Notes from Our Educational Leaders

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From the Spring 2009 Caller

Farewell, Pam McComas

Pam McComas, head of Beginning School and associate head of school, left Catlin Gabel in June to become director of the K-6 division of the 860-student Chadwick School in Palos Verdes, California. Pam was instrumental in leading many large-scale projects during her 14 years at the school, including the process for evaluating faculty and administrators, the Imagine 2020 conference in 2006, and the creation and implementation of a schoolwide curriculum map. She also served for a year as interim head of the Upper School.

“I often say one of my wisest decisions was to hire Pam the summer I arrived at school,” said school head Lark Palma. “She has been a mentor for me in early childhood education, a wise counsel, and the creator of the professional development program and curriculum rubric we use today. If you have been in a meeting she has facilitated, you know her talent for bringing folks to consensus. Most of all, her heart, her progressive education DNA, and her voice always reminding us to walk our talk and live our philosophy has helped keep us centered. I know how lucky her new school, colleagues, and school head are in bringing her into their community.”

“I am thrilled with the prospect of a new adventure and sad to be leaving this remarkable school. This life transition brings me close to my two-year-old granddaughter, Rita, and that’s a good thing. I will miss Catlin Gabel and everyone here terribly, and the Beehive will always hold a special place in my heart. Interestingly, after 14 years at Catlin Gabel, I will be leaving in June along with the graduating ‘lifer’ seniors who started at the same time I did in the Beginning School,” said Pam. Hannah Whitehead, 6th grade humanities teacher and former Beehive teacher, will serve as interim head of the Beginning School.


A Brief Musing on My First Two Years at Catlin Gabel

By Michael Heath, Upper School head

Here’s what amazed me first when I arrived at Catlin Gabel in the fall of 2007—that students shape their lives a lot more here than at other schools, that we expect them to take an idea and make it happen. I just came back from our annual kidnap day (a student idea!), where the Upper School student government whisks away their classmates. The student officers stayed behind to clean up the community center where they had spent the day, and I was so proud of them. They had done it all, and done it all well.

The collective wisdom of Clint Darling and John Keyes in my first year made a significant difference. It speaks volumes about both of them that even though they had each held my position, not once did either of them say, “Well, when I was Upper School head, we did it this way!” And the other faculty members have proved to be extraordinary, and supportive. I’d like the faculty to see each other in action more, because they are so uncommonly good, and sometimes when you’re teaching in that bubble, working hard with your head down, you don’t hear that enough.

Parents here genuinely trust the teachers, the school, and the peer groups their sons and daughters find themselves in. It makes such a difference to be in this kind of school. When I hear feedback from parents, it’s typically a good point about how to make something better—or we end up having a great conversation about the various facets of an issue. It shapes the way we do things, to a large extent.

It is difficult to capture the totality of my first two years. So much has happened, and there is so much I love about this community. But what I quickly learned about Catlin Gabel people is that they are inspiring, generous, and welcoming.