“Thought Partners and ISANNE Camaraderie”

No more than two weeks passed after my position as head of Vermont Academy began on July 1, 2017 before Peter Saliba gave me a call and said “How about if we meet at Burdick’s for lunch?”  When I inadvertently pulled into his intended parking spot, he was quick to joke about it.  Meeting this energetic and insightful head of Tilton School who is also the informal social organizer for the Lakes Region heads, I recognized that I was stepping into a support system that was unlike anything I had experienced in the Founder’s League or in New York City.  Sure, the Lakes Region schools compete for students, but that does not get in the way of a solid understanding that the job of a head of school is unique, challenging, multi-faceted and sometimes grueling.  The joy comes from the people at our schools and our alumni, and that is why we are all in this – the faces and hearts and minds of our students, colleagues, and graduates.  Having Peter sitting across from me that summer day, smiling, and telling me that in “three years,” I would see the fruits of leadership and strategy made all of the difference when I was returning to a long checklist of things to accomplish, people to see and call, and a campus to walk and know…every building and faculty home, every dorm and classroom, the fields and forests on Vermont Academy’s four hundred and fifty acres.  I was responsible for it all, but Peter would sit beside me.

As the months continued, I attended TABS and joined in on the ISANNE winter meeting.  I also met other heads at fall sports games.  I remember Mike Schafer standing by the soccer field with me at Vermont Academy, telling me that he had been at Kimball Union for fifteen years, and when he arrived, he had so much to accomplish, but chipping away at goals, having a big vision, and seeing it through was intensely gratifying.  I believe him.  In every ISANNE meeting, I have met someone new and shared the ideas, hopes and dreams so many of us have for this great task of leading boarding or day schools.  In private education, we share liberal arts values, and the belief in the whole student and educational possibilities.  We also know that our “product” is one that is valuable on many levels and that we need to promote why that is so, and to define our schools distinctly.  Knowing that my peers in ISANNE have my back and I theirs means a great deal.  Seeing Laurie Hurd helping us to gather and leading us through important topics, encouraging us also to collaborate has been incredibly inspiring as well at the ISANNE meetings.

Recently, Craig Gemmell and I realized that we can create a working connection as “thought partners,” test driving ideas with each other, and also just generally offering the camaraderie and emotional support that a good friend with the same job can give.  Craig’s history at Groton parallels mine at Taft, and we both went to Trinity College where Craig was an All-American runner, and I was a newspaper writer and chamber music or master class pianist – I graduated in ’82 and he in ’88. When we sat together at lunch at TABS trying to figure out how to solve a conflict two of our students encountered, we reached for a similar toolbox of solutions and strategies.  Common ground in our past helped us to feel that sense of trust that would enable us to lean on each other when we need to.  Craig and his wife have a house in VT, and we will be meeting every so often and especially in the summer, to relax, laugh, and regenerate.  I highly recommend this idea of having a thought partner to my colleagues, and thank all for the open, authentic, and engaging support we offer one another as heads in ISANNE.

Jennifer L. Zaccara

Head of Vermont Academy

About The Author

Jennifer Zaccara

Dr. Jennifer L. Zaccara is Vermont Academy’s eighteenth head of school. She was previously at The Nightingale-Bamford School in New York City, where she had served as associate Head of School for four years. Prior to that, she was associate dean of faculty at The Taft School in Watertown, CT where she spent twelve years.

During her tenure at Nightingale—an all-girls K-12 day school with 592 students—Jennifer made many notable contributions, leading new initiatives with vision, innovation, and results, including the development of the Nightingale Summer Academy; ongoing work on an eight-day rotational schedule; strategically utilizing new spaces to meld programming with design; and a campaign for global education. To drive innovation throughout the school, she created cohorts focused on technology; faculty workload and experience; and diversity, culture, and inclusivity.
While at Taft—a coed boarding and day school with 594 students in Watertown, CT—Jennifer taught English for many years, winning several teaching honors, as well as advising and coaching. Expanding her career, she was appointed mid-class dean, leading 65-75 students each year, followed by being named English department head and then associate dean of faculty.
A native of Connecticut, Jennifer graduated from Trinity College with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English and a Master of Arts degree in English with distinction. She received her doctorate in English from the University of Connecticut, where she graduated with honors.
Jennifer enjoys welcoming students, faculty, and local residents to her home in the heart of campus, where she lives with her dogs, Copperfield and Brontë. Her two sons, Bryce and Keefe Rafferty, live in Denver, CO, and San Diego, CA, respectively. Bryce graduated from Colorado College and is attending law school, while Keefe graduated from the Naval Academy and is a Lieutenant Junior Grade on the Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier.