Q&A with Alixe Callen
Meet the 12th Head of St. George’s School
What drew you to St. George’s?
St. George’s holds a special place for my family. My maternal grandfather (James B. Congdon, ’41), great grandfather (Johns H. Congdon, ’03 – I think), great uncle (Charles B. Congdon, ’40), and uncle (James B. Congdon, Jr. ’66) all graduated from St. George’s. That history is obviously very important to me. I am proud to continue their legacy. That said, as a professional, I am drawn to the St. George’s of today and its commitment to help all students develop into compassionate and contributing community members. Not only are St. George’s kids acquiring the skills necessary to compete in the mid-21st century economy, they are becoming forces for good. My entire career has been spent helping teenagers to be kind, to watch out for each other, and to be contributing community members. To now do that work in a school that has such deep roots for my family makes me humble and proud.
What are the greatest challenges a school leader faces in today’s world? And what are the greatest opportunities?
Oh goodness. There is so much to say. We are living in a time of such change and evolution. In fact, in many ways the only constant for our kids is change. In their short lifetimes, smart phones, social media and Wi-Fi have gone from practically non-existent to ubiquitous. There is no doubt that rate of change will continue. As a result, our students need to be well situated to embrace change, learn new skills, and assimilate knowledge. And it is no exaggeration to say that they will need to do this daily. There is an oft-cited statistic that something like 50 percent of the jobs our students will inhabit haven’t even been invented yet. It is our job as educators to prepare students for that world. In addition to teaching kids a body of knowledge, we need to teach them how to approach new situations, how to adapt to change, how to access information – in short, how to think. To do this well, teachers need to put their students at the center of the classroom. No longer is it important for students to spit back facts and figures. Instead, they need to know how to approach a problem, how to manipulate data, how to construct an argument, and how to collaborate.
As someone who has spent her professional life in the presence of adolescents, I also feel a deep commitment to helping them develop into good people. I am excited to join the St. George’s community because I think a boarding school provides a unique opportunity to help students learn to be contributing citizens. We can be an incubator of sorts, a place where amazing faculty model what it means to be a good community member, and then inspire (and occasionally compel) similar behavior in their students.
What do you want parents to know about you? … What do you want alumni to know about you?
I want parents to know that I approach the work of educating and caring for adolescents with the expertise of a professional educator and the spirit of a mom. In each of those capacities, I have come to understand that no two teenagers are alike. What it takes to inspire one kiddo isn’t always what it takes to inspire the next. It is our job as educators to figure out how to inspire each one – and then to do it!
As for alumni, I want them to know that I am working hard to understand the school’s history – both the many parts that make people proud, as well as the painful revelations of the past year. I am impressed by St. George's commitment to transparency and to supporting the survivors. I share that commitment and am looking forward to meeting all alumni - it's important to me that all feel welcome to reach out or to visit me on campus.
This will be a bit of a homecoming for you. Tell us about your experiences in New England and what you’re looking forward to in relocating here.
To say that the Callen-Baileys are looking forward to returning to New England would be an understatement. While we have happily served as an outpost of Red Sox/Patriots/Bruins/Celtics Nation in the Pacific Northwest, we will be happy to be amongst people who understand our rabid fandom!
We are also looking forward to being close to family once again. Living across the country, far from the majority of our extended family, has been a wonderful adventure, but we are ready to return to the fold.
You have two high-school age sons. What makes you most proud of them?
I am proud of my kids every day. They have had the (potential) misfortune of growing up with two educators as parents. As “fac brats” at Lakeside, and more notably the sons of a senior administrator, their achievements and choices are often under the microscope. They handle that pressure with grace, kindness, and plenty of perspective (most of the time!). Selfishly, the chance to go to high school with them is among the greatest privileges of my life.
You get to take one book, listen to one artist’s music, sit next to one famous/influential person and pack one snack for a long plane ride. What and who are they?
Given how many times I have flown back and forth to the East Coast this fall, I feel like I am an expert on what to bring on planes. But here’s the thing... I want variety. I want a great mix of music to listen to, a brand new book (or three), a few magazines, last week’s Sunday New York Times crossword, and a selection of snacks. I can never predict what I will be in the mood for – and I want all options to be open. As for people, I want a group – the more the merrier!
Tell us something about yourself we might not know otherwise.
So many things I could say… Here are a few…
• Don’t hold it against me, but I lived on campus at Middlesex for 10 years.
• I’m a little bit obsessed with Harry Potter – though only the books, not the movies.
• I make the best chocolate chip cookies in the world (seriously).