Athenian Launches Two New Heads of Schools

Athenian prides itself on attracting and developing faculty and staff who are committed to quality education and are often leaders in the field.  After nearly 20 years of combined service, two Athenian administrators will become Heads of Schools at independent schools with similar missions.  We will miss them dearly and we couldn’t be prouder of these educational leaders! 

Originally published in The Pillar, Athenian’s student newspaper, March 2015

by Irena Volkov ’16

The Athenian School’s beloveds Sam Shapiro and Jessica Lee will spend their last semester here at Athenian and will embark on new challenges of becoming Heads of School elsewhere this coming fall.Sam Shapiro Pic

Sam Shapiro, Athenian’s current 9th Grade Dean of Instruction, Assistant Director of Admission, and Humanities teacher, will be the new Head of School for the Marin Montessori School as of July 1st, 2015.

Marin Montessori School is an elementary and middle school located in Marin County, and is attended by about 270 kids, starting as young as 18 months up to 15 years old.

Shapiro knew he was interested in becoming a head of school after participating in the Fellowship for Aspiring School Heads, a program from the National Association of Independent Schools.

Eventually, Shapiro was recruited to be the Head of Marin Montessori.

“This year just felt right in terms of being ready for a new challenge and feeling ready to take on the challenge of heading a school,” Shapiro said.

Although he is ready for the challenges of being a school head, Shapiro claims that he is “about 88% excited and about 12% terrified.”

Shapiro was 26 years old when he first stepped onto the Athenian campus and has taught at Athenian for 14 years, serving as a Humanities teacher, World Cultures teacher, World Literature teacher, the 9th Grade Dean of Students, the Dean of Instruction and the Assistant Director of Admissions.

“I’m worried about what it’s going to feel like to not be a part of…to be an Athenian anymore,” Shapiro said. “I really kind of grew up here.”

Shapiro is also worried about how this change is going to impact his family and is sad to leave the Athenian community.

“I love Athenian, my son is an Athenian student now so I get to see it through his eyes,” Shapiro said. “This is my community, it’s my second home, and it’s where I’ve grown up. I’ve literally lived here for many years, and on-campus too… [I have] good friends here, and I love my work, so it’s sad.”

With a very rich and joyful Athenian experience such as Shapiro’s, he would like to leave Athenian with one lasting wish.

“Always stay very clear on the power and purpose of an Athenian education, which I see as rich learning through powerful experience and reflection, and, most importantly, staying a culture of kindness,” Shapiro said.

Lee, who has been Head of the Middle School for the past five years and is also serving as Assistant to the Head for Advancement, will also soon be facing the challenges of being Head of School in Washington D.C.

Lee will be the Head of a kindergarten through 8th grade school that “has a similar mission to Athenian,” Lee said. “It’s what’s called a ‘progressive school’, so it’s really hands-on and experiential.”

Lee Family PicAccording to Lee, the K-8 school has a very diverse student body and adult community, which is why Lee feels the school is a good fit for her.

Lee came to Athenian from a K-8 school because she felt that middle school was where her heart was, but also loves being around elementary-aged children.

“I love being around the little kids,” Lee said. “The little ones are so cute and they just say what they think, there’s no filter, and it’s just so fun to talk to them. So I’m really excited about that.”

Lee was originally recruited for this job by a recruiter last March, but she had declined the offer because she didn’t think her husband, Humanities teacher Steven Lee, would want to move their life to Washington D.C.

Jessica told the recruiter, “I eventually want to be a Head of School but I’m happy at Athenian, so unless it was the perfect school it wasn’t worth leaving.”

After being called by the recruiter a second time, last August, both Steven and Jessica decided to fly to D.C. for two days to allow Jessica to be interviewed and Steven to explore the city.

After the trip, Steven said to Jessica, “you know what, we’re ready for an adventure.”

Steven is anxious about living in a new city and not knowing anybody because both Jessica and Steven’s families live in California, and they both feel loved by their communities.

Steven thinks this change is a great opportunity for Jessica and has a plan to “help Jessica and be a house husband, while keeping my eyes open for possible positions in schools,” Steven said.

Jessica is very excited about the new adventure and can see herself doing a lot of great work at the new school.

“I’m excited to live in a city, I’m excited for Liam [her son] to be in a different environment,” Lee said. “I think it’s important to push yourself outside of what you know you can do, so it’s the kind of challenge that I know will be fun.”

Jessica has been a proud representative of The Athenian School and is really sad to leave the Athenian community.

“I think about being in D.C. or I think about being here,” Jessica said. “I don’t think about leaving here because it makes me sad.”

Jessica and Steven have had wonderful experiences at Athenian because of the team-like community and the “neat” students.

“I really appreciate the community here because the people are very special,” Steven said. “We’ve had such a wonderful experience so it’s going to be hard to leave.”

When asked about her final words to the Athenian community, Jessica would like to say, “Thank you. I’ve had such a great experience here and have felt so welcomed, even in the hard things and good, and I think my children have gotten a good education here, so thank you.”