June 15, 2005 - Rick Belding's days are numbered. He is packing up and moving out of the office he has occupied for eight years as headmaster of Green Fields Country Day School.

"It's hard," Belding said. "But, it's time."

As he leaves, he will make room for the new headmaster in town. Belding's last official day is June 30, however, throughout spring he has been working closely with the new headmaster, the man who will be taking over his office, Gerald Barkan.

As the days go by, Belding will soon be closing the door to his career at Green Fields, an independent school founded in 1933, one of the first in Arizona. He is starting a career as the president of the Independent School Association for the central states, and he will have an office in Chicago. Belding plans on keeping his Tucson home and working between the two cities.

In his new position he will be overseeing 200 independent schools scattered throughout 15 midwestern states, he said.

Though Belding is looking forward to a new job and a new challenge, leaving Green Fields is bittersweet.

"On our very worst day, this is a great school for kids to be," he said. "We're a really sane and healthy place right now."

Belding has a long career in education and has a self-described "eclectic background."

While he admits he thought about retiring, sitting at home doing nothing was something this 58-year-old couldn't deal with.

Before arriving at Green Fields in the summer of 1997, he held 20 jobs in education and lived in 11 states. Illinois will be his 12th, he said.

The Green Fields job was his first stab at headmaster, which he thoroughly enjoyed, he said.

A tuition-based school, Green Fields sits on 21 acres, enrolls about 200 students, and has a faculty of about 30.

For the first time in its history, Green Fields will hold a kindergarten class in the fall, the only one of its kind in Tucson to be held at an independent school. Belding said it will make a welcome addition to the school and he is excited about it.

Belding said his time at Green Fields has been filled with a lot of work but also many rewards. He added that the high expectations and the commitment of family members and students keeps the school achieving.

Green Fields focuses on college preparation, with nearly every student planning on attending a four year college, he said.

"It's been a terrific run," Belding said. "Its a great little school."

Sherry Weiss, the principal of the eighth through 12th grade upper school, said it is hard to see Belding go but she understands he is ready for a new challenge.

"We've really worked well together," she said. "We've been able to accomplish a great deal."

At the senior commencement ceremony, one student was honored with the first-ever "Rick Belding Award for Independent Thinkers," an award to be given out annually to a student who exhibits individuality and talent.

Belding spoke modestly of the award bearing his name, calling it a "tremendous honor."

The new headmaster, Barkan, a native Tucsonan, has been working with Belding to ensure a smooth transition, something Belding said he did not have the luxury of when he arrived at the school eight years ago.

On his first day, Belding said he entered an empty office with boxes of files and no headmaster to bounce ideas or questions off of. Since Barkan lives in Tucson, it has been easier for the two to get together and discuss the school and where it will likely go in the future.

For Barkan, the gregarious new headmaster, set to officially start July 1, taking over the position brings with it added responsibility but a new and exciting challenge.

"It's a terrific faculty," Barkan said.

Sitting at a table in the middle of the Belding's office, soon to belong to Barkan, the two men shared stories and jokes.

"Rick is a delight," Barkan said, between boisterous belly laughs.

Barkan, a Rincon High School graduate, grew up in Tucson, and, like Belding, has a long history in education, working in both public and private schools.

He holds a bachelor's degree in public administration and two master's degrees, all from the University of Arizona, and a doctorate from Northern Arizona University. He taught in Scottsdale and Tucson before becoming the director of gifted and talented education for the Tucson Unified School District, a position he held for 10 years.

He was director of the Tucson Hebrew Academy and was instrumental in getting the academy to its new location on River Road, he said. He then went to California, where he worked for seven years at two private schools.

He then returned to his hometown of Tucson to retire, but was not successful, he said.

"I'm flunking retirement," the 57-year-old said.

When he opened a Tucson paper and saw and advertisement for a new headmaster at Green Fields, he thought that he would come out of retirement and apply for the position.

Green Fields had conducted a national search for a new headmaster to replace Belding but found that a local Tucsonan was just the right man for the job.

"Oh, it's a great school," he said. "It really feels right."

"There is tremendous energy around here," he said.

For the next few weeks, these two men will work together to ensure a smooth transition. As one leaves to start a new career, he refers to his time at Green Fields as a "good ride." The other will begin his duties at what he calls the "best school in the city."

Being headmaster is "a grinding job," Barkan said, but it's the "ultimate educational experience."

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.