Important HMI Leadership Update from the Board of Trustees & Head of School

Danny O'Brien, HMI Head of School
Mo Copeland, HMI Board Chair

A Letter from HMI's Board Chair

Dear HMI Community,

As you all know, the High Mountain Institute has been fortunate in its leadership. Danny O’Brien has served as HMI’s Head of School for nine years, and before that taught and engaged with students in both the classroom and Admissions Office as an experienced and dedicated educator. We have been incredibly lucky to have his expertise, commitment, and spirit at the school, in this important role. This fall, during a well deserved sabbatical, Danny spent time thinking about his future and the future of HMI. He made the difficult  decision to start looking for the right next opportunity and has since accepted a position as Head of The Putney School starting next summer, July 2022. It is particularly poignant and meaningful that Danny will lead Putney—and what a remarkable full circle—as the co-founder of HMI, Christopher Barnes, was my student at Putney in the early 80’s. 

We are thrilled for Danny and for Putney. Thanks to Danny’s hard work and commitment, HMI is in a strong position to attract an experienced, forward looking, and dynamic head. We are grateful to him for that, and for all that he has done to strengthen the school financially and programmatically, building both school infrastructure and the capacity of the HMI team. Our school has grown immensely through Danny’s leadership, and we are grateful to him and his family for all they have put into making HMI the amazing community that it is. 

Danny’s contributions to HMI are truly immeasurable. We have a significant endowment thanks to his vision, hard work, and careful stewardship; we have an almost completely built out campus with no debt including housing for faculty and staff; we have an enviable academic program, one that for our students is their formative educational experience. HMI’s mission and purpose has been significantly enhanced by Danny’s careful guidance, commitment, and passion. 

We are delighted  to announce that Amy Roberts, who has been ably serving as the Acting Head during Danny’s sabbatical, will step in as the Interim Head of School for the 2022-2023 school year, allowing us a full year to conduct a search for our next Head of School. Whitney Leonard, Semester 7 alum and current secretary of the Board of Trustees, has agreed to chair the search. You will hear more from her about the search plans in the coming months. 

HMI has never been as resilient, robust, and forward looking as it is now. We are excited for this next chapter in our history, and our continued search for excellence in creative and dynamic programming where nature and minds meet. 


Mo Copeland, HMI Board Chair

A Letter from HMI’s Head of School:

For everything there is a season. My season at HMI, like a winter in Leadville, has lasted longer than I could have ever imagined when I first arrived on campus as a young history teacher in 2004. This school has been my home for almost two decades. Yet, I am writing today to let you know that this school year will be my last as Head of School at HMI.

In July, I will assume leadership of the Putney School in Vermont. Putney has an enviable mission, and Ellie and I are also excited to raise Vivie and Henry closer to our families in the Northeast. Our decision to return home is bittersweet. I love HMI and have cherished my time here. The opportunity to contribute to another exceptional school in an equally exceptional location, however, is one that calls Ellie and I at this moment in our lives.

HMI has succeeded beyond what I dared to dream when I became head of school in 2013. We have grown HMI Semester enrollment substantially and are enjoying record interest from a more racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse group of students. We reimagined the Summer Term and launched HMI Gap. Our financial aid budget has more than doubled. Facilities have grown exponentially: we have constructed eight faculty and staff residences, a new classroom building, additional student cabins, and a maintenance facility. Who’s Hall has doubled in size, and we will soon launch full renovations of the East and Barnes Buildings. We’ve built an endowment that today exceeds $10,000,000 and enjoy robust annual support from families and alumni. Moreover, we have continued to prioritize the student experience, working to improve HMI to meet the needs of students in 2021. In just the last year, this work has included offering Apprentice Program participants a significant stipend, adding a school counselor, and creating a Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion position.

So many people have had a role in our success at HMI. The quality of HMI’s Board of Trustees is unparalleled in the county. Board members, especially chairs Mike Maughin and Mo Copeland, have sustained me professionally and personally. Our faculty and staff love HMI, are dedicated to our students, and push us to do better everyday. The faith of our alumni and curiosity of our students continue to inspire me. Our families are committed and loyal, supporting HMI philanthropically and helping us find new students. 

Our school is a profoundly impactful institution. For many students, HMI is the most important educational experience of their lifetimes. Maintaining this excellence is work that will continue in the eight months I have left as head of school and beyond my tenure. HMI is strong, and the people who make it up are even stronger. I cannot wait to see how HMI continues to prosper in the years ahead.

Though it is time for a new chapter in our lives, HMI will always have a place in my heart. They say that this is where your home is. If so, I will have homes on the Sundance Trail descending into Dark Canyon and on the path to the summit of Mount Elbert in a snowstorm. There will be one under the big windows in Who’s Hall, and there will be one with you all.

There is much to be done before July 1. I look forward to tackling this work with energy and enthusiasm, propelled by the gratitude I have for this outstanding community.

With appreciation,

Danny O’Brien, HMI Head of School

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