On June 29th I arrived to take up the position of Interim Head of The Branson School for the 2015-16 school year. I was attracted to this position because of Branson’s reputation as a school that fosters excellence, a school that has a profound sense of history, and a school that is situated, I cannot tell a lie, in one of the most beautiful spots in the world.
In my first month here I have been welcomed by every possible constituency— Board members, the Parents’ Association, alums, parents of alums, faculty, staff, administrators and students. Each group has such a love for Branson and such a commitment to carrying on the traditions established by Katharine Branson that I know I have come to a wonderful learning community. And four of my neighbors on Circle Drive, some connected to the School and some long time residents of Ross, have dropped by with well wishes and produce from their gardens. As my husband observed, “We lived on Tigertail in Coconut Grove, Florida, for thirteen years and were only visited by one neighbor.”
The first task for any Interim Head is to figure out how to get to know the school, its values and traditions, as soon as possible. For me, an historian, the first logical place to begin was a history of the School. And who was better suited to direct me there than “Doc” Shannon, our very own historian. I immediately read the first three chapters of the history he is writing to commemorate the centennial, and became aware that Branson, founded in 1920, the heyday of the Progressive era, was, at 95 years old, one of the oldest non-sectarian schools in the Bay Area. I marveled at the desire of Katharine and her sister, Laura Branson, both graduates of Bryn Mawr, to prepare their girls for a college education, rare at that time, but even rarer for women. Their preferred collegiate destination for their students were the “seven sister” schools in the East. They accomplished this mission by pursuing excellence in every area of the girls’ education –academics, athletics and the arts.
After speaking with 40 faculty members and 30 staff, I have developed a deep admiration for their passion and commitment to Branson, as well as their desire to begin the year afresh, filled with a positive anticipation of the possibilities for innovation that the year portends.
Several of the faculty and staff, not to mention a sampling of parents, expressed the desire to return to some of the community building exercises that used to exist at Branson. Sometime in the month of October, and I will send that date when I have had the chance to meet with the deans and department chairs, we will set a day in which the students’ advisors will have a 45-minute conference with the parents of their advisees. Such communication is key to fostering a collaborative teacher, student, parent relationship. We will return to the grade level meetings in which teachers of one grade level would meet to discuss students having issues at the School and propose a plan of action to help those students. Last, but certainly not least, my administrators and I will all be advisors for the incoming 9th grade students in order to stay in touch with those for whom all of our efforts should be directed. Such a focus will help us better direct our efforts as an Administrative Council.
Another very important document to help inform a new head is the last accreditation report from the local accrediting agency, in this case WASC/CAIS. That accreditation took place in 2011 and presented several recommendations. One of the most important was that the administration, faculty, and Educational Technology Specialist should create a comprehensive plan to integrate existing technologies and explore new technologies that would enhance campus life and advance 21st century learning. Because no such committee exists I asked our Educational Technology Specialist to form a committee made up of a faculty representative from each department and selected staff involved with technology to do an audit of our technology position and to suggest a plan to move forward. I am excited about this possibility. And I know you will be excited when you see the Makers Lab that we are now creating in the old dining hall.
Another recommendation of the committee was to expand the School’s population. I have been very involved in working with the Board and the developers of the Strawberry Project to acquire the necessary information and strategies for the submission of the developers’ plan. I look forward to our Branson Second Century discussions to work together to develop the best options for Branson’s future.
I do want you to know, however, that my full attention will be on creating the most positive experience possible for the students, teachers, and parents of this school for the 2015-16 school year. In addition to the aforementioned activities, we are also exploring turfing the field at Branson or one at COM because of the move of soccer from the fall season to winter when, we hope, there will be a surge of rain caused by El Nino. Please, know that we will do all we can to provide the best athletic facilities possible. A turf field will broaden our ability to field sports during all seasons.
Welcome to a great year. My door is always open. Come see me any time. Sincerely,
Interim Head of School