Your Own Child(ren) in Your School. Will That Work?

Brenda Hamm | September 5, 2022

You are a head of school candidate and you have children of your own. It can be a wonderful thing to have your kids in your school! Here are six pieces of advice for you to consider beforehand.

1. Start with your family.

You, your partner, and your child(ren) need to come to an understanding of the unique journey you are all about to embark on. Because of your role in the community and because of where your family will live if you are on campus, there will be advantages and disadvantages for each of you to navigate. While you can’t anticipate all the situations that will come up, you can establish (or re-establish) your family’s values and expectations around communication, behavior, and involvement. Confidentiality is an important consideration that is also a two-way street. Talking every day will be key, and family dinners as often as possible are worth the effort. If you are at a boarding school, eating dinner together as a family in the dining hall sometimes and at home sometimes may be an option for you. 

2. Will your new school be a good fit for your child?

This is hugely important for both your child and your school, so be as objective as you can. Foremost, you want your child to attend a school that is best for them, a place where they can flourish. You know your child. You also know what it’s like when a student who will not thrive in a school is admitted. While many schools will be somewhat flexible in admission standards for faculty and staff children, it is not in your or your child’s best interest to allow this to happen in your case. Your child must be completely mission appropriate for the school. If your child is admitted and it isn’t a good fit they’ll have their challenges, but teachers and staff will also have theirs. Faculty members will likely bend over backwards making special accommodations for your child in order to ensure positive outcomes or may find themselves in the untenable position of feeling they will have to answer to you, their boss, for why things aren’t going well for your child. Unfair as it may be, the expectations placed on your child will be higher than those placed on other children. This is especially true of behavioral expectations. It may be stressful for you and your partner as well. Other parents can ask for special treatment for their children (we all know parents like that). You emphatically cannot, and if you do, you will lose the faculty. There is one important exception. Whoever does academic scheduling should understand not to put your child in the class of any faculty member whose continued employment is in question. If that faculty member subsequently does not have their contract renewed, the buzz will be that it was because of your child’s experience in the class. This will not make matters better! 

3. Will your child automatically be admitted to your school?

If you believe the school is a good fit for your child, great! What if you aren’t sure they’re admissible? Self-awareness is important here. Have a conversation with the director of admission before your child believes that they are going to your school, but keep in mind your director of admission may be reluctant to point out that your child is not mission appropriate, given that you are their new boss. You need to ask the questions that will allow you to ascertain whether the school is a good fit for your child academically and otherwise. Actively consider other schools in the area (assuming there are other schools) with your child if there is any question about fit for or admissibility of your child. As a family, sincerely evaluate the pros and cons of each school of interest.  

4. Time to talk about tuition remission for your child(ren).

You’ve been offered the headship and can begin contract discussions with the board chair. Congratulations! Is tuition remission a percentage of the total cost or does it cover all of the tuition? (Typically, head salaries are high enough that you will be unlikely to qualify for need-based financial aid.) Can it be applied to a different school if your child does not attend your school? If you are at a boarding school, can your child board in the dormitory? Don’t hesitate to talk about these and other items related to the cost of your children’s education along with the other usual compensation package discussion points. They are important for your family to have a successful experience during your headship.  

5. How are you and your partner going to handle communication with your child’s teachers, coaches, counselors, and advisors?

Clarity with faculty and staff around this issue is paramount. No matter what you think, it will be challenging, at least initially, for teachers to have the child or children of the head of school in their classes, coaches to have them on teams, and administrators to have them in their offices when there is an issue to resolve. This will be particularly true if teachers, administrators and staff are at all unsure of how you are going to respond when they need to address your child for academic or behavioral reasons. Let everyone know how the school-parent communication with your family will work and update those conversations and expectations every year. Specifically, teachers should be asked not to have conversations with you about your child that they would not have with other parents. Odd as it may sound, your child may be held accountable for your decisions, as if they had a role in making them. This is particularly the case with decisions that are unpopular with the student body. Also, keep in mind that you will constantly make decisions, and few of them will be universally popular. Some will be unpopular with a few people, some will be unpopular with many, but each unpopular decision will have vocal critics and your child will hear those criticisms and will be asked, at times, to explain your thinking.

6. Every family, school, and, therefore, situation, is different. 

If your children are in elementary school the experience will not be the same as if your children are in high school. In fact, the younger your kids are the easier it will most likely be for everyone to make the transition. Boarding schools will be different from day schools. All boarding and some day schools provide head of school housing on or adjacent to campus with some level of expectations around the use of the house for entertaining. Day schools offer the advantage of having some separation between your family and other families as well as faculty. At the end of the day, everyone leaves campus to return to the privacy of their own homes. This also means your pre-teen and teenage children will readily have opportunities to socialize with peers at their homes away from campus. Boarding schools, on the other hand, provide built-in community and friendships so your kids grow up in an environment with lots of people of all ages around and lots of adult interaction, involvement, supervision, and support. The younger they are the more they will welcome that kind of attention. And, depending on the ages of your kids and the students, there is easy access to great babysitting options! 

So what’s it really like, particularly as a teenager, to attend the school where one of your parents is the head of school? Check out A Headmaster’s Daughter in our next newsletter. Until then, here’s a little teaser for you.

A Headmaster’s Daughter

I woke up to my phone ringing. It was 4 a.m. and the caller ID said Brad was calling. Looking outside I saw clear skies, and listening carefully I heard movement down the hallway. Bracing myself for the conversation I flipped open my phone and said without introduction, “He’s checking the weather now but it doesn’t look good, there’s no snow here.” Not for the first time, Brad complained, “It’s because he’s from Vermont isn’t it? The last headmaster was from the south, we got snow days all the time. What if I come and spray water on your driveway?” After requesting that Brad please not actively sabotage my family by icing our driveway and assuring him that I would text as soon as I knew if he should cram for his test or enjoy his snow day, I hung up. There wasn’t much time left before my alarm, and I could hear my dad consulting with the facilities manager on the phone, so I might as well stay up to hear if it would be a snow day. The two to four a.m. phone calls were just part of the winter experience for a headmaster’s daughter, especially when my friends had tests.

(Complete story in our next newsletter)

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