As the 2018-2019 school year came to a close, so did Head of School Rob Short’s 30th year at Trinity. As typical of Mr. Short, this landmark passed quietly and without fanfare. The lack of pomp, however, does not lessen its significance. Short began as a student teacher, then taught for 25 years before becoming Head of School in 2015. I sat down with Mr. Short to reflect on 30 years as a Titan.
Short was initially drawn to Trinity by the opportunity to share with young people his passion, excitement and enthusiasm for science and tennis. He began his teaching career teaching physical science, human biology, and health. For physical science, he was partnered with Pauline Crowling, who at that point had been at Trinity for 14 years. Short saw Crowling as a mentor and felt fortunate to learn from her, as she had just been named Teacher of the Year for independent schools.
Short was thrilled when Trinity became an International Baccalaureate World School a few years later in 1994. He and Linda Verdery, then Assistant Head of School, were the first to teach the IB capstone class, Theory of Knowledge. His interest in philosophy, psychology, and anthropology made him a natural fit for the class. “I loved the autonomy inherent in IB and in TOK. The classical education of how to think and critical thinking is such a rich subject for both teacher and student to explore. You are on the journey together; it is all about questioning and learning how to think, not what to think.”
As Short reflected on the beginnings of the IB program, he also reminisced about the humble beginnings of the school. “Students partnered with teachers and teachers with students, we all chipped in to make things work.”
The original faculty lounge was housed in a trailer behind the school and was a very visual representation of those beginnings. It was an old banking trailer that was donated, and it had a safe inside. Recalls Short, “It underscored that we were the scrappy underdog in Richmond in every way — it had a particular smell and was very small; usually stacked with cartons of paper supplies and paper towels. There were many old books on teaching that no one read that sat above the paper products. Many were from the 1950s and had very antiquated notions about education that we read for amusement sometimes.
“Despite its humble ambiance, it was a very social place. We used to decorate it in a joking manner and we would bring in pop culture artwork and put it up on the wall with labels. We loved seeing what would appear next on the walls. [English teacher] Will Towles and [French teacher] Julie Urena were especially good at finding humorous decorations.”
In addition to joking with colleagues in the faculty lounge, Short also employed a sense of humor during his tennis coaching days to motivate the team.
Short made a deal with one particularly talented team: If they could beat a longtime rival, Short promised them a spin around the campus in his 1969 Volkswagon camper bus. The team won, and the students took the wheel in victory.
Other traditions Short loves are Pach’s Place, students leading Morning Meeting (and having the trust to encourage this), Corny Joke Fridays, and the freshmen class retreat (a.k.a. Sheridan).
Short’s favorite tradition, however, is the senior class’s selection of a faculty graduation speaker. “It is so special that the senior class chooses someone whom they really know and who really knows them to deliver their final bit of advice before graduation.”
Throughout the years, Short’s supervisory roles have taken him near and far. A favorite travel memory comes from a visit to Italy in 2007. Short vividly remembers traveling with “a remarkable group of kids.” He said, “it was so much fun to see ancient Rome and Italian culture and the students were awesome.” One standout moment was when they were visiting the Palatine Hill in Rome. All of a sudden, “a student who was both a talented football player and pottery student went sprinting to see the Palatine Hill because he was so excited to see it and wanted to maximize his time visiting it.” Short loved witnessing this transformational academic moment.
A favorite moment from his 30th year came during this year’s First Friday assembly when Brian Rollins expounded on the role of intentionality in music. Rollins, along with several students, played snippets of music from Star Wars films to highlight how intentionally each score was written. “Seeing our Titans values, which guide us daily, connected to world famous music featuring our own Trinity students was special,” says Short. “Anytime I get to listen to Brian Rollins talk about music is a gift.”
Short commutes to campus on foot most days, and even as the route is familiar, he marvels at the growth of the school over the years. In speaking of the Estes Athletic Center, he says, “I still can’t believe it every time I walk in there. It is multipurpose and serves our entire community — and it is beautiful!” Short loves the spaces that bring us together on campus.
“I also love the library and all of the activity that happens in that space. The courtyard and Pach’s Place also are simple yet bond us together in such a special way,” said Short. “The courtyard is one of my favorite places on campus because you can get a 360 degree view of the school and watch students, faculty, parents, guests, and nature all intersect.”
As Short begins his 31st year as a Titan, he is energized, reflective, and grateful. “Trinity isn’t a place you go to to get somewhere else… it has always been a place you experience that draws out the best in you and where along the way you form lasting relationships that help you become a better person.”