Stranger in One’s Own Community: A Head of School Allegory | Joel Backon | 11 Min Read

The Head of School in this story is a composite character based on the author’s work with several school Heads. While the circumstances may sound familiar, the characters are not real. Our fictitious Head of School, Dan, may appear in future stories as well.

It was to be a long flight home with my wife and two children on this early August day. We had spent two weeks based in Kathmandu, and had hiked and climbed to the base camp of Mount Everest, an ambitious undertaking. Almost the entire trip I was disconnected from anything to do with the private school I led in the U.S., and that resulted in my feeling rested and relaxed until I boarded the first leg of the flight home. Then the terror of what I might face when I returned to my office in three days began to consume my imagination, and the relaxation transformed into a mountain of stress. 

I stepped into my office very early on my first day back, marking the start of my fifth year as Head of School. My goal was to catch up on email prior to the arrival of my senior staff and my assistant, who would no doubt have a mountain of messages for me. The first email was fairly benign. It was from Bill, the Board Chair, following up on our Board Retreat just before my departure. When would I have an outline of our next strategic plan so we could establish the appropriate committees before everybody got busy with school opening? That was a seemingly easy one, particularly since my assistant, Eve, had left a copy of the last plan on my desk.

The next email was not as benign. It was from Lacey Jackson, chair of the Parents Committee, and the subject was “What’s this anti-racism bullshit?” My auto reply told correspondents that I would not be returning until tomorrow so I had time to reflect on my response to Lacey. 

The remainder of the emails were not critical, and Eve would handle most of them by scheduling meetings, the bane of my existence. I estimated spending 6-8 hours per day in meetings, meaning that most of my other work had to be completed in the evening or on weekends. I picked up a cup of coffee from the staff room and walked to the conference room where I would be greeting…

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Joel Backon

Joel Backon has been the Editor of Intrepid Ed News since its inception in January 2021, responsible for all educator content on the website. He joined the OESIS Network, owner of Intrepid, in 2019 as Vice President. Joel spent much of his career at Choate Rosemary Hall (CT) where for 27 years he held founding roles in Information and Academic Technology, as well as being a classroom teacher, curriculum designer, coach, dorm head, and student adviser. Prior to Choate, Joel spent 15 years in the printing and publishing industry educating printers on how to maximize their strengths and minimize weaknesses. He has crusaded to achieve consensus on the question of why we educate kids in an effort to meet the learning needs of every student.