Editorial: 5 Things We Want to See in the New Upper School Principal

The search committee has completed their interviews of candidates for the position of the Head of Upper School Principal, and a decision will be announced soon. The Earthquake Editorial Board wants to weigh in. Here are five things we would like to see in our new Upper School Principal:

1. Increase Student-Administration Communication

Students, currently, have minimal involvement in influencing curriculum decisions. We want a principal who develops relationships with students and encourages communication between the student body and the administration. Students are rarely in the principal’s office except for disciplinary action. We want a principal who encourages more student input like the J-Term survey, who meets with student groups and takes their opinions into consideration. Of course the new principal should be wary of simply pandering to every desire of the students, but still develop a strong relationship with the student body.

2. Challenge Students Academically

The responsibilities of the Upper School Principal include “evaluating current curricula and pedagogical practices to ensure that these are innovative, academically sound, creative, and based on current research in teaching and learning.” Our new principal should be someone who recognizes GFS’s status as an academic institution. With every worthwhile endeavor comes hard work, and our principal must appreciate this. Classes should be evaluated to make sure they are being taught in a thoughtful, purposeful and creative manner, but there should not be a push to make classes “easier” or a stress upon teachers to run classes that do not put students out of their comfort zones. We want someone who is not afraid to look at our curriculum to ensure GFS is indeed an academically challenging institution.

3. Modify, but Keep J-Term

January Term was an example of a fresh idea coming to life in the GFS community. Like any new proposal, the first year is bound to be rocky, and J-Term was no exception. Some inevitable flaws were unearthed, while many positive aspects of the month have been celebrated. This is not to say that J-Term should be eradicated, rather it should be modified and changed in certain ways. We noticed that the most obvious flaw was, for some, an unfortunate lack of student motivation. We would be interested in seeing the principal help in changing the perception of J-Term as a “slacking” month to something fully educational and in line with the mission of our academic and Quaker institution.

4. Be an Eloquent Speaker

For years we have enjoyed the privilege of hearing Principal Rita Goldman speak at assemblies and special events. Goldman brought energy to meetings with her enthusiasm, and her knack for public speaking has become expected of our principal. It is important that we continue to have a leader who is able to communicate effectively with the student body, faculty, and parents. The new principal will be a recognizable figure that represents the school; she or he needs to be an eloquent and a powerful speaker.

5. Be in Sync with Quaker Philosophy

Because Quaker values permeate all aspects of our school life, the new principal needs a working knowledge of these tenets and should be prepared to use them in all decision-making processes. A strong leader of our Upper School will be faced with many difficult choices in molding the division, and a principal who is in accordance and agreement with the most essential beliefs of our institution is crucial. Yes, we are a prep school, but we will not and cannot do the same things as non-Quaker prep schools, and a principal who is simply experienced at leading prep schools may not be able to understand our culture or find his or her niche within it easily. Every question that similar schools face today will need to be examined with a Quakerly lens, so the principal truly needs to be able to live a professional life in the manner of Friends.