When asked why Rob Zimmerman ’98 – a successful lawyer with Dinsmore, Cincinnati’s largest law firm – stepped into the interim head of school position for the 2021-22 school year, he might provide a fairly expected answer: The school needed an interim.
And he’s right. Employing an interim head of school is a fairly common practice because independent schools typically hire heads of school a year in advance. If the school rushed the process there was a significant chance that there would not be a candidate pool deep enough to find a candidate worthy of the school’s reputation. So instead of taking over as board president, Rob found himself in a position in which he could take on the task of interim head of school.
But the real reason Rob will serve as our interim head of school next school year reveals his heart and speaks volumes about what kind of leader he is. Simply put – he loves Country Day.
“I care deeply about this institution,” said Zimmerman. “The Covid pandemic made me realize that life is short, and one should do things that are meaningful; I have this opportunity to pay it forward and show gratitude for what this school has done for my life and for what it’s doing for my kids’ lives.”
Although Rob is not a Country Day lifer himself, his two children – Harrison, who is entering 6th grade, and Graham, who is entering 2nd grade – have attended Country Day since pre-Kindergarten. And while Rob has myriad other interests, such as golf and Victorian literature, his beloved interest is his children.
“I am an incredibly involved dad and love being a dad. I spend most of my time away from my job being a dad. The boys and I get after it in life, and I want my kids to have the same joy in life as I have had. I love kids and I think it’s why I considered being a teacher in the first place – there is something special about watching kids grow develop, and learn.”
Rob, who has been named an Ohio Super Lawyers Rising Star, is taking a sabbatical from his role as a commercial litigator to serve our Country Day community next year. But before graduating from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Law and Vanderbilt University, he taught at SummerBridge (now Breakthrough Cincinnati) for a summer and thought for a minute that he might have found his calling in education.
“I was not a kid who always knew what I wanted to be,” explained Zimmerman. “When I was in college I strongly considered being a teacher, primarily because of my experience at Country Day and with Breakthrough. At Vanderbilt I majored in English and loved it. I’m a huge book and language nerd. Merle Black [CCDS history department chair] had an influence on that for sure. The power of someone like him takes a few years to sink in, but something clicked my sophomore year of college. I realized all I wanted to do is read books, write papers, talk and argue, which is why I fell in love with being a litigator.”
Not only did things click into place for Rob during college for his career path, Vanderbilt is also where he met his wife, Rania. Their first date – which only became so when the third person in their group couldn’t make it – was to see Les Misérables at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.
After graduation, they got married and settled in Hyde Park before eventually finding their way back to Indian Hill, which is where Rob had lived when his family moved to Cincinnati in 1988. Rob attended school at Indian Hill through 8th grade, but it was always the plan that he would attend Country Day for high school.
“It felt a bit like I had been promoted from triple A to the big leagues. Country Day was a superior, smaller, and more challenging academic institution. I had to maximize my intellectual potential in every way.”
Country Day played an important role in his parents’ choice of residence in Cincinnati and in his parents’ social network – many of their friends today are those they met in those first years as Country Day parents. Rob’s mom, Alison, was often a team mom at Country Day and always looked after the other students. The Zimmerman household, which was dubbed “Chez Z”, has always been a welcoming place. To this day, the Zimmerman family still gathers at Chez Z every Sunday for family dinner. All 18 of them.
Yes, 18. In the 2021-22 school year, there will be Zimmerman cousins in each even-numbered grade from grade 2 to grade 12. Rob and his three siblings are Country Day alumni as are two of the spouses. To say Country Day is in the Zimmerman family’s blood would be an understatement. So much so that many think the Zimmerman family has been in Cincinnati for generations, when the truth is that his parents are Texas natives, and that Rob was born in Dallas and moved to Atlanta before his family rooted in Cincinnati.
But Rob has no plans of leaving the Queen City. Quite the opposite. In his role as interim head of school, Rob plans to double down on his efforts of bringing the Country Day community even closer. “Being an alum, I hope to strengthen our ties with alumni; I hope to expand our ties with the business community because I come from that space; and I hope to deepen our ties with our families because I am one of them as well.”
He also plans to continue the momentum that the school has built during a very difficult Covid year. “Success this year – and there is no doubt that Country Day has had a successful year – took a lot of hard work and sacrifice by a lot of people. My goal as interim is to ensure that we don’t hit pause during this transition, that we keep moving forward, and that we capitalize on that success.”
If you have had the chance to interact with Rob any time recently, you have most likely heard him say that he is most excited about working with the faculty and staff.
“The building I went to school in is long gone, the students have changed, and even some of the traditions have changed but the common thread throughout the years is the faculty and staff that know and nurture our students. The most you can ever ask for is to be surrounded by really smart people all pulling in the same direction, and that is absolutely how I would describe the Country Day faculty and staff.”
When it comes down to it, Rob lives each day with gratitude, self-awareness, and intense curiosity. He’s cognizant of the fact that he does not have all of the answers but promises to approach the role and all it encompasses with compassion and acute academic curiosity.
“The school has given a lot to me and I feel compelled to give back to it. I didn’t want to look back in life and regret not doing something that was mission-driven. Serving this community in this role is an act of gratitude. Right now, I can offer continuity and momentum moving forward so we don’t miss a beat.”