Head of School
Photo by Jaylyn Begay
The path to my current leadership position has been anything but typical in the independent school world. It seems that most heads of school start their teaching careers at one school, become a dean or division head at another, and if they really want to become a school head, they generally move on to yet another location. The most unusual aspect of my professional life is that it has all taken place at a single school. I am beginning my 34th year at Denver Academy (CO)—my ninth year as head of school.
I still remember the first day I walked onto campus. I was a floundering 24-year-old, trying to find myself, and had just completed another semester at the University of Colorado studying psychology. A friend worked as a teaching assistant at Denver Academy and suggested I apply for a similar position. Becoming a private school teacher hadn’t been in my plans despite my parents’ professions (my father was a professor of fine arts at Colorado State University, and my mother was a teen health educator for the county health department), but I thought it might be fun. I loved the idea of helping kids develop their undiscovered talents and passions, and I suppose it also sounded like a real profession to me. I was getting tired of working hourly jobs to put myself through school and really had no clear career path in mind. At that time, I was ready to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.
My first year as a teaching assistant in the middle school was one of the best years of my life (topped only by marriage and the birth of two children). I was earning $4.50 an hour, but I was in a position of trust, got to coach basketball and football, and was even the official middle school substitute teacher. For the first time in my life, my work felt like more than just a job. It had meaning and consequence for kids and families. On the last day of school, letters, cards, and gifts from students and parents piled up on my desk. They shared what a major impact I—a teaching assistant—had on their lives. I distinctly remember one mom telling me that I had been the only teacher their son had ever liked, and she thanked me. He finally loved school again and had again become the curious, confident kid his family remembered. I was hooked on teaching.
Since that first transformational year, I have also served as a high school teacher, division dean, director of education, and associate head of school. And while I have had opportunities to advance my career at other independent schools over the years, I have always chosen to stay at Denver Academy. In addition to the rewards that come with working with students and families, I have also found a community of colleagues that offers support, friendship, and a shared set of values. In a way, we have grown up together over these past 34 years.
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