Dana Hall speaks: Does the gender of the new head of school matter?

Is it important for our next head of school to be a woman? Ms. Erisman will be leaving next year, and many of us are wondering who the next head of school will be. A search committee composed of teachers, administrators, and trustees will begin their search this year. While there are many important questions to consider in selecting the new head of school, one of the most interesting questions is gender. After asking several students and faculty members, I found that the community is passionate about this issue.

Dana has always had a female head of school. While Dana Hall was started by Wellesley College founder Henry Durant in 1881, sisters Julia and Sarah Eastman were the first headmistresses. They were followed by Helen Temple Cooke, who ran Dana Hall for 52 years, and then by a series of other women principals. Many changes have occurred within the Dana community over the years, and some wonder if the new head of school will bring something different to Dana. If the gender, ethnicity or any other factor were to break from Dana tradition, what effect would this have on the community? Focusing on gender, I asked members of the community their thoughts on the the gender of the new head of school. While some wanted to keep with tradition of having a female head of school, others felt change would be a good thing. Below are some of their thoughts:

“I think the the new head of school should be a woman, because the girls at Dana should have a strong woman role model to look up to each day.” Leah Danforth ’18

“Change could be a good thing. If we have a man promoting women’s leadership and feminist views, it could be powerful in a different way.” Ashley Davidson ’15

“Girls need someone to look up to. If we have a man as head of an all-girls school, what message is that sending? The new head of school should be someone the students can relate to and look up to. Students need a mirror, someone they can see themselves in, in terms of success and leadership.” Nia Hays, Assistant Head of the Upper School

“The gender is important, but we should be consider other factors that should bring more diversity to Dana Hall. Whether it is a man or women as head of school, the community should think about the importance of ethnicity and background. We need someone who brings something different from previous head of schools.” Diane Previlon ’15

“The more we talk about this issue, the more passionate I feel about the head of school being a woman. Think of all the events like She Sails — we need a woman to talk about leadership and issues pertaining to women.” Cara Hanig, Associate Director of College Counseling

“We need more of a mix in terms of the gender among the faculty. Having a man as head of school is important.” Meliza Etwaroo ’15

“Women offer a perspective that is so valuable to the Dana community. The commitment to family, and even experience as a mother, can foster the nurturing and supportive environment that Dana aims to provide.” Kassie Teng, Visual Arts teacher

“It’s more effective to promote all-female education if the head of school is female.” Hosna Seyed-Reihani ’16

“I think it’s important for both genders to be considered. The best fit for the school, is the best fit for the school. Isn’t that the definition of feminism? Equal opportunities?” Maggie Davidov, Upper School Librarian

Image: Photograph of Julia Eastman, who was the first Headmistress of Dana Hall School, along with her sister, Sarah Eastman. Courtesy of the Nina Heald Webber 1949 Archives in the Helen Temple Cooke Library.

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