SPS Today: Community Conversation
Richards, Giles, Cox respond to alumni questions at Anniversary Q&A
Jana F. Brown
Board President Archie Cox ’58 joined incoming Rector Kathy Giles and Interim Rector Amy Richards for a community conversation in Memorial Hall. The event, which took place on Saturday of Anniversary Weekend, provided an open forum for alumni to hear from and ask questions of the School leaders. The Q&A format was moderated by Chief Engagement Officer Alisa Barnard ’94, who also serves as executive director of the SPS Alumni Association.
After introductions, the participants were asked about the School’s greatest strengths and the challenges facing St. Paul’s School today. Giles immediately pointed to the students’ “energy and enthusiasm for learning to do hard things well. I couldn’t be more impressed,” she said. With regard to challenges, Richards spoke of the obligation of educational institutions to be optimistic and to grab hold of the opportunities that present themselves. Giles spoke of the trials of students coming of age in an overstimulating digital age.
“It is time to focus on looking forward,” added Cox. “We can be better. We can learn from our peers through benchmarking. How do you define being better?”Barnard asked Giles, Richards, and Cox how the School can help students engage beyond the “bubble” of St. Paul’s. Richards said it is the responsibility of the adults in their lives to help students remain in the moment, while Giles stressed the importance of the careful study of civic engagement. “Growing up in a global village has never been more powerful,” she said.
Giles was asked by Barnard why she chose to seek the job of Rector of St. Paul’s. She shared that she felt it was a good time for a new opportunity after 16 years as head of Middlesex School in Concord, Mass. “I have always looked at St. Paul’s with a lot of admiration and some envy,” Giles said, “given the extraordinary depth of the people [at the School]. At the end of my life, nothing will have been more important [to me] than the education of young people.”
Barnard opened the floor to questions from the audience. Topics ranged from the challenges of teaching young people to manage the divisive political climate that exists today to how the School addresses issues of depression and anxiety among students. Richards was asked what aspects of the School she would keep an eye on when she leaves St. Paul’s. She spoke of the all-gender house that will open for students in the fall and her interest in how it will impact the community. Richards also said she created an evolving Google document throughout the 2018-19 academic year that she shared with Giles. It contained thoughts and observations from her year as Interim Rector. She called it a “reflection on events and their meaning, observations, and questions that have percolated up to the surface.”