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Installation Remarks by Semeka Smith-Williams and Noah Reinhardt

Semeka Smith-Williams, Director of Diversity and Equity: Before we begin I’d like to recognize Yusuf and Izabella and all the amazing students we just saw, as well as our student filmmaker, Jordan Renville, who is here tonight. 

Good evening. Noah and I are honored to offer a few words this evening, to speak about the impression that Dr. Weyburn — Jen — has made, and the impact that she has had on our community in the short time that she’s been here. We are also honored to recognize that for the first time in Packer’s nearly 175-year history — which for 125 years was an all-girls school — that we have appointed a woman to serve as our head of school. 

Noah Reinhardt, Assistant Head of School and Middle School Division Head: Tonight, we speak on behalf of Packer’s entire professional community — our teaching and operational staff and our school administrative and leadership team, which we are so proud to represent.

We have the additional good fortune of being Packer parents — like Jen herself —  so we also share our hopes and wishes on behalf of the parent body and the larger Packer community. 

A Head of School’s primary responsibility is to come to understand and to shape an institution’s most cherished beliefs, so that she can — with confidence and with the adults entrusted with their care — guide their students on their educational journey, and to set the path for the present and also for the future. As parents, we choose a school not just for our children but for our families. As employees, we choose to work in schools that reflect our personal values, and that speak to our sense of what is right for children. We seek schools that that have meaning and purpose, and that make a difference to the young people they help to shape, their families who love them, and the adults, they one day become.

These choices are a leap of faith. And we gather here in this room tonight, to reaffirm those choices, and to give that faith, and the hope and confidence behind them, to Jen, as she steps into this new role in this old school that we love.

Semeka: Jen urges us as adults to keep our focus on our students while we also learn from one another, and challenge our long-standing traditions, beliefs, and even our own perspectives. With her wit, intelligence, and humor, she reminds us of our common purpose and she encourages us to be ourselves.   And in doing this, Jen has reestablished the foundation from which all of us can do our best work.  

Jen has helped us develop deeper meaning in our identity as a school that is located in one of the world’s most diverse cities. This summer, at our opening meeting with 200-plus faculty and staff, Jen arranged for five of us to read the school’s mission statement in all of the languages taught here. Now, I should note that we constantly reference the mission in our work, and we continuously refine our practice through its lens. Yet, as our five colleagues recited it in their respective languages, the energy among us shifted: the work of our World Languages teachers was validated, the cultural and national identities of longtime community members came vividly alive, and a three-sentence document that is decidedly not new to us became dazzlingly new once again. It became what a mission truly should be: a living expression of our work, and a call to action — and it was suddenly rekindled in all of us.

As a member of the Head of School search committee, I noticed from early on that Jen has a way of bringing people into the conversation. Her hmmms, her bright smile, her curiosity and love of learning encourage people to share their stories with her.  She is always fully present, and listens carefully, making sense of the ideas that are circulating.

When she was a finalist for the position over a year ago, the search committee had a conversation on a layered topic — the varying experiences and sense of belonging that students and adults have at Packer. A lot was shared between the members of the committee, and some of the discussion went unresolved. After Jen received the appointment as Head of School, she returned for a visit, and though it was months later,  she brought up that conversation. She asked questions. And I was struck by her curiosity, and frankly, her courage, to re-engage in a complicated issue. It was clearly one that she felt was worth the investigation.

That is the type of leadership — reflective, inquisitive, and courageous— that will carry our community forward.  

Noah: In her brief tenure as Packer's tenth Head of School, we have learned so much from Jen. Our leadership team has appreciated her ability to bring us together and benefited from her generosity of spirit. Jen makes people feel seen, appreciated, recognized, and validated.

A few of our colleagues offered some observations. 

In situations where emotions could have gotten heightened, she is even-keeled. 
She is warm and compassionate, a great listener with a wonderful sense of humor.
Jen gives people her full attention. She listens intently and sincerely. 
She takes notes, and absorbs and thinks about what you've said
She is committed to slowing the pace and being present.
She is genuine and grounded, open and approachable. She sits with us at lunch — faculty and staff alike. 
She has a calm, thoughtful, human-centric approach to challenges.
Jen is a parent herself, and she draws on that perspective in her work.

Semeka: It’s clear from Jen’s leadership style that she believes a work-life balance is not just possible but necessary for us to best serve our kids and be role models for them. Emotional intelligence, collegial relationships, and moments of discovery are essential for us as adults. Jen reminds us to take care of ourselves — so that we have the strength and courage to accept what is asked of educators today.  As she leads our community through a new strategic plan, a historic construction project, and the day to day schooling of our children, we know she will encourage our Packer collective thoughtfully and with a collaborative spirit.

Noah: When we launched our Head of School search nearly two years ago. As a community, we articulated the kind of person we were looking for to lead our school. We wished for someone:

Who would listen to us and understand who we are
Who would lead us with grace and compassion and intelligence and heart
Who understands that schools are complicated 
Who leans in when issues are thorny and challenging
Who recognizes opportunities for growth and change
Who is not afraid to admit a mistake, and who understands that everyone makes them, and who reminds us that it’s what we learn from them that’s most important
Who would care about our local community and connect Packer to the larger world
Who knows that being an inclusive community is an active, ongoing, important commitment  
Who believes and understands that our school has the capacity to do beautiful, extraordinary things

We understand and acknowledge that this is a lot to ask of any one individual, but we share this tonight, because, based on everything we have seen, Jen, we believe that you are capable of all this and so much more. 

Semeka: We are going to close by inviting everyone here, before you leave tonight, to share a wish or hope for Jen, which can be written on little cards at the reception after our program here. We know that the days ahead will be busy and full, and some days maybe less good than others. 

Jen, on those days in particular, we hope that these words sustain you and give you the strength and encouragement that you have already given to so many of us.

Noah: On behalf of the many, many people we represent tonight, congratulations. We’re happy you’re here, we are happy your family is here, and, we’re happy you are you. We wish you good luck, success, and a long and productive legacy at Packer. We are so proud to welcome you as our Head of School. 


Next: Remarks by Cynthia Gardstein

Remarks by Dr. Weyburn

Return to: “Jennifer Weyburn Formally Installed as Packer's Tenth Head of School”

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