As part of my series about the “How Business Leaders Plan To Rebuild In The Post COVID Economy,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Anne M. Glass, Head of School, Purnell School.
Throughout her career, Anne Glass has been an ardent supporter of single-sex education for young women and a strong advocate for students with learning differences. Anne is the 2019 Sam Kirk Educator of the Year, an award given annually by the Learning Disabilities Association of America to “an educator who has made outstanding contributions to the education of persons with learning disabilities.”
Prior to joining Purnell, Anne was a Reading and Learning Specialist at The Chapin School in New York City where she provided individual assessment and academic support and was a member of the Admissions Committee. While at Chapin, Anne led a task force to conceptualize and enact a model of academic support for students from kindergarten through grade 12 to optimize access to curriculum and engagement for all learners. Anne has also been an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Special Education at CUNY Hunter College and in the Learning Disabilities Program and the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University.
Anne received her undergraduate degree from Wellesley College, and earned a Master of Arts in Reading and a Master of Education in Learning Disabilities from Teachers College, Columbia University. During the summer of 2015, she was awarded a fellowship to the Neuroscience of Reading Institute at MIT to study what is currently known about the brain basis of reading development and disability as well as implications for early identification and intervention.
Anne is a Delegate to LDA’s national committee. She is also a member of LDA’s Mental Health Committee.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Throughout my career, I have been mission driven: to advocate and educate students who learn differently and to support the value of single-sex education for girls. Both (often overlapping) groups have been consistently and unjustly underestimated and under-supported to reach their full potential. As a result, I have been an ardent supporter of single-sex education for young women and a tireless advocate for students with learning differences.
I have been an administrator at Purnell School for four years and the Head of School for just over two years. Purnell is an independent college preparatory boarding and day school for grades 9–12 where motivated girls with learning differences can flourish located in Pottersville, NJ. Prior to this position, I was a reading and learning specialist at the Chapin School in New York City, where I provided individual assessment and academic support and was a member of the Admissions Committee. At the invitation of Chapin’s Head of School, I also led a task force to conceptualize and propose a model of support to optimize access to curriculum and engagement for all learners. To me, this charge meant acknowledging the importance of providing a continuum of both academic and social-emotional supports for all grade levels throughout the school day. This study became the seed of the Learning and Wellness® program I developed further, which I have had the privilege to implement at Purnell. It has been the opportunity of a lifetime to be able to implement this integrated and holistic whole-school agenda. It thrills me everyday to see it come to life, grow stronger, and impact the lives of our students in empowering and transformative ways.
Previously, I was an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Special Education at CUNY Hunter College, and in the Learning Disabilities Program and the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College, Columbia University, where I taught Masters students in the Foundations of Learning Disabilities and Special Education law.
One fun fact about me is that I was an economics major at Wellesley College and took a position in investment banking when I graduated. I hated it. I quickly moved to graduate school at Columbia University, Teachers College to pursue education. However, I learned a lot from my experience in finance and it provided me with many of the skills that I need to be an effective Head of School.
Since my early shift into education, my work has always been a commitment driven by combining ethics and research. I reject knowledge for knowledge’s sake. I believe that all knowledge must be implemented in pursuit of ethical goals.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I wish I could offer a true laugh out loud anecdote, but I cannot. I will, however, share an important lesson that I learned early on as a learning specialist. Students who met with me usually had documented academic struggles, teacher reports, internal assessments, and possibly formal evaluations. As for myself, I came equipped with a strong knowledge base about learning disabilities and current research. I also had the benefit of strong mentorship by amazing educators from Teachers College and CUNY Hunter College.
Nevertheless, it was in my meetings with parents to talk through their children’s challenges that I realized how much wisdom and insight parents bring to that conversation. In fact, I soon began to incorporate parents’ insights and suggestions into my intervention and support planning. One of the greatest lessons I can pass on is that (1) every child is so much more than their testing or school record may tell you and (2) that the partnership between school and family is one of the strongest predictors of a student’s success and growth.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
It’s so hard to narrow it down. My tomes are the following: “Emotions, Learning, and the Brain: Exploring the Educational Implications of Affective Neuroscience,” by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, “Thought and Language,” by Lev S. Vygotsky (an oldie but a goodie), and “We Feel, Therefore We Learn: The Relevance of Affective and Social Neuroscience to Education,” by Mary Helen Immordino-Yang and Antonio Damasio in “Mind Brain and Education.” These two books and the academic journal piece have continued to inform my understanding that all learning is inextricably connected to affect and to language, and that information synthesis must always be personally relevant. Taken together, all of these principles point to an educational commitment to a holistic, integrated belief that social-emotional wellbeing is, not only a foundation for, but also an essential ongoing requirement for all students’ availability to engage, learn, and grow. We have operationalized this approach through our Learning and Wellness® program at Purnell. This approach informs all of our academics, co-curricular activities, student-focused support, and residence life. We emphasize the critical importance of context of learning as the necessary precondition to personal growth and each student’s self actualization.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
When I joined Purnell four years ago, I was committed to enacting this Learning and Wellness® approach. The approach we developed two years ago is dramatically different from what most students with learning differences experienced before they arrived on our campus. Purnell’s Learning and Wellness® philosophy is based on the belief that intellectual curiosity and student support are never mutually exclusive. When we fully integrate educational rigor, academic support, and social and emotional wellness, we create a safe and nurturing environment for all learners.
My commitment to empirically sound pedagogy, empathic guidance, and strong belief in our mission to nurture and educate young women to discover their best selves, drives me every day.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
As a head of school, I have many responsibilities, however I am guided by two overriding obligations: my fiduciary responsibility to the school and the faithful stewardship of our mission to educate bright, motivated girls who learn differently. Moreover, since the school’s founding in 1963, Purnell has had three founding guidelines that inform our entire community: Consideration for Others, Truthfulness in All Relations, and Use of Common Sense. These simply stated guiding principles especially resonated with me through the ups and downs of the past three months and in all our initiatives around social-emotional learning, character education, and ethical decision-making. While these ideas have existed here for decades, they inform our daily lives as a community at Purnell. We bring them to life every day so that our girls truly flourish while they are with us and have the ethics, skills, awareness, and sense of responsibility to others that they will need to succeed in the world beyond Purnell.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
When we knew in early March that we needed to move to distance learning, I realized quickly that this was not a situation to simply accommodate. Rather, I saw it as an opportunity to innovate and improve the ways we understand teaching and learning and to be open to change and the incorporation of the many technological tools we took advantage of to provide a full school experience remotely. In addition, I made decisions based on three principles: that (1) we would remain true to our mission, (2) be community-centered, and (3) data-informed.
Given this commitment to innovate while remaining faithful to our mission, we were able to successfully mobilize and move our entire school program to online platforms that still provided the individualized supports we are known for.
With the health and safety of our students, staff, and families as my top priority, I closed the school when the girls left for spring break on March 14. Like other residential schools across the nation, I felt a responsibility to do my part to stop the spread in the broader community.
Operationally, this pivot meant moving all of our courses, activities and clubs online in a synchronous schedule that required attendance and maintained our standards for grading. Importantly, we also increased our individual support for our students through scheduled meetings with our learning specialists, faculty, and advisors. In addition, we asked our families to consent to teletherapy to keep our students’ access to our counseling team.
I don’t know of any other school that successfully moved their entire school life program online. Purnell did, with great success. I credit my faculty with their willingness to be flexible and responsive. I also credit our team for anticipating the mental health needs of our students as a result of the isolation and loss of in-school routines.
As not only the Head of Purnell, but also a mother of two teenage boys, ensuring we would not miss a beat during the transition to distance learning was no small task. We stayed ahead of the virtual learning curve via the seamless mobilization of teachers and staff to offer remote learning and support services to our students with no interruption (some in different time zones). My team and I continued to monitor the serious coronavirus situation very closely and adjusted to our new normal, communicating on a regular basis, by email and live weekly meetings with faculty, parents and students. While we couldn’t be together in person, our continued connections brought our small, nurturing school community much comfort, so that we could stay #PurnellConnected. There was a silver lining; many parents told me that they felt more connected than ever to the school and to their daughters’ education and well-being during this time. At risk of overemphasizing, the expected, weekly zoom communications with our entire community were so important to maintaining the sense that we are all in this together, working as a team. In addition to these benefits at the time, our connectedness also supported our reenrollment of current students as well as recruitment of new students.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
With most families sheltered in place, working from home, and managing their children’s new online learning demands, everyone involved is feeling overwhelming stress and dislocation. This may be the first time parents are observing their child “doing” school in real-time. Our teachers heroically stepped up to accommodate this new model of curriculum delivery and reconstruction of classroom culture. The pivot was arguably even more challenging for those educating students with learning differences and students who have difficulty working independently. We also knew that our parents were now on the front lines of creating an educational space within their homes.
For me, making the decision to temporarily close Purnell’s campus was relatively easy. Unlike most other students around the country, our young women face additional challenges and require more support to access the school’s curriculum. We made sure to provide that support.
Reaching prospective students and their parents who would have had the chance to visit our beautiful 83-acre secure and peaceful campus in person, meet with our faculty, staff and other students presented a new challenge for us. We saw this as an opportunity to leverage our communications to reach families nationwide. We quickly mobilized to host Virtual Open Houses, which allowed a broader audience than in person. The admissions team plans to continue virtual admissions events for families and professionals, respectively, who cannot always make it to our beautiful campus. Through a video tour of campus, virtual, interactive open houses, and a Tuesday Talks webinar series, as well as personal video meetings, families have gained a greater understanding of our dynamic program and discovered what makes Purnell a truly unique learning environment. I believe we will continue to host these in a more hybrid model, as we see now how much we can accomplish remotely.
Another challenge was our high school senior class graduation. Transforming our 53-year-old traditions from an in-person ceremony to our first-ever online commencement was a huge undertaking with a lot of pressure to get it right. But, when Governor Murphy of New Jersey updated his guidance on May 26, less than two weeks before our virtual ceremony, allowing school districts to hold modified in-person graduation ceremonies beginning on July 6, I decided along with my faculty, and the approval of the parents, not to change our plans based on his announcement. As we are a boarding school, many of our students have been quarantining with family in locations around the country, and it would not be safe to have them travel back to campus. Postponing commencement would not have been all-inclusive.
Instead we hired a tech company to provide a polished live commencement with some prerecorded videos interspersed. It was a great success, that captured the in-the-moment celebratory feelings and nostalgia that a commencement should! It was a lovely day, and I am so proud of our girls and what they have accomplished.
In addition, our plan is for the class of ’20 to join the Class of 2021 commencement next June to be honored again — this time in person!
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the corona virus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
To support the parents of our girls, who I consider family, I have given them my advice and tips to ensure their daughters are mentally and emotionally well and healthy during these summer months while they continue to be at home and into the uncertainty the fall will bring.
Parents likely notice that their child is experiencing loneliness and isolation without many of the in-person interactions they would normally have at school and/or summer activities. Under these extenuating circumstances, students are more likely to exhibit some or several learning challenges and social-emotional challenges including difficulty engaging, concentrating, remembering, isolation, loneliness, detachment, and/or sadness.
It is important to remember these are expected reactions. These behaviors all point to a child’s sense of loss of the stability of “normal” life and school routines. The strategies for participation, note-taking and reading comprehension that they developed over time needed to be re-learned in a whole new context.
I advise parents to engage in ways that show you are paying attention to how your child is feeling and that they are interested in their well-being. The objective is to be supportive and to feel connected, not to add additional pressure for performance. Some tips:
- Gently help a child ask for help. Encourage them to self-advocate.
- Get outside for fresh air and exercise. This could be a family activity, but don’t talk about school!
- Art and music can be a powerful outlet.
- Join a parents’ group to share challenges and strategies.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
I’ll start with a bold statement: education — like many other industries — will change. We have taken this opportunity to reconsider what teaching and learning can be in a hybrid, technologically informed world. We will hold onto the tools we used during remote learning to augment our pedagogy and student engagement.
We stayed open safely for faculty and staff during this time to serve the seamless mobilization of our team to offer remote learning and support services to our students with no interruption across time zones. I am proud to say that Purnell has not furloughed ANY staff and in fact, we are hiring for the fall. Strategic planning guided and our commitment to our mission has enabled us to do this. Again this comes back to our dedication to keeping our entire community intact.
I am pleased to announce that Purnell will resume in-person instruction with faculty and students on campus at the beginning of the fall semester. Purnell will offer a blended learning program combining in-person classes with a continuation of our robust remote learning and school life experience. We will continue to offer remote instruction during the fall semester for any students whose health and safety circumstances indicate that they should learn from home. All students will have the same instructional experience, and our proprietary Learning and Wellness® approach will operate seamlessly for our entire community. This hybrid instructional approach ensures equitable access to all academics and related supports, and many student life activities and clubs.
My Reopening Task Force carefully studied the requirements and is in the process of preparations, and modifications required opening campus safely. We are focused on our academic instruction, student-centered supports for academics and social-emotional needs, and our health protocols. We are committed to maintaining a safe and nurturing environment for all students. My goal is to continually strive to deliver the best mission-consistent, community-centered, data-driven full school experience possible.
It is important to note that while I am fully committed to resuming on-campus boarding and day student education, I also understand that public health conditions and the course of the pandemic may change at any time. Should conditions preclude on-campus operations, we will be prepared to continue the academic progress of our students, as well as activities, clubs, and counseling remotely. I regard these challenging times as a rare and valuable opportunity to innovate: to reconceptualize what student-centered learning and growth can be at its best. I am so grateful to my team for their dedication and many, many hours spent doing just that. We have leveraged our expertise to prepare for an educational, engaging and growth-oriented student experience.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
Ironically, in the midst of a global pandemic, Purnell was uniquely situated to respond with flexibility and quality of teaching and school experience. I believe distance learning will continue to be part of education, in a hybrid model perhaps, even after we get to the other side of this pandemic. The key will be for educators to transform teaching and learning, supporting and empowering parents to become teachers themselves, and supporting our children to discover their individual talents and interests.
For parents of students currently in individualized education programs (IEPs) in traditional public schools, however, they might have seen for the first time how their child’s needs were not met during distance learning. They now will be looking for a different physical environment for their child to feel safe and comfortable and be engaged in a robust and enriching curriculum. A private boarding school for girls with learning differences such as Purnell, offers a safe haven for those students and the setting for an unparalleled learning experience to find success and a home away from home.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
Purnell’s community theme this year was resilience. It is said that a community shows its best self when facing a difficult time that requires all members to come together. In the past few months, and now as we rebuild and move to a post-COVID economy, we will continue to be nimble and embrace our resilience as a community.
Importantly, our teachers recently became students again. Purnell collaborated with Landmark College, a college located in Vermont exclusively for students who learn differently, to enhance our ability to teach diverse learners online. Landmark tailored its course curriculum to align with Purnell’s mission and commitment to integrating the Learning and Wellness® approach. All student-facing staff is participating in this educational professional development program in preparation for fall. As we look forward to seeing our students back on campus, this has been a smart, forward-thinking strategic investment for Purnell regardless of what the future holds. It will reinvigorate our curriculum and units of study to improve both on-campus and remote learning and expands our course capabilities.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I would encourage other businesses to consider all scenarios and have multiple plans in place that are in the best interests of your staff, customers and clients, keeping them regularly informed and updated. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of school leaders — and leaders in other industries — to be visible, accessible, and transparent about their organization’s plans. Set clear expectations and encourage lines of open and honest feedback and communication. Constantly evaluate, assess, reevaluate, and make adjustments where and when needed.
In these times, the bottom line for both sustainability and innovation is to think like an entrepreneur, to see opportunities for innovation even in and especially because of times of challenge.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Shirley Chisholm was an American politician, educator, and author. In 1968, she became the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress, and she represented New York’s 12th congressional district for seven terms from 1969 to 1983. She was also the first woman to seek the nomination for president of the United States in 1972. People forget that. I have used this quote often with my students:
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.”
I like to follow it up with my own extension: “and when you get your seat at the table, bring a chair for someone else. Make space!” We each of us have a responsibility to make the world a more inclusive and welcoming place for everyone.
Shirley Chisholm had an indomitable spirit for change and many words of wisdom. I also love this quote: “You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas.”
How can our readers further follow your work?
Please do follow us! I’m so proud of the work all of us at Purnell are doing.
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