Leadership Spotlight: Trae Holland

ISS Leadership Search was honored to support the Director search for Pechersk School International (PSI) in Kyiv, Ukraine, in collaboration with colleagues from Carney Sandoe and Search Associates. Congratulations to Trae Holland for accepting the position, beginning July 2023! Trae was most recently the Executive Director and Head of School at The Safe Passage School, Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Trae’s career has taken him to the USA, Venezuela, Malaysia, Turkey, Brazil, Ecuador, and Guatemala. He holds a B.S. in Mathematics from Davidson College, a Post-B.E. in Mathematics education from the University of North Carolina Central, and an M.A. in International Relations from Bilgi University.

In this feature, Trae reflects on his journey in education, what leadership in the most challenging of circumstances looks like, and his hope for a generation of restorative compassion ahead.

What drew you to pursue the world of education? And what drew you into international education specifically?

At the age of 21 after college, I was given the opportunity of a lifetime: a school in Durham, NC, specializing in serving marginalized youth and those with learning differences, entrusted me as a math and history teacher. My life as an educator began in differentiated instruction, multi-age classrooms and project based, experiential learning long before they were commonplace in the field. Looking back, I could not have realized how formative that decade long experience would be in defining both my enduring philosophy of education, but also my values as a human being.

In later moving to the international realm, I personally saw a way forward in solving our world’s most pressing and shared challenges. Innovative educational approaches, celebration of difference while embracing commonalities, and an authentic commitment to global citizenship all thrive in international education. Future generations of leaders and problem solvers are born therein.

What has your career’s journey in education looked like?

Before joining Safe Passage, a school serving youth and communities surrounding Guatemala City’s garbage dump, my career included two decades as a classroom teacher, department head and high school principal in locations ranging from North Carolina to IB schools in Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil, Turkey and Malaysia. In 2007, I entered the private sector where I founded an international sustainability company that specialized in renewable energy and public sector infrastructure.

In 2013, I reentered the non-profit realm where I served as a Director of Development at a leading Florida museum. In 2015, I was named Director of the ONE institute at Academia Cotopaxi in Quito, before joining Safe Passage in 2018. I have also led statistical analyses of social outreach programs and their impacts, written master plans for colleges and private developments, and served as a regional representative for a US based national consortium on climate change.


Trae celebrating with students at Academia Cotopaxi

A moment at Safe Passage

Congratulations on your new role at PSI! What are you excited about in this new role?

PSI has a rich history of academic excellence, strong community, and individual empowerment. Yet at this moment, its next leader will need not only the requisite body of skills common to all effective heads of school, but also expertise in shared trauma and the impact of seismic disruption on student learning and community. It is in building community under the most challenging of circumstances, that I can be of most service as a leader.

Also, in Ukraine’s future it will be institutions like PSI that will drive the healing process and realization of the nation’s higher aspirations. When peace comes, it will be the youth of this generation, growing into adulthood that will carry the mantle of leadership and restorative compassion so vital to mending the wounds of our time. It will be a realization of my own professional and personal aspirations to be a part of that greater endeavor alongside those at PSI already working for that future.

Please tell us about your education philosophy and your leadership style. What can your new community expect?

To prepare our students for an unknowable future with jobs that haven’t been invented yet, we may rely no longer just on content mastery as a destination, but rather the ongoing attainment of sound qualities of mind and character, like resourcefulness, empathy and curiosity. Thankfully, our profession is moving away from industrial age conventions on uniformity and teacher centric approaches for greener fields seeded in experiential learning, student led inquiry, and a more urgent focus on “how to ask better questions.”

Effective school leadership also maximizes human potential and engenders trust and healthy risk taking. A leadership team must exemplify and model a commitment to personal growth, encourage healthy questioning and debate, seek consensus, but also provide clear direction and frameworks of accountability for all. But most importantly, good leaders treasure innovation, not in the abstract, but as an authentic and tangible hallmark of everyday practice.


What is an interesting fact or story about you that you would like to share?

There are so many areas of my life that I have pursued with passion, but there is something singular in my experience that I feel not only edifies, reinforces and nourishes the spirit, but has also proven magical in connecting with and growing from the many communities I have been so grateful to have known. As an avid drummer and percussionist, playing music has opened so many doors for both heart and mind. There is something truly incredible about losing oneself in the sound of a drum, but to have it speak in the rhythm of another place and culture..there is a language of enchantment and embodiment of truth there that at times can transcend and transform. Other than family and lifelong work as an educator, drumming has been the most constant companion that I have known.

Working with the team to clear rubble for a new building at Safe Passage
Opening a new learning garden at Safe Passage

Finally, what was your experience with ISS Leadership Search like?

Any effective search process rests ultimately on both an effective understanding of the needs, character and concerns of the institution being served and an authentic sensitivity and respect for those candidates involved. During my experience in being chosen as Director of Pechersk School International, I was honored to have the opportunity to work with ISS not only as a singular organization, but as a vibrant member of an historic consortium of search entities who worked collaboratively to serve PSI as the conflict in Ukraine unfolds. I have rarely in my career seen such committed professionals work so effectively under such unique and exigent circumstances perform so admirably in service to both their client school, and to me personally as an applicant. And in the particular case of ISS, I credit their accessibility, expertise, honesty and proactive leadership as critical to what in truth was a wonderful result for all parties involved in the process.


Many thanks to Trae for sharing these deep reflections! We look forward to seeing his community-building leadership at PSI, and share his hopes for the future of peace sustained by the youth of this generation.

If you’re interested in pursuing a school leadership position, please check out our current leadership searches or get in touch with the ISS Leadership Search Team.