Sally is the new head of the Kazoo School, a preschool through 8th grade private school in Kalamazoo. She wrote a blog post in the autumn that touched on the subjects of family, home, reunions, and the magic of entering an elementary school as an adult: “Because I work in one every day, I often forget what a magical experience it is to enter an elementary school as an adult. We are instantly transported to an earlier time–hopefully a happy time–of pencil shavings and kickball, backpacks and circle gatherings.” The post also says some very nice things about the pull of one’s alma mater. Sally graduated with bachelor’s degree in psychology, and she studied abroad in Caceres, Spain. Sally’s husband, Courtney Read, graduated as a member of the class of 2006. He majored in history and studied abroad in Erlangen, Germany.
Tim is the executive director of the Albion Community Foundation. He began his duties there in June. Tim grew up in Albion and graduated from Albion High School. At K he majored in music. He has worked in nonprofit development since graduation and earned his Certified Fund Raising Executive credential in December of 2015. Prior to taking the position at ACF, Tim worked for the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo, Teach for America and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Christine published an article, “Maintaining Problematic Art: A Case Study of Philip Evergood’s The Bridge of Life (1942) at Kalamazoo College.” The article appeared in Public Art Dialogue (6:1, 116-130) on May 27, 2016.
The piece is particularly interesting for any alumni familiar with the mural (see above) in Old Welles Hall. It covers the history of controversy inspired by the work since it’s unveiling (1942), including specific calls (in 1966 and in 2010) for some redress for iconography deemed offensive to and by some individuals and groups. Detailing the call-and-response to the criticism voiced in 2010, Christina ultimately suggests “that problematic public art has the unique potential to produce positive social change by staying in place.”
The article reveals much about K’s history, including Evergood’s time on campus as an artist and a teacher as well as his bona fides as an ardent social radical. Christina also introduces (from Lewis Hyde, author of Common as Air) a concept of “freedom of listening.” In his book Hyde cites Benjamin Franklin’s creation of a lecture hall where “people were free to give lectures on whatever they wanted.” In that space (Christina quotes Hyde): “Individual speakers present singular views; individual listeners entertain plurality…. The hall was thus built to serve the eighteenth-century idea of replacing the partial self with a plural or public self, one who is host to many voices, even those otherwise at odds with the singular being you thought you were when you first walked in the door….If we take free listening to be the true end of free speech, then freedom itself takes on a different aspect…intelligence arises in the common world, where many voices can be heard; it belongs to collectivity, not privacy, and is available especially to those who can master the difficult art of plural listening.”
Christina invokes Hyde’s notion of “agonistic listening amongst equals in conflict” (a notion that is at the heart of the academy and a direct contrast to “antagonism, where opponents try to silence or destroy the other”) to describe College and student responses to the controversy implicit and explicit in the work, particularly the responses that took place or were considered between 2010 and 2015. She writes: “The building Benjamin Franklin built that embraced such agonistic pluralism eventually became the Philadelphia Academy, which in turn became the University of Pennsylvania. This transformation of space, built to house agonistic conflict among equals, is a particularly fitting symbol of how physical space can potentially create a space for inquiry, conflict and debate. This type of site is necessary and important. Indeed, as Lewis Hyde argues, it is agonistic spaces such as these that are the foundations of democracy.”
The presence of the mural, Christina continues, has provided the intellectual and emotive space for agonistic listening, “has allowed these twenty-first-century conversations on race, class dynamics and elite educations to take place….[M]aintaining problematic public art in an agonistic space helps keep our understanding of the past and our vision of the future firmly in view.” A fascinating article, well worth the time to read it.
Keshia wrote and published her fist children’s book, titled Arianna’s First 5K. The story describes Keshia’s daughter Arianna’s first five-kilometer run, and how that experience made an impact on her life and on the lives of others. Said Dickason: “My goal for the book is to inspire youth of all ages to live a healthy lifestyle that will follow them into adulthood.”
Lauren is an investigative television journalist in St. Louis, Missouri (News 4 Investigates Team). She has spent the majority of her career as a reporter and anchor, and she has worked in newspapers, radio and television. Before moving to St. Louis, she worked as an anchor and reporter at KARK in Little Rock, Arkansas. She earned her B.A. in English at K.
It is a very long trip from Yazd, Iran, to Kalamazoo. But in 2010 Mojtaba Akhavan-Tafti ’15 was able to negotiate its many twists and turns, as well as making the cultural adjustments associated with the journey. Now, five years later, he’s graduated from Kalamazoo College with majors in physics and chemistry.
Next he will turn his full-time attention to an even longer odyssey—the 93 million miles traveled by the sun’s solar winds. When those winds arrive at Earth, our atmosphere and magnetic field usually deflect them. They re-converge, however, on the night side of our planet, where some interesting things take place, including the creation of what are called flux ropes.
Those are the phenomena and that is the field (magnetospheric physics, to be exact) that Mojtaba is studying at the University of Michigan this fall as he starts work on his Ph.D.
According to him, such a rarified area of inquiry would never have been possible had he not come halfway around the world to Kalamazoo College.
Yazd, a city of more than a million people, is situated in central Iran, about 300 miles south of Tehran. Mojtaba graduated from high school there, and even started college. But then he had conversations with his uncle, Hashem Akhavan-Tafti, who had come to the states after the fall of the Shah, then graduated from K in 1982 (and is now a member of College’s board of trustees).
His uncle encouraged Mojtaba to make the same migration, even though both men knew the journey involved a great many steps. The first was to obtain a visa to enter the United States. Because the U.S. doesn’t have an embassy in Iran, Mojtaba had to travel to Turkey to file his application. He couldn’t leave Iran, however, until its government permitted him to do so.
Once he obtained his visa Mojtaba relocated to Howell, Michigan. There he spent three months on a farm with his uncle and Aunt SuzAnne. She is the person he most credits for helping with his acclimation to the West. “She is my best friend and the best mentor I could have asked for.”
A precondition for Mojtaba enrolling at K was improving his ability to speak and write English. To do so, he took an English class at Western Michigan University, then took what is called the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), a standardized proficiency test for non-native speakers wishing to enroll in an American university or college.
Once he received word that he’d passed, he was set to begin his studies at K in the fall of 2011. By that time he’d been in America for more a year and was, well, more than ready.
Before classes started, however, he embarked upon his LandSea adventure. “That was a big learning experience for me,” he recalls. “I made some of my best friends during that time.”
Although naturally outgoing, Mojtaba says that his biggest challenge has been to become more social. “Just to become comfortable and act normal, to be likeable. I’ve learned the value of a smile.”
When told that his smile and the twinkle of his eye bear a resemblance to those of tennis great Roger Federer, Mojtaba nods and says, “Yeah, I’m told that from time to time, especially by the guys on the tennis team.”
From the beginning, his studies at K have focused on the sciences. He spent the summer after his first year at Wayne State University working in a neuroscience lab. His foreign study—in Lancaster, England—involved particle physics.
Jan Tobochnik, the Dow Distinguished Professor in the Natural Sciences, has been impressed with Mojtaba. “He is a very outgoing young man, very personable. He loves to organize things. For example, he was part of an effort to get the College to put solar panels on the golf carts we use on campus.”
Mojtaba also helped organize K’s first Complex Science Society. “It’s to help bridge the gap between social sciences and empirical sciences,” he explains. “During our first year we focused on renewable energy. During the second we dealt with vaccination practices in the U.S.”
He also was involved in establishing a local chapter of the National Society of Physics Students. That work led to him and others into local elementary schools to encourage young children to pursue science.
For his Senior Individualized Project (SIP) Mojtaba studied the atmospheres of Earth and Mercury, two of the planets in our solar system with magnetic poles. His SIP received departmental honors.
He spent his SIP summer of 2014 at the University of Michigan with his advisor, Professor J.A. Slavin, and studied physical phenomena such as ‘magnetic reconnection’ and ‘coronal mass ejections.’
As a result of that experience he was invited to attend the March, 2015, launch of a NASA mission at Cape Canaveral. The Magnetospheric MultiScale mission carried four identical satellites that, once deployed, gather information about the Earth’s magnetosphere. Mojtaba had worked with data from a similar spacecraft for his SIP.
The original plan was to view the launch, with others, from a favored site on NASA grounds. That hope was scuttled, however, when officials realized that Mojtaba was an Iranian national.
“They told me I’d have to watch from across the harbor instead. But at least Professor Slavin went with me. Even from there, it was still stunning to watch.”
When he’s needed a break from school work, Mojtaba has sometimes retreated to nature. “I really enjoy going to the Lillian Anderson Arboretum. It is a good place to heal.”
Mojtaba’s post-graduate studies will focus on the data coming from those four spacecraft. “Solar winds have the potential to overwhelm our technological civilization. If we could predict when that was going to happen we could take preventive measures to reduce the likelihood of a problem. I also hope to get involved in designing instruments for future missions.”
On a different note, pun intended, he has begun taking violin lessons.
Mojtaba soon hopes to achieve another goal—becoming an American citizen. He intends to make America his permanent home.
“While two decades of living in and facing the challenges of growing up in a developing country prepared me for working hard,” he says, “coming to the U.S. and obtaining a liberal arts education enabled me to broaden the scope of my understanding as well as the impact I can have as an individual and as a citizen. Today, more than five years after my first time entering the U.S., I have come to believe that even the sky is no longer a limit!”
Mojtaba also hopes to help other students the way he was helped. “My aunt and uncle have established a scholarship institute called ‘The 1for2 Education Foundation.’ It means that a recipient of the scholarship commits to pay for the education of two others. My aunt and uncle helped me, so I want to help others someday.”
One of the most special times to be a part of the action on campus is during Homecoming weekend. Some of us, like my colleagues on the Alumni Association Executive Board (AAEB), are fortunate to be on campus several times a year. When was the last time you came home to Kalamazoo College?
Homecoming at Kalamazoo College can mean many different things… fall colors in the Midwest, football games, the Hornet 5K run. For me, it’s about connecting with old friends, making new connections, and reconnecting with my alma mater.
The AAEB would like to welcome you back to K every year for Homecoming. This year’s festivities occur October 23 through October 25. But it doesn’t have to be your reunion year for you to come to campus and feel the energy of a new academic year. After all, it’s likely you knew far more K students than just the members of your immediate class year! The campus is buzzing with activities of all kinds, and the city of Kalamazoo is a vibrant community.
Happenings worth your return include departmental gatherings, at which you can connect with professors and alumni who shared your major and various opportunities to see new buildings on campus or visit old haunts.
The AAEB sponsors two very special Friday evening events for alumni during Homecoming weekend. The first is a networking reception that informally gathers current students with alumni, faculty, and staff. Alumni share stories of their own career paths, listen and learn from others’ work experiences, and explore professional possibilities both local and global.
The second event is the Alumni Awards ceremony where we honor the achievements and service of fellow graduates. These special awards include recognition of a younger alumna or alumnus who has accomplished a lot in the first several years of life after K.
We welcome and encourage any and all alums to attend both of these events and the many other fun activities throughout Homecoming. That weekend is your chance to come home, to see what feels the same and to discover new connections.
So whether your reunion is right around the corner or several years out, Homecoming 2015 will provide opportunities to stay connected with one another other and with our alma mater.
And if you aren’t able to get back to campus as often as you like, we encourage you to seek ways to connect in your local community. From regional events like Hornet Happy Hours to being a part of a career fair or recruitment event, there are ways to engage with K and your fellow alumni close to your home. The AAEB has created a menu of Alumni Bites to outline the many opportunities.
And in those interims between local and regional events and our class reunions on campus, we can always find each other and stay connected through the alumni directory, alumni Facebook pages, and occasional informal gatherings with groups of K friends.
I recently spent a weekend camping with my K roommate and several other K friends and their families (together we now total 18!). It felt like no time had passed, and our bonds with each other and our alma mater were reinforced. I know we will stay connected and see each other in between, but it makes me that much more excited for our next reunion!
If there are other ways you would like to connect with Kalamazoo College or the AAEB directly, please let us know at email@example.com. We’d love to hear your ideas for events at Homecoming and in your area!
Ladislav Hanka ’75 has a mind that buzzes with constant activity, always attracted to the sweetness of an idea with a twist. His degree is in biology, and his love of the natural world is evident in his art. His etchings, prints, and drawings illustrate the intricacies and mystery of nature: craggy trees, elegant fish, round-bellied frogs, fierce raptors and delicate song birds, dank mushrooms, the occasional napping old dog.
So the idea of combining living bees and his etchings seemed, well, natural. He saw it as collaboration.
Some five years ago, a friend had given him a box of bees.
“There was a little bit of sugar water in there, something like mosquito netting, and the bees were climbing around inside the box,” Hanka says. “And I thought, so cute! Like having a puppy!” He laughs. “Suddenly, I was a parent. It was on that level of forethought that I became a beekeeper.”
Where the idea came from to place his etchings inside the beehives, among the living bees, Hanka can’t say.
“Who knows where ideas come from,” he shrugs. “You wake up some night, and there it is. It seems such a simple idea, too, but I’d never seen anyone do it. So I put the etching in after soaking the paper in hot beeswax, brushing it on, and the bees seem to like that paper. Typically, they start on the chunks of old, recycled beeswax and avoid the lines of the etching. Perhaps it’s the flavor? Or the waxy aromatic paper? Otherwise they tend to chew up and destroy any foreign substance intruding on their hives. Then again, they may just be critics.” Hanka grins.
Standing in his studio, a building he constructed where the garage once stood at his residence in Kalamazoo, just a few blocks from Kalamazoo College, he leans in close to take a look at his etchings. He has them lined up in a row on a small ledge along the end wall. The etchings closely match what he exhibited in ArtPrize 2014 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
ArtPrize is an annual art competition judged both by popular vote and a jury. This past summer more than 1,500 artists from across the world exhibited their work in and around downtown Grand Rapids. Hanka’s panoramic etching in ArtPrize 2011 won the Curator’s Choice award and was purchased by the Grand Rapids Art Museum for its permanent collection.
Hanka’s 2014 ArtPrize entry, “Great Wall of Bees: Intelligence of the Beehive,” is his third since the competition’s inception. Contained inside a glass case along the length of a wall just inside the entrance of the Urban Institute of Contemporary Art (UICA), live bees buzzed and danced and chewed over three rows of Hanka’s etchings—detailed images of toads, salmon, trees, insects, birds—building honeycomb along the curves of his lines, indeed in surprising collaboration.
Great Wall of Bees was collaborative art and environmental message. In a description of his work on the ArtPrize website, he wrote:
“The additions bees make to the etchings are as inevitably elegant as the gently curving veils of honeycomb you find hanging from the domed ceilings within a bee tree. There is an undeniable intelligence at work in a beehive. You learn to respect that and care about these highly evolved creatures, which brings me inescapably around to bees being in trouble—not just here but worldwide.
“The cause of bee die-offs is hardly a mystery. It’s much like the growth in cancer rates. No single factor causes it. The crisis is due to a summation of assaults on the organism, until it’s all too much. Bees face a gauntlet of toxins, habitat loss, electromagnetic pollution, exotic diseases and imported parasites. …”
Hanka’s living exhibit drew a great deal of attention. He estimates that 80,000 to 100,000 persons viewed the Great Wall of Bees. His work was short-listed in the top 25 in both popular and juried categories for three-dimensional entries.
“For the three weeks of the exhibit, I was the bee-man,” says Hanka. “I heard people talking about the bees in cafes and on the street. People still come to talk to me about the artwork and the bees, even though the show is over.”
It was profoundly gratifying, he says, to interact with the public coming to see his art and to watch the bees build their honeycomb around it. Bees crawled along the glass where children pressed their noses for a closer look. Some expressed concern over dying insects, and it gave Hanka a chance to explain something about the four-week life cycle of a bee and the difference between natural daily die-offs versus the massive losses bees currently suffer in beehives everywhere.
He dips a bare hand into one of his hives, set in a circle beside his house, and the bees emerge, almost lazily, spinning a hum of circles around Hanka’s head and landing on him. They swarm over his bare hands and land in his beard.
“They are not aggressive with me,” Hanka says. “Frame of mind is important. They respond much like any animal would. You have to be sensitive to their mood and show some respect..”
The bees do sting him occasionally, he says, especially when stressed, but Hanka shrugs it off. All a part of the art and all part of the natural order of things. As for the way the insects weave their intricate combs along his drawings, Hanka shrugs about that, too.
“I try to be realistic about that, how much intelligence is in the bee,” he says. “There is a spirit. I have no explanation for some of it.”
Hanka considers ArtPrize carefully, now that the citywide exhibit is done, his wall of bees packed up and brought back to the hive again. During subsequent weeks he contemplated the moment of fame.
“The space is clean and no evidence remains of the effort invested,” he says. “Honey gathering and art are both among the first recorded events in the mists of human history. My work invited people to partake of genuine, unfalsified sacraments. I saw they were truly moved by the beauty they encountered and by their concern for the fate of bees.”
Landing on the competition’s short lists gave him a few seductive moments of contemplating the financial prize (ArtPrize awards two grand prizes worth $400,000, and eight category awards worth $160,000). Those moments quickly evaporated in the final stages of the competition.
“Of course, there was a build-up and then disappointment,” Hanka nods. “Though we may ardently desire the accolades and money these votes confer, it isn’t why we make art.”
What remains, Hanka says, is the message he wanted to deliver: the interaction he had with his audience and his art, the near-mystical experience he had with another tiny life form. He acknowledges the influences that have remained with him from his years at Kalamazoo College, where he studied with Marcia Wood, Johannes Von Gumppenberg, Peter Jogo, and Bernard Palchick (all former professors in the art department). Equally, in biology, he credits Professors Paul Olexia, David Evans, and Fred Cichocki.
“I still keep in contact with many of them, and I value their influence in my life,” Hanka says. Ideas, he believes, are born in the buzz of many minds working at their purpose; they are built one upon another.
Hanka walks between the aisles of his beehives in the same way he walks between the tables in his studio. Both are covered with pieces of his work. He leans forward to study a detail, and then he leans back to contemplate the whole.
He is done with this particular project, this artistic collaboration with the bees that carried over years. Now, the bees will return to what they do best: making honey. The artist will let his mind spin and dream and buzz a little, until it lands on his next big idea.
I’ve been lucky enough to find Kalamazoo College in three different cities—Minneapolis, Kalamazoo, and Ann Arbor—thanks to the Hornet Happy Hour events.
Hornet Happy Hours happen quarterly (the fourth Wednesday of January, April, July and October), hosted at a local bar or restaurant, and serve as an opportunity to meet and network with other Kalamazoo College alumni.
The connections I’ve experienced at these short-and-sweet gatherings have made a difference. After graduating from K in 2012, I set off to the heart of the Amazon, where I taught English for the French Ministry of Education in French Guiana. At the end of my contract, I found myself back home in Minnesota pondering my next steps.
There I received a message from K’s alumni relations department regarding a Hornet Happy Hour hosted in Minneapolis. I attended the event, hosted by Kate Thomas ’06, at the Nomad World Pub. I saw the K flag at the end of a table, and I was greeted with smiling faces and inquisitive conversation. Most K graduates have some wisdom to impart and some great adventures to share.
At the Nomad I met Maggie Kane ’13, an English major. We started talking about life after Kalamazoo College and I mentioned my interest in graduate school. Maggie said both of her parents held master’s degrees in public policy from the University of Minnesota, and that sounded like a field that aligned with my interests. The next week I met with Matt Kane and Liz Conway at Gigi’s cafe, their local favorite in Uptown Minneapolis. The couple was eager to talk about their diverse experiences in the policy field, and our conversation influenced my decision to apply to public policy graduate programs. I am now in my first year at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.
More recently I attended an October Hornet Happy Hour in Ann Arbor, hosted by Alexandra Hayward ’13. I met Cyrus Jadun ’10 and Mynti Hossain ’05, both of whom had graduated from the policy program at the Ford School and currently work for Mathematica Policy Research.
Last year 412 people attended 64 different Hornet Happy Hour events. The program began in New York City; Erin Mazzoni ’07 is one of its architects. She and a group of young K grads gathered on a monthly basis to connect, catch up and find familiarity with the Big Apple. Mazzoni contacted Sass Havilar, events planner in the alumni relations department, to share her enthusiasm about the success of the informal happy hour events in New York.
“The idea of an official College Hornet Happy Hour event definitely started off organically. Why not invite others to get together?” said Mazzoni. In June of 2011 the first official “Kalamazoo Hornet Happy Hour” occurred in New York City.
According to Mazzoni, “We continued to meet (now formally) on a monthly basis, and we had pretty good turnouts, from brand new grads to longtime retirees. Some months we had 30 alumni, other months just five, but no matter the number, we always had a good time. You always have something in common and something to talk about.”
For more than a year the New York group met at the Brass Monkey, owned by alumna Marisol de la Rosa ’97. “Marisol was very generous,” said Mazzoni. “It’s special to have a K grad open up space for us.”
Mazzoni and the alumni relations department teamed up with class agents around the country to add events in Kalamazoo, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington D.C. And last year Hornet Happy Hours happened in 25 cities: Albuquerque, Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Houston, Kalamazoo, Lansing, Las Vegas, Madison, Minneapolis, Nashville, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, Portland (Oregon), San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle, Traverse City and Washington D.C..
“At almost every Happy Hour there are business cards passed around,” said Mazzoni. “These connections can be life-changing. At one Happy Hour in New York, I met Marc Reeves ’93, who was supportive and instrumental in helping me find my current position at Under Armor.”
Mazzoni hopes Hornet Happy Hour will expand into new spaces and gatherings (both formal and informal) in order to get others engaged. “Last year, we met an alum in a play in the city, and a group of us went to see her performance. In January, I hosted a brunch for K women in Washington, D.C. [Mazzoni’s new residence since her career change]. I hope other alumni will make and take advantage of new opportunities to gather with fellow grads,” said Mazzoni. Since her relocation to Washington D.C., Dion Bullock ’12 has hosted the New York City events.
For Mazzoni, the K flag is a great table marker and a symbol of the College’s ubiquity. “The flag’s become a tradition,” said Mazzoni. “Kim Aldrich ’80, director of alumni relations, gave me my first K flag and I got one for Dion when he took over in New York.”
Hornet Happy Hour events rely on alumni to serve as hosts in their cities. Interested? Please contact Sass Havilar at 269.337.7283 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find dates, locations and times for alumni events on the Alumni Relations calendar of events page. When you attend an event, take pictures and post comments using the hashtag #HornetHappyHour. You can also tag @KCollegeAlumni on Twitter.
And speaking of connections, the Alumni Association Executive Board (AAEB) recently launched an improved Kalamazoo College Alumni Directory. Now it’s easy to search for K alumni in any city. Among other features, the directory includes a map view, vCard download, email enhancements, and the ability to sync a LinkedIn profile. It’s a great place to start if you host a gathering in your area!
Sally (Warner) Read ’08 wastes no time. Two months after graduation from Kalamazoo College she began taking doctoral classes in education at Michigan State University. And in seven short years she she’s landed her dream job as head of the Kazoo School, a private, independent, progressive school less than two miles from K.
“It’s all been a whirlwind, and I have a lot of learning to do as I figure things out,” said Sally.
Like many first-year K students, Sally was open to many post-graduate possibilities. She did know that she loved children and wanted to change the world. During a pre-admission visit to K, she sat in on her sister’s (Becky Warner ’04) developmental psychology class and knew that she wanted to major in that field.
During her first quarter she became a self-described “Dr. [Siu-Lan] Tan [Professor of Psychology] groupie” and signed up to be a teaching assistant for her, which she did throughout her four years at K. Sally particularly enjoyed the co-authorship program at the Woodward School where K students help the children write and illustrate fictional stories.
“I loved Dr. Tan’s class, even though I was a little scared of her,” said Sally. “She really challenged me to do better and to think more deeply than I ever had before.”
Sally’s Senior Individualized Project occurred at the University of Texas (Dallas) where she conducted research on social aggression for the Friendship Project, a longitudinal research project about aggression among children. Sally analyzed the Project’s data bases to discover how gender differences affected the children’s self-reports of social and physical victimization. Going to Dallas was also an opportunity to be with her boyfriend and future husband, Courtney Read ’06.
Near the end of her K experience Sally decided that a career in education made sense for her, and she applied for and was accepted into a Ph.D. program in teacher education at Michigan State University. At age 21 she was the youngest, most inexperienced student in the program, a fact that didn’t intimidate her at all. If anything, graduate school solidified her tendency toward fearlessness (well cultivated at K) and her passion for learning. Both have served her well in her new job.
During doctoral studies Sally was influenced by two progressive educators whose ideas have become cornerstones for her research and for her work at the Kazoo School. John Dewey (1859-1952) was a philosopher and psychologist who advocated for an education based on democratic principles that would prepare young people to be productive, responsible members of a democratic society. Alfie Kohn (1957- ) advocates the viewpoint that education is effective when the learner actively makes meaning as opposed to absorbing information. Knowledge, argues Kohn, should be taught “in a context and for a purpose.”
For her dissertation Sally interviewed and observed third grade students at the Kazoo School who were working on an election year project. She also followed kindergartners as they learned mathematics through the symmetry and patterns of nature at the nearby Kleinstuck Nature Preserve.
“I immediately fell in love with Kazoo School,” said Sally. “Progressive schools often get a bad name for being laissez-faire. My research focused on seeing what progressive education looks like in a real, 21st-century school. I wanted to know how teachers find meaning in their work when they are given the autonomy to teach and learn without the use of a standardized test.”
Sally’s first job after receiving her doctorate was at the Eton Academy in Birmingham, Michigan, an alternative school that specializes in working with students who have learning disabilities. She liked the experience and planned to stay at Eton to teach Spanish. Destiny intervened. Sally received a call from the former Kazoo School board chairperson who invited her to become the interim head of school (for the 2014-15 academic year) and to apply for the permanent position.
At first Sally declined.
“What do you do if you’re 27, and you’re offered your dream job?” said Sally. “I didn’t feel ready for it.”
Then she did a lot of soul searching and sought out the advice of her mentors. She concluded that she would regret missing this opportunity if she didn’t apply.
“I lived and breathed Kazoo School during my dissertation, and I liked it,” said Sally. “It was really what I was looking for in a school: small classes; children’s art everywhere; a spirit of collaboration among students, teachers and parents; and, of course, a vision of the school that I believed in.”
Kazoo School has 96 children in grades pre-kindergarten to eighth grade and it employs 18 full- and part-time teachers. Since 1972 the school has focused on challenging and nurturing children to become independent thinkers and lifelong learners in an environment that seeks academic excellence, social responsibility, and respect for others.
One of Sally’s favorite things to do at school is to interact with the students. She leads school assemblies on Friday mornings and talks with students in the halls. She also sees students at work when she visits classrooms to evaluate teachers. While most teachers fret over evaluations, Kazoo School teachers are comfortable with having Sally come to their classes. They know she misses being with the children, and that takes the edge off her official business.
“The children here are so awesome,” she said. “I take as many opportunities as I can to visit their classrooms and interact with them. The pre-kindergarteners are especially excited to see me. They call me ‘Dr. Sally.’”
Sally enjoys meeting with the children for another reason.
“It’s interesting to see how much they have changed and grown from the few short years ago when I was doing research here,” she said. “I can’t wait to see what they’ll look like a few years from now.
Although the new job has been exciting, Sally admits it hasn’t been easy. In her first month, the office assistant left. A short time later she hired a new business manager. One fine fall day she had a flood in the school basement that began on Friday at 4 P.M. Late in her first fall she had to call an early snow day. Sally got through it all—and she conducted her first fund-raising campaign.
The school had not done a big annual fund drive before, but Sally decided to try it. The results? More than $100,000 and an 80 percent parent participation rate, both significant increases from previous years. The key to her success?
“Follow-up, a great team of parent volunteers, and, more follow-up, with a personal touch,” she said. “I learned a lot about the culture of giving from my time at K.”
Although Sally’s academic background isn’t specifically in educational administration, she has turned out to be a natural leader who uses a collaborative approach with her parents, teachers, and the school’s board of directors. This style has worked well for her at a school where only two teachers are younger than she is.
“There are so many decisions to make all the time, which can be tiring,” she said. “I have been strategic in how I’ve chosen to approach it.”
Sally promised teachers she wanted to make everyone successful by drawing on everyone’s expertise rather than telling people what to do. She set up a shared file of expertise on Google Docs. And she readily consults with teachers whose long experience (15 to 20 years) at Kazoo School has given them deep institutional knowledge of the place.
Sally’s journey has combined vision, hard work, mentoring, and the execution of a plan. It all just happened quicker than she anticipated. Last May, the board of Kazoo School named Sally permanent Head of School.