04/22/2019 by Barbara Daush | Thought Leadership
Barbara Daush: My Journey to Headship
by Barbara Daush, CS&A Senior Consultant
This spring, CS&A is shining a spotlight on women in leadership. This piece is one of a series of stories about female leaders in independent schools, the importance of mentorship, and their professional journeys. Find the full series here.
CS&A is proud to have hosted the third-annual Women's Institute on June 14 in Boston, an event designed to support women and their allies in the education community. Our Placement and Search Groups are dedicated to increasing the number of women in leadership roles as part of our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion.
I Only Wanted to Be a Latin Teacher!
Ms. Mary Louise Aste was my first, and only, Latin teacher at Wooddale High School. Walking into her room the first day of school in 1967 is still etched in my memory, because lining the walls in her classroom were photographs of Roman antiquities, stories of Roman (and Greek) gods and goddesses, and an altar with the picture of Clark Gable (I am not kidding!) in the center…it seemed that Mary Louise had a crush on Clark that had begun years ago. It only took four days of Latin class instruction before I was hooked on this language that was so logical and structured. I knew I wanted to study this language forever! Latina lingua optima est! (Latin is the best language!)
I did pursue my dream to be a teacher by majoring in Latin and the Classics in college and then landing my first teaching job in 1975 at Lausanne Collegiate School, an independent, girls’ boarding and day school in Memphis. I happily and dutifully followed Mary Louise’s footsteps (with the exception of the Clark Gable altar). When I took a job at Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal School (TN) in 1978 to teach Latin and serve as the guidance counselor, little did I know that I would be asked to serve in school administration two years later.
It was quite by default: the assistant head of school abruptly quit his post late in the summer, and the Head of School, Eddie Gamble, asked me to help him out the following year by serving in the assistant’s role. I was shocked and petrified at the thought! I begged him to let me stay in my current position, but he persuaded me to accept it on the promise that if I didn’t like it, I could return the following year to my current position. I reluctantly said “yes,” and that was the beginning of a new love for leadership in independent schools. I never returned to the classroom fulltime, serving as a division head at both Grace-St. Luke’s and Hutchison School (TN) before ultimately being named as President of St. Agnes Academy-St. Dominic School (TN), a position I held for 22 years.
Numquam dic numquam. (Never say never!) Thanks to a bit of encouragement and prodding, I began a terrific journey in independent school administration. I will be eternally grateful for the wisdom and friendship of the head of school at Hutchison, Jack Stanford, who was the epitome of a servant leader. He taught me that patience, humility, courage, acceptance, tolerance, and the pursuit of excellence were some of the vital hallmarks of an effective school leader. As the first lay President of St. Agnes-St. Dominic in 147 years, I was blessed to work with a fabulous board of trustees during my tenure. Together, we forged a path of improvement and enhancement, never neglecting to remember our responsibilities to the students and families we served. We transformed the campus through two multi-million dollar capital and endowment campaigns, positioned the school to be a leader in technology integration, grew the enrollment by 120%, grew the endowment by 1000%, and built an athletic program that became regionally and nationally recognized for the first time in its long history. More than anything, however, we treasured and preserved the mission of the School that had been founded by the Dominican Sisters in 1851.
Being a female head of school in the two decades I served was never daunting for me because my colleagues locally, regionally, and nationally were amazing supports for me in every way. I never felt alone, nor did I ever feel that I couldn’t find an answer or solution to a problem. I just learned to pick up the phone. I became involved on regional and national boards, and I treasured the lifelong learning that those roles taught me. Yes, the challenges of school leadership are real, and they sometimes test your heart and soul. I can always answer the question, unfortunately, that is frequently asked of a school head: “What was your biggest challenge?” The answer is losing a child on your watch. I cannot explain in words the depth of the grief and the difficulty of leading a school family through such a tragedy.
My promise to my family was that if I could say that I loved my role as president at least 51% of the time, then I would remain in the role. I freely submit that I loved it far more than 51% of the time. It was a joyous and fulfilling experience, and I still miss it. For me, there was nothing better professionally speaking than being a part of a joyful, growing, and loving school community. Ludum mirabile est. (School is amazing!).
Latin teachers never die; they just decline…that’s the ultimate joke! I am still a recovering Latin teacher, and I still visit with Mary Louise as much as she will let me. Now 94, she is just as sharp as ever, and is still pining over Clark Gable. Ego amo te, Ms. Aste. (You can figure that one out!)