Getting to Know Bennett's Consultants: Meet Brent Spicer
Updated: Jul 26, 2022
Annemiek Young, Bennett Education Consultant, Director of Private Client Relations Emeritus, and good friend, caught up with Brent Spicer, a Bennett education consultant based near San Antonio, Texas, for a chat! Brent's deep experience as an educator shines through, as does his focus on what is undoubtedly the heart of all school searches: how to know whether a school is the "best fit" for your child.
Annemiek: Tell us about your educational and professional background.
Brent: I graduated from Indiana University thinking I wanted to be a professor of Western U.S. History. I got my teaching certificate after student teaching on the Navajo Reservation, then earned an M.A. in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona. After finishing a year of Ph.D. work at the University of Michigan, I realized I much preferred teaching history to writing about it, so I took a job at Cranbrook-Kingswood, a boarding/day school in Bloomfield Hills, MI. After four years of teaching and running a boys’ dorm, I became the Dean of Students at Saint Mary’s Hall in San Antonio. Eventually, I earned my M.Ed. in Educational Leadership from UT-San Antonio and was the Head of Upper School at The Independent School in Wichita for three years. After that, I returned to Saint Mary’s Hall, where I was Head of Upper School for eight years. Then, at the close of the last school year, I transitioned away from full-time work and leaped at the chance to work for Bennett International!
Annemiek: How did you come to be associated with Bennett, and, given your background in education, what was it about Bennett’s approach to supporting relocating families that most resonated with you?
Brent: I first heard about what Bennett did years ago through a family member who knew Georgia Bennett, the founder of the company. Once I knew I was ready to move away from full-time work in a school, I reached out to Georgia, who put me in touch with Elizabeth Sawyer, the company’s CEO. After meeting with her and some of the team I was fully hooked! What a lovely way they all spoke about Bennett and its mission to truly help students and families. I knew they were great humans and parents first, caring educators second, and businesspeople somewhere after that. Frankly, I feel just plain lucky to have encountered the Bennett International family as I did. And it’s a further sense of kismet that my experience and interests match so nicely with what educational consultants do. I’m really blessed to be where I am today.
Annemiek: What is your particular area of expertise? For example, do you work with families considering public and private schools, day and boarding schools?
Brent: Given my background, I always particularly enjoy helping families identify the type(s) of private schools that would best fit them; that said, many of my clients are interested in public schools, as they offer a compelling option, and it’s my pleasure to guide them in identifying the best school for their child. I’m also part of the Bennett College Consultant team. The new Bennett College Consulting website launched recently, and as that work expands, I’m excited to support families navigating that process.
Annemiek: Does your work with families focus on particular parts of the US and/or the world?
Brent: Because I live in Texas, most of my work has been with families moving to the Dallas/Fort Worth area. However, I’m also really happy to be working remotely, and it’s been fun and enlightening to research and understand the various school options in areas like South Carolina and Idaho, always with the support of Bennett’s resources. I look forward to adding more and more new states to my repertoire.
Annemiek: Do the relocating families you work with come from all over the world?
Brent: Yes! I’ve had a handful of school placement clients from India and Hong Kong, but also some from CO, NY, CT, and FL. On the college end, it was so exciting to help a family from Denmark find great college options for their son.
Annemiek: Based on your experience, what’s the single most important thing families should keep in mind when they are relocating with school-age children?
Brent: I encourage parents to really think about how well their children advocate for themselves as students. For instance, if students are already really strong academically and comfortable engaging with their teachers, I think they’re likely to do fine wherever they go, so it’s always best to look for schools with lots of advanced courses and programmatic options. However, for students who do not feel as confident, and/or who may struggle to find their way in a new school environment, then I direct them to schools with smaller populations and smaller student to teacher ratios, and I really encourage them to explore private schools, if possible. Kids are resilient, for sure, so I remind parents that time will help with all transitions. But I also think putting students in their most comfortable environment will help them transition from surviving to thriving more quickly.
Annemiek: When a family visits a school, what should they be particularly mindful of as they assess whether it’s a good fit?
Brent: I encourage families to pay close attention to the soft skill interactions they witness and overhear. Do they see smiles and acts of kindness between students? Do they hear genuine laughter? Sarcasm? Do the conversations between teachers and administrators carry a formal or more relaxed tone, and how does that match with their own family interactions? For me, it’s most important to first determine a level of personal comfort, then evaluate the educational program. Is this a product-oriented school (all about test results and college placement) or is it more process-oriented (focused on student-centered teaching methods, lots of ways for students to engage with their learning, their interests, and their peers). I listen carefully to understand what each family values. Their values are not always the same as mine, and my mission is to help them be satisfied.
Annemiek: What’s your favorite aspect of the work you do with relocating families?
Brent: My favorite part is the intake meeting. I love the chance to meet in person (screen to screen), or even chat on the phone, so that I can hear their concerns, try to build some excitement and a feeling of adventure, and reassure them that they are in good hands. After that, during the back-and-forth portion, I am learning more and more how valuable it can be for me to add in some suggestions for non-school activities that relate to their children’s interests (dance studios, club soccer teams, etc.); the work really is deeply personal to each child and family’s needs.
Annemiek: How do you like to spend your free time?
Brent: Golf! We joined a golf club last summer (though ours is much more a club in the country than a country club) and I’ve been trying to improve my game ever since. I like being outside. I like the quiet. And I really like when we can go out as a family. Apart from that, I also really love to grill, but my wife prefers to go out to eat…I’m wondering if there’s a correlation.
Annemiek: If you had a year’s sabbatical and could go anywhere in the world, where would you go, and why?
Brent: I would really love to visit Cuba. Though I have read so much about it through studying history and reading spy novels (a guilty pleasure), Cuba has always been such a mystery to me. Watching and listening to the Buena Vista Social Club has certainly added to my curiosity. Considering how the Cuban people have navigated such complicated political and economic challenges over the years is fascinating to me. I want to know more, and I certainly never tire of eating black beans and rice. Yes, if I could go on an adventure anywhere, it would be to Cuba!
Annemiek: Thank you, Brent, for your time and warmth.
By Erin Brady & Annemiek Young.
Brent Spicer is an Independent Education Consultant based near San Antonio, Texas. Brent has an M. Ed. Degree in Educational Leadership, an M.A. in American Indian Studies, and a B.A. in History. He has over 20 years of experience working in Independent Schools (Day and Boarding) as well as public schools. Brent has been a teacher, coach, house advisor, Dean of Students, and Division Head (Principal). His administrative tenure has involved him in everything from admissions and advising to overseeing college counseling and graduation. Brent and his wife, Dana, enjoy traveling, volunteering, and fishing with their two children.
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Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by helping them make informed decisions about the best-fit schools for their children; with our guidance, they secure placement in preschools, private day schools, public/state schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, including schools with particular programs, such as special needs support.