Q: What attracted you to WT?
A: The credo, Think also of the comfort and the rights of others. From the very, very beginning, when I saw the job description, I thought, ‘That is a true commitment to social justice…to building a community.’ And when I walked through the doors, I felt it. The first question I asked during my initial visit to campus was, ‘Where will I see “think also” today?’ Where would I see it in the students? Where would I see it in the faculty, and where would I see it in the parents? And every single member of the search committee had an answer for me [snaps fingers] like this. And so it tells me, this is not just words. This is who we are. I see it every single day.
Q: Much of your background—such as your commitment to social justice and innovative education—intersects with what defines WT. How might that impact your plans here?
I see programs like this as a possibility here because of the large number of higher education institutions in Pittsburgh and the strong connections we already have with them both through our parents who work in these institutions and through City as Our Campus partnerships.
Q: What are your long-term goals for Winchester Thurston?
A: I’ll start with this notion: How do we take what we’re doing right now and begin to re-shape it so that we’re also positively impacting the community? We need to be deliberate about it. So that to me is the number one thing we need to do.
I also think we can be leaders in breaking open what a school day looks like in the Middle and Upper Schools. There are lots of different schedules all across the country, but they really all function on the same principle of 8:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. As a whole, schools still seem to believe that is the answer, but I just don’t know that it is the answer anymore.
And, everything we consider, we need to do within the reality that the demand for a WT education right now is very, very high. At all levels. It may seem mundane, but we need to make sure that our buildings, our spaces, are up to par with the excellent program that we have. The more our faculty takes project-based and community-based learning to the next level every single year, we need to ask if the spaces are keeping pace with innovation in teaching.
Q: Do you have a philosophy or perspective that reflects who you are as a leader?
Q: You’ve been in education for nearly 30 years. What changes have you seen?
A: Schools have had to broaden their perspective from ‘we’re just about content’ to ‘we’re about human beings.’ I think we understand that there’s a social-emotional component to the work we do that can’t be downplayed, that we need to help students become happy, healthy, successful, resilient, good citizens who give back to their communities well after they’ve spent time in our hallways. It’s not just about where kids go to college. It’s not just about who they are as an eighth grader or a fifth grader. This is about who we are helping to shape as full-grown adults.
When I talk to anybody who’s come through these halls as a student, they all point to WT as having had a pivotal role in who they have become as adults. That’s powerful. We change lives in this school.
Q: Next year you’ll be more than the Head of School. You’ll be a WT parent! What excites you most when you think about what your son will experience here?
Professionally, I do have some selfishness about it. With the bulk of my experience in secondary education, I have a lot to learn about the lower grades and early childhood education. Having the opportunity to see the experience through a parent’s eyes will deepen my understanding immeasurably. I can say, ‘Where are the places where we are really hitting the mark, and where are some areas where we still have some work to do?’
And I’ll also say, in terms of my hopes and dreams for Beckett, it’s so satisfying to me that we fully embrace the arts at WT—and that these teachers are highly qualified in teaching and are professionals in their field of art or music. That’s incredible, and I’m very excited for Beckett to have those opportunities.
I’m also excited about our after-school programs. WTAfter3 is so robust. It’s not just what’s going to happen during the school day, but what else could Beckett be involved in after that? What new interests will he be able to explore—piano, karate, ballet, chess—it all lives here!
Scott Fech on making a difference with students
As an undergraduate, Dr. Fech studied education and French at Indiana University before earning a Master’s degree in Education from Purdue. Dr. Fech also holds an advanced degree in theology from the University of St. Michael’s College (Toronto), and received his Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Supervision from Loyola University (Chicago). His dissertation is entitled “A Study of the Leadership of High-Poverty, High Performing Schools Through the Lens of Moral Leadership.” Recently, Dr. Fech touched on how and why he chose that area of study, and what he learned in the process.
Q: What inspired your choice of topic?
A: I had worked in a variety of settings prior to starting my doctorate and was struggling with legislation like No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. These types of mandates miss the student-teacher relationship in the classroom, which is what’s key—being with students where they are, acknowledging who they are, exploring with them what’s of interest to them, and adjusting instruction for their needs.
When I began my doctorate, I was leading an urban Catholic middle and high school. The population was a third African American, a third Hispanic, and a third white. Around a third to a half of the students were on free or reduced lunch. I’d observed in my own students that it didn’t really matter what their socioeconomic background was; they still did well. I wondered about that, because we know that in many high-poverty, underserved schools, student achievement can suffer.
I studied schools without the selective enrollment that we have in independent and private Catholic schools. And I thought, ‘If my urban Catholic school can do it, how do we replicate that so that it’s happening in every school with underserved kids? How do we bridge that gap?’ I knew there had to be schools that did well, and indeed there are lots of them.
Q: What were some of the reasons for that success?
A: I knew that leadership matters, and when I looked at the successful schools’ leadership, I found they knew their communities very well. They knew where their resources were, how to get support services in place, and they knew the families. Often if a student was missing school, or coming with incomplete homework, the teacher would go to the home. They had found that school could be an intimidating place for parents who may not have been well-educated or had negative school experiences, and wanted nothing to do with the school. So school leaders went to the parents. That’s really what made a difference. It bridged that gap to say, ‘I can come and be with you in your space because I care so much about your student.’
These leaders were willing to find whatever resources were necessary to support the students. They made sure that they hired well—people who wanted to engage with the community and with the students, and who understood that their role was an opportunity to make a difference.