Meet Dr. Weyburn
Led by Division Head Bill McCarthy, students in the Lower School presented Dr. Weyburn with handmade bouquets of paper flowers, a special carpet made of repurposed paper, and a traditional Packer chair embellished with aluminum pans, pipe cleaners, and streamers.
Packer’s Head of School Jennifer Weyburn grew up just north of New York City, in Dobbs Ferry, NY, where she attended public schools. After graduating from Yale University with a BA in history, she worked for a few years just blocks from Packer — at Saint Ann’s School — then taught in Hong Kong and mainland China. She returned to the States in her work leading teaching programs at the Yale-China Association. At Atlanta International School, she became a division head and developed her love for being a school leader.
She simultaneously earned an EdD in educational policy and leadership at Vanderbilt University. Then, with her husband, Garrett, and their children, Will and Louise, she returned to China, where she served as deputy head for educational programs and student learning at Shanghai American School. After that, she was appointed to lead Copenhagen International School in Denmark.
“It’s been a whirlwind of a journey for me and my family,” Dr. Weyburn said, “and now we’re so happy to be back here in New York, at Packer.” She sat down with The Packer Magazine for an interview.
You’ve been in education for 25 years. Why did you first enter the field?
Teaching and learning have always been a big part of my life. My mom was a teacher. I think I even made my brother succumb to lessons in front of a chalkboard. And I really loved school, all the way through. I loved the journey that I got to go on with every teacher introducing me to something new.
But I chose education as a career because I love working with kids. Being a part of a kid’s educational journey is fun, it’s intense, and it’s an honor. If you’re not a teacher, you may not realize what joy there is in connecting with students on a daily basis. Kids are funny. They’re quirky. They bare their souls. Our students also really challenge us. They make us think of things we haven’t thought of before and ask us to consider new ways of being.
Who was one of your favorite teachers?
My piano teacher, whom I studied with for 12 years, was important in helping me understand what an excellent teacher does. She understood what really motivated and intrigued me, and she engaged me in a long path of learning.
That’s what I see the teachers at Packer doing. They’re both excellent in the subjects that they’re teaching and great at connecting with students.
Students at the Packer Early Learning Center presented Dr. Weyburn with necklaces of repurposed-paper beads bearing their wishes for her: “I hope that people support her and listen to her.” “I hope she feels peaceful.” “I hope that she is one of the happiest people in the world.” At her installation ceremony [see story], Dr. Weyburn recited these wishes — adding, “I most certainly am.”
Your children are Middle School students here, which makes you the first Head of School in a long time also to be a Packer parent. How does being a parent impact your work?
I think being a parent is a big part of what I bring to Packer. Though I was a teacher for a long time before I had kids, now as a parent, I’m always learning something new about what young people need. And being a parent in this community offers me another facet for understanding how the school serves kids and families.
You describe teaching as an art and a science. What do you mean?
I’ve taught for a long time, and I really appreciate the craft and the artistry of good teaching. It takes many years to master.
You plan a lot for a great lesson, then you get into the classroom and something organic happens: the students present you with new perspectives. The class may take a different path, and it ends up being unique and special and unexpected — something we’ve created and learned together.
The hallmark of great teachers is that they’re always seeking out their own learning and new ways to grow. At Packer, one thing I love — and am deeply moved by — is that all of our teachers are engaged in this reflective practice. And our veteran teachers are learning and growing just as much as those earlier in their careers.
Dr. Weyburn visited Li Ma's Advanced Topics in Chinese class, speaking fluent Mandarin with Upper School students.
What makes a Packer education special?
I think Packer gets excellent education just right. It’s both about academics — skills, knowledge, and dispositions — and about students understanding who they are and how they engage and contribute in a community of learners.
At its best, education is a coming together of the heart and the mind. And we’re helping to develop students who are academically good but also who know who they are — and who feel they can be themselves.
I see this when I enter our classrooms: our students are developing confidence in their ideas and ability to express them. They want to make a difference and solve issues and challenges in the world. They’re telling us what they believe in, what matters, what they need, and how we can help them. It’s our job to listen carefully and then offer the pathways and supports that will help them achieve those goals.
You have been meeting with dozens of different constituents, including alumni, to learn about the school. What’s the most consistent thing you hear?
When I ask people what they love about Packer, they say community. When our alumni talk about the impact Packer had on them, they always return to the strong sense of community here and the teachers they still cherish.
We all understand how deeply important a warm, caring, trusting, and vibrant community is for us to provide an excellent education for our kids. I think it’s one of the things that Packer’s been doing better for longer than anybody else.
Dr. Weyburn visited Vidya Misra’s Eighth Grade history class to learn about their pen-pal exchange with students in a rural area in Virginia.
Can you explain a little further why community is important to learning?
Community is essential to learning! We learn as individuals and together in a group. And particularly when the group is diverse, we learn from all the variety of experiences of each of us.
Early on, at an Upper School Community Meeting in the Chapel, I was struck by how well it reflected why I love Packer. When students perform on stage, their peers are in rapt attention. When someone makes an announcement, there is cheering from the crowd. It’s just what a learning environment should be. And there’s an awareness of the fact that people of different identities may experience Packer differently.
Part of what we, as a school, are striving to do — and what our students are learning to do — is to really understand these dynamics, nurture our authentic voices, and support one another.
In addition to being the first woman appointed to serve as Head of School, what else do you bring to Packer’s ongoing commitment to diversity?
My experiences as a leader at international schools on three different continents gave me a lot of opportunity to think about how schools serve diverse populations of students and families. Diversity comes in so many forms — racial background, ethnic background, linguistic background, learning style, family make-up, and more. I’ve learned the importance of listening to every single student’s story and each family’s story — understanding their needs, perspectives, and goals for their children’s learning. And I see that Packer is deeply committed to supporting each child, wherever they’re coming from, and helping them thrive.
The Garden House project will break ground at the end of your first year here. What can you tell us about this new chapter in Packer’s history?
This is such an exciting moment. With the renovation of the Garden House, we will bring to life our understanding of what makes powerful learning environments for our older students. At the same time, we’re looking at how to make the Garden an even more special space for student learning.
What is your wish for all Packer students?
I really hope our kids know their superpowers! I already know that when they leave Packer, they are sure about who they are, they understand the journey they’ve been on and are hungry to learn more, and they’re ready to influence the world.