Virtual Centennial Speaker Spring Series Wraps Up

On Thursday, June 11 school librarian and archivist Lori Deibel sat down with Head of School Chris Mazzola for the final spring event in our Virtual Centennial Speaker Series to talk about Branson’s history, where the school finds itself today, and how it’s positioning itself for a second century.

First, Lori presented "The Branson School: The First 100 Years," a timeline of our school's history that was first unveiled at our Centennial Kickoff  in February 2020. The presentation walks us through the school’s earliest years, from Katharine and Laura Branson being hired in 1920 to the development of traditions such as “Play Week” and FAB. The timeline showcases how Branson reacted to a changing world, including an emphasis on service and honor during the Great Depression and World War II. Lori highlights the transformation of Branson’s campus in the 1950s and 60s, the decision to go coeducational in the 70s, and a growing emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the 80s, 90s and 2000s. For more, you can view the Branson timeline on our Centennial webpage. It’s worth a look! 

Head of School Chris Mazzola then joined Lori to share what she loves most about Branson; how the school is leaning into its strategy, mission, and values; and her hopes for Branson's future.

Chris, who has just finished her fourth year as Branson’s Head of School, talked about her long career working in independent schools and the passion she has for working with teenagers: “I love working to help young people be their best selves in the world.”

Chris also discussed Branson’s strategic plan that was unveiled in 2018. Chris and a team of Board members, alumni, and faculty and administrators began working on the strategic plan shortly into her time at Branson to set a chart for the school “as a way of setting goals and achieving them.” Chris said they began with “trying to identify who we were and what Branson had been, and what we thought Branson needed to be for the 21st century.” 

The team asked themselves, “what does a young person in the 21st century—what skills, what habits of heart and mind, what capacity—do they need to have to go out and make a difference in the world?” They began by redefining and sharpening the school’s “core values.” While Chris said it was difficult to whittle down to the four exact words—Courage, Kindness, Honor, Purpose—she felt the themes behind them came pretty quickly. These four words came out of the ideas “of service... of being brave, of doing hard things, standing up to injustice, making your mark in the world, being kind.” Chris also discussed the specific value, “purpose.” She emphasized, “there has to be a greater good than just servicing themselves...I ultimately think that’s what the purpose of a Branson education is: how do we train our students to serve not only their own good, but also the world’s, greatest good?”

Chris also reviewed the four pillars of the Strategic Plan, which include “updating and upgrading our academic program to be more relevant to skills and capacity that students needed to take into the world...a renewed commitment to what being a diverse community means, inclusive, equitable… an explicit charge to teach character and values...and [a focus on] future financial sustainability.” You can read the full strategic plan here

Asked what has been the biggest takeaway from the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to Distance Learning? “The dedication of our faculty and staff,” Chris pointed out right away, “it wasn’t a surprise, but it was an affirmation.”

You can watch the presentation and interview in full here