Feb. 15, 2018

Hello from the Hilltop!


When I first started here at St. George's and was walking around proclaiming my love for the place, someone in the crowd would always tell me, "wait until February," and then regale me with stories of wind and ice and more wind. Well, I'm happy to report that it's February and I still love the place. Wind withstanding, what I've discovered about late winter on the Hilltop is that it is a valuable time for reflection and bonding. Perhaps these cold winds that drive us inside benefit us in ways that sunny, outside days cannot.


As February is also Black History Month, we are doing a number of things here on campus to celebrate the contributions of African Americans to our nation and to our school. Our archivist, Val Simpson, has produced an incredibly compelling display of the history of the first black students here at St. George's. In chapel, we are singing hymns and listening to readings by African Americans, and hearing chapel talks that reflect on both the achievements and the struggles of blacks in the United States. In addition, our new chaplain, the Rev. Jackie Kirby, recently received a grant that will allow us to partner next year with the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island's Center for Reconciliation to offer some compelling programming for students. The Center focuses its work on the intersection of faith and race relations, with particular attention paid to the history of the slave trade in Rhode Island.


Also this winter, we have been engaged in a communitywide conversation about our residential life program. Foremost in our minds is to make sure the overall lives of our students are positive and healthy. We all do our best work when we feel supported and appreciated by those in our community. As I have progressed through my "year of anthropology," some questions related to our dormitories — both their structures and their cultures — have emerged. Recognizing that it would be helpful to get input on these issues, I hosted a number of gatherings — for faculty and for students — where we discussed dormitory life and student culture. While there is tremendous pride in our program, a number of interesting insights emerged, and we are in the process of implementing some changes. Some of those changes are structural, and include the need for better day-student spaces and increased support for students who enter in the fourth and fifth forms. Other changes are more cultural as we seek to give students more responsibility and to provide even more opportunities for informal interactions between students and their dorm parents.


To further bolster our efforts to strengthen our school culture, we are also in the process of hiring a new Associate Head of School for Student Life. Last spring, the trustees asked me whether I wanted to hire an associate head right away. At the time, I begged off for a year, noting that I needed to spend some time on campus before I could fully understand what I would be looking for in an associate head. This decision allowed me to get fully involved in every aspect of school life. I have been able to spend the majority of this academic year on campus really getting to know everyone. The important work our faculty and staff are doing requires many talents and many hands to get things done. I am continually impressed by the way those who work here inspire and support our students. Now, knowing how an Associate Head of School for Student Life might be able to help with our efforts, we developed a job description and posted the position last month. We have since received more than 70 applications, and have now winnowed that pool of candidates to three finalists. We hope to announce an appointment in the next few weeks.


Our work to heal our own community also continues. I have spoken with alumni who are survivors of sexual abuse. These deeply sad and disturbing conversations have strengthened my resolve to ensure that we provide not only an excellent educational experience for all of our students, but also a safe and secure environment in which to learn. In the interest of keeping you updated on our work in this area, I am working on a longer letter describing what has been done in response to the recommendations that emerged from the investigation. In the meantime, please know that my door remains open to all.


Through this all, I remain committed to my own growth and learning as a school leader, attending workshops and seminars reflecting on the art of leadership, and also reading extensively. I am currently in the midst of "Privilege," a book by Shamus Khan that focuses on student culture at St. Paul's School. Other recent favorites have included "Homegoing" by Yaa Gasi and "Flash Boys" by Michael Lewis. I am always looking for recommendations, so please feel free to send along any and all thoughts about what I might read next. 


I also welcome your questions, ideas, and input. My approach is a collaborative and relational one. As I get to know this school and its history, and strive to offer our students a world-class education, it is so helpful to hear from community members. Please let me know what's on your minds.




Alixe Callen

Head of School


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© St. George's School, 2017