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The MacArthur Foundation, known for distributing “genius grants,’’ has tapped the head of Phillips Academy Andover to take the helm of the Chicago organization and its $6.2 billion endowment.

John G. Palfrey has been head of school since 2012. He previously worked for the Knight Foundation, Harvard Law School, and the law school library. The Harvard Law graduate is also the author of nine books, according to the school and foundation.

“I am an optimist, who believes that creativity, rigor, and selective disruption can make outsized social impact possible,’’ Palfrey said in a statement issued by the foundation. “I am honored to lead [the foundation] during such a critical time, when challenges facing people and our planet can seem insurmountable, but the tools of social change are evolving to be even more powerful.”

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Palfrey will succeed Julia Stasch, who is stepping down as foundation president later this year.

“He is a thoughtful scholar and visionary innovator who is deeply committed to MacArthur’s values,’’ Stasch said in a statement. “Our staff, our grantees, and the issues in which we are investing will all benefit from his experience and leadership.”

At the school, in the town of Andover, Palfrey was credited with instituting a selection system that relies on a student’s educational qualifications, not the family’s financial status; doubling the number of faculty who are people of color; and creating a more diverse student body, according to the foundation.

Palfrey, 46, is married to Catherine Carter. They have two children. He expects to move to Chicago in the near future, according to the statement.

Phillips Academy Andover said the interim head of school for 2019-2020 would be Jim Ventre.


John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.