Hun, PDS, and Stuart’s Sandy Bing: Wise Words on Education and Life
ADVICE FOR EDUCATORS: Sandy Bing, educational leader for over five decades at Hun, PDS, Stuart, and elsewhere, shares his thoughts on students, teachers, administrators and the world of education. (Photo by Donald Gilpin)
Sandy Bing started his career in education in 1960 as a chemistry and biology teacher at the Hun School, later becoming dean of students, then director of admissions. In 1969 he took over as head of the Upper School at Princeton Day School. He served in that position, and as acting headmaster for two one-year stints, until 1987 when he helped to form the Princeton Educational Resource Center, a not-for-profit consulting center. In 1996 Mr. Bing plunged back into the school setting at Stuart Country Day School of the Sacred Heart, where he served for eight years as dean of the faculty.
“Sandy embodied and gave a clear voice to PDS’s community values,” said Treby McLaughlin Williams, a 1980 PDS graduate, later chair of the PDS Board of Trustees and currently Princeton University executive vice president. “He demanded a currency of respect, integrity, and compassion in the thousands of daily transactions that ultimately constituted the school’s culture. Most importantly, Sandy truly believed in each student’s potential; he knew his students so well and cared so much. In mentoring students, Sandy was strict and supportive in equal measure — the perfect alchemy for motivating students to be their best. He was my earliest role model of a great leader and continues to inspire me.”
In reflecting on his career in education at Hun, PDS, and Stuart, Mr. Bing commented on the factors which motivated him most strongly. “My reason for being in a school was to support and empower people — to support and empower students, and to support and empower teachers,” he said.
There were other careers that he could have pursued — “connected to people and being of service to other people, that’s what I enjoyed most.” But when he was applying to medical schools as a senior at Lafayette, he walked by the career placement office one day, saw a posting for teacher of chemistry and biology at the Hun School, and never looked back.
“I loved to be in school working with faculty and students. I was very happy doing it,” he stated. “That’s what I wanted to do. In retrospect, there are few things, if any, I would change and certainly not the personal and professional experiences I had at Hun or PDS or Stuart. Those were fulfilling, rewarding times, for me and for my family.”
Mr. Bing described the qualities of personality that led him to the classroom setting and served him well throughout his career. “I believe my greatest attribute, which is also my greatest liability, is the trusting. I trust people. When you’re working with young people, there’s nothing more important than to trust them. I hope they knew I could be counted on to do what I promised to do. If a teacher or a student or a parent had an issue or a concern, I would address it without delay. And I always tried to be fair, consistent, and loyal. In addition, I would always extend the benefit of the doubt.”
James Byer, a student when Mr. Bing was dean of students at Hun, later a Hun School teacher for 6 years, and then headmaster of Hun from 1994-2002, confirmed Mr. Bing’s self-reflections and praised his accomplishments at Hun, PDS, and Stuart. “Sandy related exceptionally well to a wide range of people in many ways. He was very well prepared and interested in the lives of young people. He was a productive, endearing leader. He was always able to find that line — to be friendly with kids but able to guide them as a professional. He was a great counselor for kids.”
Mr. Byer went on to describe their work together, “Sandy became a mentor to me in teaching and administration. I followed him as dean of students at Hun, and his mentorship brought us together as friends. That was unusual. It’s been a wonderful friendship for 56 years.”
A Sounding Board
Chip Cash, mathematics chair at Stuart since 1998 when Mr. Bing hired him, echoes Mr. Byer’s sentiments. “I could not have found a more encouraging person with whom to work. Sandy’s perspective on education was student-centered and supportive of the struggles of teachers. He helped me develop my management style, and he led me to understand how to meet the needs of both students and colleagues. His help to me over the years has been invaluable; he is a wise sounding board who does not so much dispense advice, but asks the right questions to help me arrive at well-founded decisions.”
In reflecting on his eight years as dean of faculty at Stuart, Mr. Bing described the “culture of trust” that permeated the school. He mentioned how long Stuart, a Roman Catholic institution, “reached out and tried to embrace everyone so no one felt awkward participating in services or other activities,” and he cited the values of “honesty, sharing and service at Stuart, in the best traditions of all religions.”
Mr. Bing also commented on the “different kind of culture” of Stuart as an all-girls’ school. “When one speaks of ownership, empowerment, and opportunity for women — where better than Stuart? Those values were certainly encouraged at Stuart, with its strong commitment to women in a school that offered a very challenging college preparatory program.”
PDS in the ‘70s and ‘80s, according to Mr. Bing, functioned as a participatory democracy. “There was a great deal of respect accorded to the faculty, the administration, and the students. It was a time when faculty felt they could make a difference. Critical thinking and analysis were prioritized, and the faculty were always involved in analysis of where we were as a school and how we could improve what we were already doing. The academic program and the advisory system continued to develop and evolve. We were always looking to improve. That was reflected in constant discussion about the grading system, the honor code, and many other things that were very important to the school.”
Mr. Bing also noted the importance of the PDS advisor system “because it brought together the students and the faculty outside the classroom in a non-threatening environment. Students learned about faculty as people, and faculty worked with and advised students in ways not possible in the classroom.”
He explained, “A lot of teachers can go into the classroom with a prepared lesson in mind, but it takes a special situation to be able to sit down with students and have conversations about what’s going on in their lives.”
William Burks, retired Princeton physician who was PDS’s Board Chair during Mr. Bing’s tenure, described him as “a magnet for kids, because he was so authentic, and kids recognized that he was on their side at all times.”
Mr. Burks continued, “He was on their wavelength and had a gift of understanding children. He inspired kids to be better than they might have been otherwise. He was so respected by faculty and students alike. It was inspirational to see how he handled so many decisions.”
I worked with Sandy Bing for eight years at PDS, 1978-86, and I can confirm what others have said about him. He was a great support to me in my early days as an English teacher and drama director. He created an atmosphere in the school that helped to make the work so positive and productive — and fun.
An important facet of Mr. Bing’s background, a life-long enthusiasm for the performing arts, led him to help initiate and develop the Lincoln Center program at PDS and to serve as a long-term board member of Young Audiences of New Jersey, a national organization which brings the arts to hundreds of thousands of school children.
Now in energetic retirement, Mr. Bing, 77, happily married for 55 years, lives in Pennington with his wife Iris. They have two adult children and six grandchildren in Lawrenceville and Annapolis, Maryland. Mr. Bing works as a hospice volunteer and serves on several non-profit organizations’ boards, attends dance and music events, particularly the New York City Ballet, reads widely, travels, and “tries to take advantage of everything while we can.”
An article about Mr. Bing in the PDS school newspaper 30 years ago featured numerous tributes from teachers and students, attesting to his remarkable qualities as a person and an educator. His colleague Dan Skvir noted attributes that have characterized Sandy Bing throughout his life and career: his “warm friendship and advice, his robust humor, and most of all his genuine interest, concern and love for people, especially young people.”