Published January 24. 2014 4:00AM Updated January 25. 2014 12:05AM
Stonington - Pine Point School announced Thursday that Head of School Stephen Bennhoff has stepped down, effective immediately.
The board said Thursday that it and "Mr. Bennhoff agreed that it was in the best interest of the school at this point in time for Mr. Bennhoff to step down from his role. This joint decision was an amicable one between the Board and Mr. Bennhoff. The Pine Point School appreciates deeply Mr. Bennhoff's efforts at the School during his tenure, and we wish him well in his future professional endeavors."
Bennhoff, who came to Pine Point three years ago from Rowland Hall School in Salt Lake City, Utah, could not be reached for comment. He replaced Paul Geise, who resigned after 12 years to be the headmaster of the Stanwich School in Greenwich.
Bennhoff's departure comes one week after the school announced the controversial firing of Susan Kozel, a 35-year staff member who was the head of Pine Point's Lower School. The decision angered some parents and staff members. The board said Thursday the two decisions were not connected.
Middle School Head Diana Owen, who will assume Kozel's duties, has now been named acting head of school. The school said it will immediately begin a search to name an interim head of school and then a permanent head of school, which has 62 staff members and 236 students from preschool to ninth grade.
A Thursday letter co-signed by Bennhoff and Board of Trustees President Jennifer Schwindt, and addressed to the "Pine Point School Community," stated that it was their charge to always act in the short and long-term interests of the school.
They wrote that the past three years have been "a dynamic period in the life of Pine Point" with retirements and hirings, ratification of a strategic plan and the earning of a 10-year reaccreditation from the Connecticut Association of Independent Schools.
The letter said there had also been "the unfortunate yet necessary" elimination of some part-time teaching positions because of smaller number of students, but school finances had stabilized and it can now be proud to offer the highest faculty salaries in the school's history.
"It has been a challenging yet inspiring period in the life of the school, resulting in the increased health of the school and a future that could only be described as bright," the letter states.
"We both believe in Pine Point's current and future strength. Pine Point's commitment to intimate classroom settings, rigorous curriculum, and a robust academic program of arts and athletics makes it the first choice of preschool - 9th grade for students in our region. Whoever is Head of School, our school remains committed to nurturing ethical global citizens who will be positive change-agents of tomorrow," it states.