Page 23 - FIS World May 2019
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 In teen movies, there are two kinds of principals: the rule-loving, constantly angry principal, à la the book Matilda, or the hippie, prairie-skirt-wearing, slightly
crazy principal. And while art typically imitates life, FIS’s principal Ms. Rhiannon Wood is neither of these stereotypes. Instead, she is one of a kind: not only as the first female Upper School principal at FIS, but in her single-minded ambition toward the betterment of her students’ lives.
The differences between her and any other kind of principal were obvious from the moment I stepped through her office door. She treated me like an adult, shaking my hand briskly before motioning to a seat at the round table, ready for my line of questioning. Everything about her was a steady balance of com- posed-yet-approachable; her answers were profes- sional and formal, but always with a tone of reflec- tiveness as she thought about the impact she’s had on our school over the last 30 years, the last four- teen as Upper School principal.
Since 1988, Ms. Wood has been overseeing gener- ations of students and prides herself on changing with the times, education-wise. One of her biggest achievements was merging the middle school and high school, something she says she was “really pas- sionate about.” She begins with her experience as a Grade 7 science teacher, where she felt like the mid- dle school was “only downstairs, but felt like it was a different planet.” She was concerned about the per- ceived gap between some of the middle and high school curriculum, and wanted the students to grad- ually meet increased demands through Grades 6-8, rather than being thrust into higher expectations at the beginning of Grade 9.
While acknowledging that the change was more challenging than expected, she believes the end result has been a huge advantage for students, and for teachers as well. “When it was a separate middle school,” Ms. Wood says, “I don’t think we expected enough from students. You can all do far more than we ever imagine.” Having a Grade 6 –12 Upper School lets students reach their full capacity for learning as early as middle school, and Ms. Wood is glad to be part of the administration that began it.
With her unwavering belief that we students can achieve anything, Ms. Wood is less of a disciplinarian figure in the school and more of a connection point between the student body and administration. She is the ear kids use to talk about all their problems. It’s one of the reasons why she never wanted to try for any other position than the one she holds, be- cause if she moved, she might lose the connection.
Ms. Wood’s voice rises in excitement as she begins telling the story of a dedicated student who “many years ago, fought and fought and fought for us to get recycled paper. She spent three years and finally in her graduation year the whole school decided to go to recycled paper. She did all the research on it,
all the costing and everything, so we do use recy- cled paper now.”
These are moments Ms. Wood will remember as she heads into her retirement in June: watching the stu- dents she talks to figure out, in her words, “how to think their way out of a paper bag” on their own. And the paper bag has gotten rather large with the rapid advance of technology in schools, one of the larg- est changes to education in the last 50 years – and one she has watched happen from a front-row seat. She credits her students’ technological discoveries of things for “keeping her young,” but exclaims, “I am really glad!” when I inform her that she barely comes up on Google. While she’s not personally a fan of so- cial media, she acknowledges the important role it plays in keeping students connected with one an- other – particularly as they move with their families to other parts of the world.
It doesn’t take more than a second for her to answer when I ask what she’ll miss the most, going on to say that the students are what gets her up everyday. She is incredibly proud of her work here and the fact that the school is leaving her hands in great shape. Ms. Wood leaves the school having changed many things, but she too has learned a lot during her years here. When questioned about her main three takeaways from the school, she advises, “Don’t judge people too quickly; good change is possible, even if it takes a while; and every day, find an opportunity to laugh.”
When I walked out of my interview with Ms. Wood, I had a sense that I really knew her; she said it her- self at some point, “If you want to know something about me, just come up and ask.”That kind of open- ness from a person who’s supposed to keep students in line is unusual to say the least. But as I walked out of that room with a final glance back at her, ushering the next student into a meeting with the same large, welcoming smile, I know that these characteristics are what has made her the enigmatic leader we all look up to, and will miss in the hallways for years to come.
Hamsini S.
FIS Upper School Student
A group of Upper School students gather in the Alumni Courtyard for a farewell photo with Ms. Wood
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