On August 10, Head of School Kai Bynum met with Hallie X. ’23 to discuss the new school year, books, music, and fun high school stories. The following is a transcript of their conversation.
HX: How does it feel returning to the Pacific Northwest?
KB: It feels refreshing. I’ve been away for 22 years now, and coming back has reminded me of how much I loved the area. In one way, it feels like I’ve never left, but memories are also flooding back. Flying above and seeing these mountains just made my mind and body feel different, and being able to see them almost every day is nice.
HX: How would you like students to refer to you? Dr. Bynum? Mr. Bynum? Dr. B?
KB: I reserve “Kai” for once you become alumni. For now, it’s up to you. Dr. B, Dr. Bynum, Mr. Bynum, Teach, Coach…I’ve been called all the above, and I’m comfortable with all of them.
HX: In your letter to the Lakeside community, you mentioned your commitment to centering student experiences in making administrative decisions. How do you plan on connecting with the student body? Will you be establishing ways to regularly meet with students?
KB: Well, I want to ask you all what I should do. I’ll try to go to as many classes as I can, have lunches with students, and attend sports games and plays. I will also be having open office hours where students can come in and chat. At the same time, I’d love to first get a sense of how you all feel like I can be more present and get to know the flow and flavor of Lakeside. I’ll wait to get more feedback and understanding before I institutionalize something more dramatic than that. Students can share their thoughts with me via this quick survey: https://forms.gle/NNmDqVTUqE5iLd3w5. (A link to this survey is available in the Bull.)
HX: Besides being the head of school, do you plan on teaching classes or leading extracurriculars?
KB: In terms of sports, I want to be around as much as I can without being intrusive. I want to make sure that student athletes and coaches know that I’m here to support them during practices and games. In terms of arts, it’s attending as many plays and concerts as possible. And of course, I’d love to teach, without a doubt. I taught for 16 years — literature, poetry, philosophy, plays. But the nature of my job makes it difficult for me to have my own class that meets regularly. Instead, I will be looking for ways to team teach or give guest lessons on specific topics and reading material. I’d love to be present in classrooms of a variety of age levels, both in the middle and upper school.
HX: Speaking of literature, what book really made a difference to you when you were in high school?
KB: Number 1: poems by Walt Whitman. Number 2: On the Road by Jack Kerouac.
HX: What was your most cringe-worthy moment in high school?
KB: I remember there was one time where we were leading up to a football game. There was a lot of school spirit. There was also a hurricane around the time the game happened. So what happened was that a couple of my friends put up a banner in the hallway that read, “Look out for Hurricane Kai.” I cringed when I saw that — I didn’t like the spotlight at all. Pleads for taking down the banner were in vain. My friends loved it.
HX: We will definitely be tempted to call you “Hurricane Kai.”
KB: It is what it is. But that experience was just… oof.
HX: What’s currently on your playlist?
KB: I listen to everything, from Dua Lipa to Tupac to Frank Sinatra to Dave Brubeck. Love Mendelssohn. I have playlists for every mood and occasion. I played music growing up and had an ear for jazz and classical when I was younger; now I love listening to all kinds of music.
HX: As Lakeside’s 11th head of school, what is it like to be following Mr. Noe’s footsteps?
KB: Firstly, it is an honor. I’ve known Bernie for a number of years, and to me, he is an amazing mentor and leader of independent schools. We share the values of diversity, inclusion, innovation, and community. I want to continue to work on these goals that are integral to us and Lakeside while at the same time being open to future changes. Bernie’s footsteps are massive. I can’t venture to say that I’ll be able to fill those shoes, but I certainly have my own shoes. I want to be respectful and appreciative of what he’s done and how he supported me, and we also have some pretty good people to take this forward.
HX: Do you have any specific plans in mind?
KB: I do, but the biggest thing at this point is to listen first. It’s too soon for me to come in and say we’re changing this or that. I want to form a collaborative relationship with the student, faculty, and staff in discussing and advancing new plans and connecting them to Lakeside’s existing flow.
HX: As you’ve mentioned, diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) are central to both Lakeside and you as an educator. How do you think a truly diverse school looks and acts?
KB: DEI would not just be a focus or goal; it would be the air we breathe, present and essential in every aspect of our community, from curriculum to advising to hiring. It would be like the use of technology — it’s hard to think of going to school without tech, and we shouldn’t think about the school without DEI. More personally, it’s encouraging members of the community to foster a sense of belonging and take ownership of the community. I am here to both support the students and also to share who I am. I want to create a culture where Lakeside loves you for who you are.
HX: How do you plan on continuing the pursuit of DEI? Specifically, do you have plans to increase the visibility of LGBTQ+ people at Lakeside?
KB: I have to first learn more about what is currently happening at Lakeside for this community. What is their experience and what do we need? While I’m doing that, I know I’ll be myself, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and hopefully be another supportive resource for people in the school.
HX: Any final things you would like to share about yourself with students?
KB: I love education, literature, and the life of schools. I love fly-fishing and the outdoors. And I love life.
This interview has been edited for clarity. For more about Dr. Bynum’s journey to Lakeside — from high school in Olympia to majoring in history and playing football at the University of Washington; from coaching in the National Football League to becoming a teacher and administrator in independent schools in the Northeast — see the cover story in the current Lakeside magazine, www.lakesideschool.org/magazine.