schools is preparing to welcome her successor, after a rigorous years-long search.
“Arlyce is leaving the school in a position of great strength, and while she is a hard act to follow, we’re lucky to have found a phenomenal new Head of Schools in Aimeclaire Roche,” DiMarco says. To find her, the school hired the search team RG175 and created a committee of teachers, parents, alumni and administrators who narrowed a list down to 10 candidates to be interviewed for the position.
“Aimeclaire’s energy, enthusiasm, experience and knowledge generated the most excitement, and make her a very good fit for Cranbrook,” Thomas DeCraene, associate director of Cranbrook Schools says.
Roche graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy, and earned a B.A. from Harvard and M.A. from Columbia University. She started her teaching career at St. Andrews School in Middleton, Delaware, where she worked for 10 years as the director of College Counseling and head of the Classical Languages Department. Her most current position was head of The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, California.
Roche has been doing research on the Cranbrook Schools community to aid her transition and says it was the students who impress her most. “I appreciate that Cranbrook students are so invested in the schools as great places to grow and learn,” Roche told Cranbrook’s school newspaper The Crane-Clarion in March.
Once she begins her new appointment, Roche plans to use her first year to learn about the community rather than to institute any new changes. She deeply regards the legacy Seibert will be leaving.
“In the world of school heads she is a titan, a superwoman,” Roche told the newspaper. “Cranbrook is as strong an institution as it is today because she has given her heart and soul to it, and I feel incredibly lucky to follow in her footsteps.”
The consensus of those who have crossed paths with Seibert at Cranbrook where she was a teacher, department head, adviser, head of schools, peer and beloved friend is that she wouldn’t like all the farewell attention coming her way. Instead — in pure Arlyce fashion — she would rather reflect on the honor she felt in serving her revered Cranbrook community, and the thankfulness to all who were a part of her illustrious nearly half-century career.
Seibert recently addressed Cranbrook alumni, in Tradition magazine, with these parting sentiments:
“As I consider the closing of my tenure, I cannot help but reflect on how privileged I have been to have had a career rooted in George and Ellen Booth’s educational vision. Their legacy has touched and shaped many lives in incredible ways, as evidenced by the character and accomplishments of our students, faculty and alumni.
“It has been my great fortune to be a member of this dynamic community for a very long time and to have received the gift of the many friendships which have defined for me my own time at Cranbrook…All of us who have the honor of working here are tasked with the same responsibility to preserve the high standards and important legacy that we inherit, to provide the best preparation and guidance to those students with whom we are entrusted, and to secure and prepare the school for a future that we will ourselves not see.
“With gratitude and appreciation for a career well lived I cannot help but be reminded of the words of ‘To Kingswood,’ a poem by (Cranbrook graduate) Conco John ’41:”
Since I have lived with beauty for so long
Beauty of trees and water and carved stone
Beauty of forms and color, speech and song.
When I am gone, I shall not go alone.
For memories of beauty will be mine
To hold and share for as long as I shall live.
May I make life a beautiful design
Freely I have received — so may I give.
Arlyce’s Time at Cranbrook
- Director of Schools from June 1996 to July 2018
- Acting director of Schools September from 1995 to June 1996
- Head of Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School from July 1987 to June 1996
- Head of the history department from September 1979 to July 1987
- Cranbrook history teacher from 1971 to July 1987
Melissa Burden contributed.