Profile of James Lee, Head of School, Bayview Glen

“My priority as a school leader is to maintain and foster a really strong ethical purpose within the community. This drives me just as much as my love of children and learning.”

Bayview Glen Head of School James Lee, who was born in South Korea but came to Toronto as an infant, first dreamed of a career in baseball, not education. He was a good player in high school, enough to earn a scholarship to an American college and play professionally in Korea for a while. “Unfortunately, I soon learned that you can’t hit baseballs all your life,” he jokes, noting that he transferred to the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management to complete a commerce degree.

Lee didn’t follow his classmates into finance or accounting. Instead, remembering how much he loved coaching kids at baseball camps and clinics through his teens, he did a bachelor’s of education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (later on, he went a step further and completed a master’s of education at Queen’s University). “I knew that if I could work with kids and help connect the dots between their curiosity, learning, and growth, I was going to be very happy in life.”

He began his teaching career at Royal St. George’s College, a boy’s school in Toronto, where he rose to become dean of students. He held the same post at a Catholic high school in the public system, then became head of school at The Rosedale Day School for eight years. “My plan was always to finish up my career on the West Coast,” says Lee. “My family loves the ocean and the mountains, and my wife and I planned to retire there.” When a suitable position came up at Collingwood School in Vancouver in 2021, he jumped on it.

A year and a half later, when Lee was happily settled in his new home and job, a search firm contacted him about the job at Bayview Glen. “If it had been any other school, I wouldn’t have even considered it,” he says. “But I felt a personal and professional alignment with Bayview Glen’s values and mission, and here I am today.”

The school’s deep commitment to educating the whole child in a values-based culture resonated with Lee. “My priority as a school leader is to maintain and foster a really strong ethical purpose within the community,” he says. “This drives me just as much as my love of children and learning.”

Lee has a warm yet professional demeanour, chatting comfortably about both “soft” subjects in education such as kindness and community and practical topics such as strategic planning and professional development. When we asked his colleagues about their relatively new boss, they described him as approachable, thoughtful, and visionary. And everyone commented on how Lee took the time to meet with all staff members during the first months of his tenure. 

Stepping into a role previously filled by someone who was part of the Bayview Glen community for 45 years would be daunting for most people but Lee seems to be taking it in stride—not trying to make his mark immediately with bold moves, but instead taking deliberate steps toward further progress at the school. “He has a growth mindset and embraces new and innovative directions in education while still respecting Bayview Glen’s history and traditions,” says Gillian Potts-Hemingway, director of the preschool. 

During Lee’s first year, many teachers, parents and alumni asked him about his vision for Bayview Glen’s future. “My reply was always that I needed to learn more about the school by listening and observing. If I had a vision from day one, I’d be saying that I don’t really care about the last 60 years and it’s my way or the highway. That’s not my style.”

In working towards the school’s next five-year strategic plan, Lee takes a collaborative, consultative approach that includes staff, students, and families. In our conversation, he spoke broadly of the strategic objectives he envisions so far. Most of them involve building on Bayview Glen’s existing strengths, such as the racial and ethnic diversity of the student body. “This was an important element for me and my wife in choosing to uproot our family to come to this school,” he says. “Some schools use the words global and international, but you don’t feel it or see it when you walk the halls. Here you do.” 

Enhancing the school’s experiential educational opportunities is another goal. “In my conversations with parents, this is one of the big reasons they choose Bayview Glen,” he says. “So we want to continue to offer plenty of programs that allow students to explore outside the classroom, the school, and the country.”

The strategy and vision will surely come, but for now, Lee is concentrating on building trust and connection in a close-knit community. “I want to be visible, to be present at school plays, music performances, and games,” he says. “I’ll continue walking the halls and popping into classrooms to see what’s up. Teachers and students need to know I’m there for them.”

Lee describes Bayview Glen’s academic mission quite simply. “We value academic excellence, and so do our students. But we want them to learn in an environment that promotes exploration and well-being, so they leave with a lifelong love of learning."

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