There's tremendous activity sweeping across Western Reserve Academy as projects continue to gain momentum. Our renovations have begun inside Seymour Hall, and the temporary classroom pods are situated by the WRA Stadium. You also may have seen the work on our front fields, where we have begun to drill wells for the implementation of a geothermal heating and cooling system inside Seymour, just as was implemented for President's House under the leadership of Marty '68 and Sherry Franks. There has been lots of chatter about our curricular changes, including coverage in Cleveland.com and Akron Beacon Journal and a feature in WRA Magazine, and this new school year, we debut a new daily schedule, our freshman digital literacies in The Center for Technology, Innovation & Creativity, and our College Level (CL) courses.
In the midst of all this excitement is a rather pivotal shift in the WRA Deans Office, a center of student life and connection on campus.
The Deans Office has moved from Metcalf Center to Wilson Hall, settling inside recently refurbished office space on the main level. WRA will no longer have class deans, a specific dean appointed to each grade level; instead, Dean of Students Wendy Skinner and Assistant to the Deans Office Melissa Polak are joined by two new members of the department.
Becky Williams is now the Assistant Dean of Students, transitioning from the College Counseling Office. She will be responsible for the freshman and sophomore classes and will take on residential life activities, such as weekend programming, activities and clubs. She will also play a critical role in developing student leadership opportunities; a perfect fit with her recently completed master's degree in Youth Development Leadership from Clemson University.
"I think it will be very different in a very good way," said Williams. "I'm really looking forward to working with a broad range of students, branching out from primarily the seniors."
Emily Barth, Fine & Performing Arts Department faculty member and former Senior Class Dean, is now the Associate Dean of Students. Where Williams will work with the underclassmen, Barth will oversee the juniors and seniors.
Both Barth and Williams will be dorm heads (formerly referred to as "housemasters"), in Long House and Ellsworth 3, respectively.
"I see this as a natural transition," said Dean of Students Wendy Skinner. "Part of the reason we are so glad to have Becky in the Deans Office is her work with the freshman girls as dorm head. We are glad to have Emily as a dorm head as well, and she has been an excellent member of the Deans Office."
Williams will also be the girls varsity basketball Assistant Coach; Barth will remain the Director of the dance program, and incoming Fine & Performing Arts Department faculty member Katie Velbeck will step in as a fellow dance instructor; and Skinner will teach a French class for half the year. These responsibilities, in combination with their Deans Office duties, essentially means that nearly all their time will be spent with students.
"The biggest benefit of this change is time," said Skinner. "Being a dean is just time with kids. It's all about being out and about in the community and having a full flow of proactive conversations. Now, we will have three people whose main focus most days will be students."
Without class deans taking responsibility for each grade level, the task of communicating to four classes could fall to the three deans, but Skinner sees this as an opportunity to utilize student assistance in the Deans Office.
"I think what we're going to do is really bolster student leadership," said Skinner. "We're going to need their help a little bit more. Some communication responsibility will sit with student leaders, and I think that's very appropriate, especially in the junior and senior classes. I want these students to help run class meetings, to come up with ideas or do more planning, and to come to us with any issues."
The Deans Office has always promoted student leadership, and this new department is ready to encourage leadership and build more opportunity to collaborate with the student body. It is supported by the school's mission, to prepare students to be global citizens and active leaders.
"We're here because of the students," said Barth. "We're their support system, and whatever they need — we do our best to provide. Our job is more than teaching them the fundamental academics. We're also instilling the life lessons, helping them figure out what's important and shaping them into better young adults."
It's a changed department, in location and setup, but Skinner assures students the Deans Office will still be very much the same place they know and love.
"I see this as a very big, very positive change, but in a way it's very much the same," said Skinner. "We'll still have Band-Aids and starbursts in our candy bowl — but now, our students won't have to look far to find us, and they will have more opportunity to work with us."