Q&A with Headmaster Anthony Meyer on new position

The Headmaster Search is over! Anthony Meyer was named permanent headmaster effective immediately on Jan. 10 at a faculty meeting.

Brookline Public Schools

The Headmaster Search is over! Anthony Meyer was named permanent headmaster effective immediately on Jan. 10 at a faculty meeting.

Ethan Gainsboro, Sports Writing Editor

What does this announcement and appointment mean to you personally?

I think it’s really important validation of the work that the high school has done over the last six months. So, that’s what’s most important to me. I’m really excited that people have appreciated the work that we’ve been doing over the last several months since I took on the interim role and believe in the future of the high school. More individually, I would say, it helps me see a future where I can be in Brookline for a while, and I like that both because I love the high school and I love this work, but also because my kids are in the schools. I love the dean’s role, too, and I probably may have stayed through the time when {my kids} graduated in that role, but I might not have, also, whereas this is something that I could imagine being here for a long time, so that feels good to be settled.

What do you feel you’ve accomplished this year?

Reinvigorating the culture of the high school as positive, respectful, safe, and supportive. That’s not me personally, but I think that I’ve had a role in that. Trying to ramp up our communications and being honest and clear and as positive as possible when things have arisen, whether it’s the picnic table or, on one of the first days of school, there was a fight outside on the front steps, and I wanted to try to be clear about what has happened without violating confidentiality or privacy: what happened, how do we feel about what happened, what do we do moving forward and what do we value, so I think that’s gone well. I think the teachers feel heard and supported. The education plan is charting the growth and expansion of the high school and imagining the kind of school we want to be for the next 50 years–not that I’ll be here that long–but when you do an expansion like that, a big expansion, you need to imagine that the town will invest quite a bit of money, so we need to imagine what the high school will look like in the next 50 years. Students, in general, I think it’s hard because I don’t have one-on-one conversations with all students, but feel like the place feels more positive, that they feel more communicated to and with, and that matters to me. I think they’ve felt in the past that sometimes things happened, but they don’t hear what exactly happened or what the school believes about it or is doing about it, so that’s been important to me, to try to be more real with students.

You mentioned the fight and the picnic bench incidents. Those happened early on and it seems nothing has happened since. Do you think that’s because of the steps the administration took?

That’s a good question. I’d like to think so. I don’t know for sure. What was interesting to me was when the fight happened, a few students came up to me and said, ‘It was this type of student who was involved in the fight. You put them on blast, I get why you put them on blast, but what are you going to do when this other type of student–we’re talking about ethnicity and race–does something?’ When the picnic table incident came up, I think we made very clear: we are going to do equal opportunity blasting. When we feel like students or people aren’t doing what they need to be doing, and it violates our school culture, we’re going to take a strong stance. I do think communication like that helps boundary. I think all people, and young people in particular, need to know their boundaries. I hate to say this, because it sounds patronizing and I don’t mean it, but when my girls were young, I needed to say, ‘How close do you get to the street? What do you do in the kitchen? What don’t you do?’ I think we all need that to some extent, some notion of what’s okay to do and what’s not okay to do, and good communication can help with that.

What would you like to improve upon for next year?

Personally, dealing with the volume of emails that I receive. I would like to be more responsive. Now, I’m kind of focusing on me in this role. Quick responsiveness is important. Using the various administrative meetings and faculty meetings we have better. In some ways, based on starting this as an interim year and having so much on my plate, I didn’t do what we call in education ‘planning backwards,’ and said, ‘Where do I want to be at the end of the year? Where do we want to be? How do these meetings get us there?’ Instead, I’m sort of, ‘Oh, this month, we’ll do this. Oh, next month, we’ll do that.’ It’s less intentional and less effective. Time with faculty collaborating is limited, so it needs to be great. The meetings that I run are my responsibility, so I’m excited to think, ‘Where do we want to be at the end of next year? How do we use these meetings to get there?’ I need to get into classes more. That’s something that I pledged to do to the faculty at the beginning of the year, to say, ‘Okay, I’m not teaching for the first time in 20-some years,’ In order to keep it real and see the most important work of the school, which happens in classrooms, I need to get out and about and visit, and it always falls off my list based on other things I’m responding to or working on, so trying to really schedule those. Those are three things I think I need to improve upon.

What are your top priorities and how are you planning to get to work on them?

What I like about that follow-up question is that it’s less about me and my work in this role, and more what I’m hearing in this question is priorities for the high school. We need to work really hard to engage students who struggle here. We have lots of students who do really well at the high school, who know what classes they want to take, who find havens and communities like the Sagamore, and then we have some students, and it might be a small percentage, who don’t engage as well, who struggle with attendance, who struggle with work production. We need to support them more, we need to work differently, we need to help them engage with the high school better than they are and we need to develop the kind of havens and structures that will be supportive. We’re trying to work on creating a homework centers after school that could be available to many students, not just particular students in a program, because some of our students who struggle need that support after school. The second priority would be figuring out, ‘What are the right administrative and organizational structures that we need as we expand?’ This is a 2,000-student school. In five or six years, it’s going to be a 2,500- to 2,700-student school. We need to imagine, ‘How should this place function in a way that best supports students where we know them and know how to help them?’ Those are two big priorities, I’d say.

How do you feel about the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the announcement that you’d be permanent headmaster?

Humbled and also, I have an interesting psychology to me: I both love the positivity and it makes me feel like I need to be better, and maybe that’s why praise is so powerful, it makes me think, ‘Where do I fall short of that? Where have there been situations where I haven’t been as responsive as I’ve needed to be?’ It’s three things: it buoys, humbles, and spurs me to work harder and be better. What’s been amazing is to hear from present students, faculty, parents, and also hear from past parents, parents from years ago, or a graduate from 2009 writing and saying, ‘Hey, on my Facebook group chat, we were talking about you.’ Those relationships matter to me also, and to hear back from people has been really powerful.

I know initially, that you were not a candidate for the position but when did you find out that you were a candidate?

That’s a good question. So I heard, I believe in December that it was looking that I could potentially be a candidate. You are right that I agreed to serve in the interim role for a year and then return to the Dean role and there were good reasons that the school committee wanted to do that and I wasn’t sure if I would be good at this role or whether I would like it and see if it would be good for my family. So in the course of the fall and working on the education plan and working in this role, it felt in lots of ways natural, not all of it, there certainly is plenty that is new to me and I have to work a lot on to improve. But certainly, I inquired about the potential for being a candidate and that is when Superintendent {Andrew} Bott asked me about that and then it became his role to determine if that could be possible and in the end, working with the school committee, determined that I could be a candidate and that in a way it made sense to appointment me outright as the permanent headmaster.

How is the issue of teacher contracts impacting on your ability to reach your goals and maintain a positive atmosphere in the school?

That’s a great question. That to me is the most important question about Brookline High School, the Brookline school system and the public schools of Brookline is for, I don’t know if you know that Unit A, which is for teachers, guidance counselors and social workers and other clinicians have agreed to terms, but the union still has to ratify that. Recently, this week, Unit B which includes administrators, not principals or deans, but curriculum coordinators have agreed to terms but the union still needs to ratify them. What remains is paraprofessionals so I certainly am excited for the day when all terms are agreed upon and it is ratified because it will allow us to return to normalcy. In terms of the job actions that the union has pursued, in terms of not responding to emails after a certain time or not spending voluntary time outside of contract hours, my preference would be for that not to happen as it allows us to function normally. So I hope that it can all happen in the very near future and then for us to figure out as a school and a faculty as to how we can now move forward. So we have agreed to this, to contract terms, so how do we get back to business. It is important that it happen and I am optimistic that it will happen in the near future.

What were your thoughts about the MLK Assembly?

It is always powerful, I thought that between the singers, the dancers and the speakers, lots of things to think about and wonder about. I knew what I was going to speak about and then to hear Juliette {Estime} and DaHana {Smith-Rose}; in Juliette’s case a poem and DaHana’s a speech, it felt a little hard because I was asking for yes, impatience but also patience because we are all in this together. I think their perspectives are really, really powerful and I was trying to figure out ‘how do I go from those perspectives to this message’. And so, it was challenging, but a challenge that I like, so all in all it is such an important event for our community to celebrate Dr. King and think about who we want to be.