2019 in Review – Reflections from the Head of School

As I sit here in the final weeks of the year, with a gentle snowfall outside of my window, I feel a mix of emotions. John Dewey Academy is in transition — I am moving on to start a new chapter of my life and David Baum will be stepping in as Interim Head of School as of January 1, 2020. As we prepare for the new year ahead, I’d like to take a moment to highlight some of the school’s greatest celebrations and accomplishments from 2019.

Over my last 3 ½ years as the Head of John Dewey Academy, I have loved watching everyone—students, parents, and staff—rise above. 2019 was no different; the year brought many shifts and opportunities for new possibilities to the school, including new additions to our teaching faculty, clinical providers and residential supervisors. What remains constant is the growth and evolution of our students.

New Additions to our Faculty

While we were sad to see three of our long-serving, and cherished faculty retire and/or move on after many years with the JDA community, their departures opened up faculty positions that had been filled for 10-25 years! So after much searching and great joy we are thrilled to welcome four amazing new teachers to the faculty this year: Susan Jennings (Art), Courtney Carlisle (English), Ben Mielenz (Spanish), and Christophe Pichard (French).

It’s been incredibly exciting to hear fresh new ideas and see their energy and excitement ripple through the castle! We’ve always had impressive faculty, and I’m happy and proud to report that we still have a team of well-rounded, caring scholars and teachers who know how to inspire passion, creativity, and excellence into the academic life at JDA.

New Clinicians and Residential Staff

We’ve also welcomed several new clinical and residential staff this year. Meg Czaja is a clinical social worker who comes to us with a wealth of clinical knowledge and experience with adolescents. Jeremy Stanhope, Ashley Thompson, and Joan Zagrobelny have rounded out our house parent team beautifully, adding a plethora of new creative and recreational activities that they enjoy and like to share with our students. Altogether, we’ve had a massive shift in our team — and yet, everyone is coming together over the shared mission and purpose that we get to live out each day.


In addition to the new staffing additions, we also promoted a few people into new leadership roles this year: David Baum, who stepped in as Dean of Academics in May and who will now step in as the interim Head of School, and Angel Mayes, who is transitioning from her role as Dean of Students into her new role as Clinical Director. We look forward to seeing Meg Czaja step into the Dean of Students role in the new year, and Ben will expand beyond his teaching role as our new Director of Student Activities. The school is well-positioned with a strong, enthusiastic leadership team as we enter 2020.

Diversity & Inclusion Task Force

I’m proud of several things that JDA has accomplished this year, but I’m particularly proud of the work that several faculty, students, parents, and alumni have done in the launching of a new Diversity & Inclusion Task Force and curriculum that is being piloted this year! As a small therapeutic boarding school, I think issues of diversity and inclusion can easily be overlooked—because of constraints on budget, time, and everyone’s energy! But within our tiny but mighty community, we had so much interest and energy around prioritizing this initiative, even if we weren’t quite ready to hire a full-time director as other larger schools might be able to do.

I want to give special credit to Jovanina Pagano, Christian Holland, Ben Mielenz, and Courtney Carlisle — along with a multitude of very experienced and dedicated parents — who worked collaboratively with students all year. They have kept this initiative front and center all year. One student even came to me with a proposal for a multi-year curriculum! Students are diving into this work with enthusiasm and passion. We’ve already begun weaving some diversity-related activities into our Family Weekends, which has been met with positive reactions from students and parents alike!

Parent Mentoring Program

I want to also acknowledge the development and growth of our Parent Mentoring program, which we officially launched last fall with a handful of amazing, dedicated alumni parents. Special credit goes to Liz Moore, Lisa Sinsheimer, and Marci Cohen — all who have played a special part in getting things organized and humming on another level! The hearts of our alumni parents — some who travel from as far as the West coast just to attend a family weekend and be here with the current families — is astonishing to me.

New parents have told me that, even if they weren’t sure in the beginning why they might need a mentor, they are so glad to have one when things get tough — and we know, things almost always get a little tough at some point! We’ve done some important parent workshops this year, and the parent community seems stronger now than I’ve seen it in many years.

The Importance of our Alumni

I can’t wrap up the year without also thanking and acknowledging the many alumni student who made their way back to JDA this year — some to officially work as staff, and others to simply stop by for an afternoon, a day, or a weekend to give back to our current student community. Our alumni-turned-staff, Sophie and Alex, helped revamp the nutritional guidelines in the kitchen, guiding students in eating a more whole-foods, healthy diet. While there may have been some playful banter around what’s better; plant-based, keto, or paleo, our alumni definitely helped students think more carefully about what they put in their bodies and how this affects their physical and mental health! On a funny note, 2019 brought a surge of quinoa dishes.

Our Students: The Heart of Dewey

And finally, how could I reflect on the year without thinking about our incredible, brave, smart, creative, and caring students?! They have weathered a lot of changes this year but managed to stay strong and united through it all. This current community of students is, above all, healthy and thoughtful: they have deepened in their valuing compassion and authenticity, vulnerability, and moral excellence. They’ve matured individually and as a community, finding ways to express who they are in the art room, in the backfield, in the kitchen, and certainly, in group and the classroom.

I am continually impressed by what a small group of teenagers can do. Sometimes people say to me the “castle is magic”– but I know the real magic lies in the dedication to the mundane, day-after-day work of the students themselves.

From organizing activities, completing homework, helping their peers get through a hard time, navigating challenging family relationships, and working on their internal growth — each student shows up, even if they don’t feel like it, and they make the community what it is. This is what I’ll miss most about Dewey. It has always been a place where young people get to shake off the labels, diagnoses, and societal expectations (positive and negative) — and dare to believe that they can rise above it all, beyond their wildest dreams.

Yes, the castle is a magical place, especially when set aglow on a dark, winter night. As we wrap up 2019 with our annual Student Bonfire, and celebrate the New Year with intention-setting as a whole community -–students, families, and alumni during our annual Winter Dinner, I’m looking forward to soaking up all the magic: the love, care, laughter, long-lasting bonds, and the beauty in the struggle.

Remaining forever yours…

In the struggle together,

Dr. Andrea Lein