Kari Headington joined Hollis Montessori in 2009 as the Children's House Lead Teacher and became Head of School in 2010. She completed her AMI Primary Diploma at the Montessori Training Center of Minnesota in St. Paul. Prior to coming to Hollis, Kari was the Lead Teacher in Montessori Primary classrooms in both Massachusetts and Minnesota for over 20 years. Her two sons attend Hollis Montessori School. Kari has been a member of MAA since 2010.
Hollis Montessori School is an AMI recognized school in Hollis, NH. Opening its doors in 2008, it has grown to 118 students serving children from age 3 through 9th grade. The school is housed in a Passive House Certified building on 9 1⁄2 acres, which include an apple orchard, project barn and soccer field. The campus is adjacent to over 400 acres of conservation land with trails, ponds and wildlife.
1. What is the hardest thing for you about being a Head of School?
Adjusting and serving the many and varied needs, requests and concerns of children, parents, staff and Board. When I began this work, I used the guiding principles of my training and classroom work to serve as my template; respect for self, others and the environment. For the most part, this has worked well for me yet it can certainly be more challenging to set limits and guidelines for adults than children. It was a learning curve to realize that I really can’t please everyone nor is that the right thing for the school. I still get butterflies when I am set to have the difficult conversations.
2. What’s the nicest thing someone has ever said to you or done for you while you’ve been a Head of School?
When the parents of an adolescent child that we almost lost to sudden onset pneumonia on a school camping trip, thanked myself and the guides who were on the trip, for the care and actions we took with their daughter. I hope never again to be faced with that challenge, one that found us giving rescue breaths to the child every 15 seconds until a helicopter arrived to transport her to the hospital. It was touch and go for several weeks but I am happy to say she is well and thriving now. This family, through faith and love, made it through a very difficult time and brought us along with them.
3. What’s one decision you’ve made as a Head of School that you wish you could do over?
I wish that I had listened to my instincts and fired a toxic employee long before I did. Making the decision to keep her on even when knowing better caused more problems than it was worth. The experience was a tremendous learning experience and helped me be more clear about my responsibilities and the importance of my job to set the culture of the school. The employee, an assistant, had been with the school from the beginning and was tightly connected to a board member, parents and children. Fortunately, the Board supported the hiring of a consultant to help iron out the craziness which allowed me to move forward with the change. Our school has been better for it ever since.
4. What do you like to do when you're not being a Head of School?
Being a parent to my boys! As we all know, the demands of this role can cut into family time. My children are the proverbial “staff children”, who probably know the physical space of our campus far better than I. Due to all the hours spent at school waiting for me to finish up, they have learned patience and understanding and many ways to entertain themselves. They certainly feel connected to the community that the school brings to their lives. Having recently moved to New Hampshire from Massachusetts to be closer to the school, we love to hike Mt. Monadnock (the most hiked mountain in the world), ski when we can, and enjoy their varied activities.
5. What’s one bit of wisdom you’ve “stolen” from being a member of MAA?
Wisdom abounds on the MAA group, so choosing one bit of “stolen” wisdom is impossible. Here are my three favorites to date:
1. Kathy Minardi’s Staff Handbook template from Aiden - a generous share that helped shape our school culture immensely.
2. Jim Fitz’s gem: "When I'm standing in the parking lot with my pants pulled down, I want to be the one who pulled them down!" Which is his way of suggesting that if staff and teachers aren't sharing, communicating and informing the HOS and each other, then a parent or situation is likely going to emerge that catches us off guard (with our pants down), and we don't want that to happen! In other words, give a heads up when a problem is coming down the pike. Communicate.
3. From John Snyder (I believe) regarding parent education - Take the farmer’s perspective of the long range view and explain:
1. What we do
2. Why we do it
3. Why it matters
4. What the result is
5. What parents can do at home