Kathryn Purcell: I first met Ann 16 years ago. I knew from my first two encounters with her that I would learn a lot from her. In her interview to become Head of School at Laurel, Ann declared boldly that she was a “girls’ school educator.” After being named the incoming Head of School, she visited campus, and I introduced her to the Upper School student body. When I said, “Please help me welcome, Mrs. Klotz,” she swiftly corrected me, saying, “Ms. Klotz. I am married to Mr. Orbach, and I am Ms. Klotz.” That both put me on notice to be careful and aware of personal choices.
I spent 16 years working with and learning from Ann. We created programs and plans; we supported one another through difficult decision-making and challenging situations; we raised our own families; we laughed a lot; we cried a little; and we had so much fun. In the end, she helped me find the courage and the conviction that I could move on and help to run a school, even without her. She helped me realize that I, too, am a girls’ school educator.
Ann V. Klotz: Early in my tenure at Laurel, I recognized that Kathryn and I thought similarly about girls, about education. We were both moms and we prized our families. We were not interested in a punitive culture; we knew girls needed to laugh, to be heard. We cannot claim to raise girls to use their voices and then not listen.
In my first year — the reason why escapes me — Kathryn and I had to see a father and a daughter. The girl had been caught with illegal paraphernalia. We were suspending her. In the middle of the conversation, the father got up from the couch and slugged his child. I was speechless, but I gathered my wits and informed him that though I was suspending his girl, I was also calling Child Protective Services on him. When Kathryn and I learned that the student had taken her life a few years ago, we wept. Experiences bind us.
KP: I grew up at Laurel. I was a high school student, athlete, and leader there. At Laurel, I learned that I was capable. I learned that I liked being in charge of my own ideas and trajectory. I learned that I was strong and could overcome fear. Unexpectedly, I came back as a new teacher and coach, and quickly evolved into a young school administrator. The path chose me.
AVK: My mother died unexpectedly in 2010. I returned to school less than two weeks later, determined to be stoic and to brush off people’s condolences. I did not want to fall apart in the front hall or have people feel sorry for me. After a half day of this brusque strategy, Kathryn drew me into my office. She said, “I know you don’t like this, but you have to accept the sympathy people offer. They care about you, and you have to find a way to manage. You cannot brush them off. It’s OK for them to know you are sad.” She was right. Colleagues who are friends know when to speak truth to power.
KP: Laurel helped me evolve as a professional and learn a myriad of skills and competencies in various roles. It is truly unusual to stay at one place for 24 years, and have the opportunity to grow and flex into so many different positions. My colleagues all taught me lessons along the way, but Ann has had the most lasting impact. Ann prides herself on growing leaders. I’ve watched from afar, and it is who she is and what comes naturally to her. She grows leaders. I guess I knew it was happening to me too, but I also knew that timing was important in terms of my family. We both knew that I was ready, but the path was not revealed until this year. So, here I am taking the leap, knowing that I have the full force of support from Ann Klotz and the rest of her army of women leaders behind me.
AVK: In recognizing Kathryn’s talents, I found myself promoting her. Her measured but action-oriented approach helped me think through big ideas. How could we take an initiative from an idea to action? First, I asked her to be the co-Director of the Upper School. Next, when the candidates we met for Director of Admissions failed to wow us, I asked Kathryn to take on this key role. I knew Kathryn should be a Head, and I also knew that having experience with an externally-facing area of the school would help her broaden her understanding of the complexities that faced our school. As the board considered a capital campaign, it was clear that I would need a person to be “boots on the ground,” given how much they planned for me to travel. Naming Kathryn the Associate Head was a logical next step.
Even as our partnership deepened, I knew it would soon end because people began to knock at her door. As Board Chair of One Schoolhouse, she acquired the governance experience that so many Head candidates lack. She joined the finance committee of our board and the strategic planning task force; she attended board meetings regularly.
There are moments when a leader realizes she has taught a protégé all she can, and the right thing to do is to encourage that amazing leader to leave; it’s a peculiar obligation find someone amazing, work with them well for a long time, and then encourage them to leave. But, in a way, it’s what schools are about, too. When we do our work well, students and aspiring leaders have all they need to be successful in their next chapter.
KP: I have been at my new school for a little more than a month now. The world is dealing with a pandemic. I am adjusting to a new commute across town, a new team of colleagues, and a new community amidst this pandemic. It is strange at best. Change is hard.
AVK: Our schools and the people in them shape us. Almost 40 years ago, I was a bright-eyed, freshly-minted college graduate living on a boys’ corridor at Northfield Mount Hermon, where I taught English and theatre. I was the youngest member of the faculty. Another teacher, Meg, also new, and I shared the same preparations. Over making coffee and tea in a little alley kitchen, our deep friendship was born. We were young and deeply in love with teaching English. Last last spring, on the eve of the pandemic, I drove a candidate for our Upper School Head position to the airport. Along the way, she used the term, “heart, head, and hand,” and I immediately chirped, “D.L. Moody.”
Moody was an evangelist who founded two single sex schools in the Pioneer Valley in Massachusetts. My candidate, now my Upper School director, grinned. I had missed teaching her since she came to NMH the year I left, and she did not have Meg as a teacher, but that connection to a school that walked the walk on inclusion long before it was fashionable allows us a shared context. One remarkable colleague arrives as another departs — such is the nature of schools.
For one more year, Kathryn is a mother in my school and still lives just a stone’s throw away. Still, change is hard. In letting go of Kathryn, I signal my faith in all she has to offer her own school while modeling that our job as school leaders is to love students and colleagues well and to prepare them for the future that awaits them beyond our walls.
A million times this week, I have lifted my head from my laptop to call to her; I expect her to be through the flimsy door that separates our offices. A million times I have to remember that our new CFO is sitting where Kathryn used to sit, that if I really need her, I will have to text her. I have already sent Grapefruit Spindrift and Cheezits to her new office, so I know she is stocked and ready to be a Head of School. And I miss her hugely.