There is a new Head of School at Whitby School in back country Greenwich.
In July, Jason Anklowitz, who was appointed 11 months ago after an extensive national search, made his way from California to Greenwich with his wife Kate and 16-month-old baby Charles.
Over the past several weeks Anklowitz has been settling into his surroundings at Whitby and meeting individually with faculty and staff.
The new Head of School has had a long career in education. He received an from MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management, and a Masters in Education from Harvard University.
He is trained as a reading specialist, but has been a teacher at all levels – elementary, middle and high school.
He began teaching public school in Washington DC, where he graduated from George Washington University.
“I started in DC with Teach for America,” he said, adding that after a time, he transitioned to independent schools. “I found my hands were tied in a way that was unproductive for my students with some of the stipulations that came with No Child Left Behind.”
Anklowitz made his way to the International School of Trieste in Italy, which is on the border of Slovenia and Croatia, and served for five years as Head of School there.
“It was fantastic. I met my wife there,” he recalled, adding that his wife is originally from Darien. “We had to go to Italy to meet!” he said, shaking his head.
From Italy the couple, who until this year have always worked together, moved to the Los Angeles area, where Anklowitz most recently served as the Associate Head of Carlthorp School, an independent K-6 school in Santa Monica.
“We were a block from the beach in Venice Beach. We were living the dream. We miss that, and we’ll miss good friends,” he said. “But at the end of the day, we’re home and closer to our families.”
“I grew up in New Jersey, Anklowitz said. “We are northeastern people.”
Anklowitz said he noticed something special about Whitby the first time he visited.
“The first time we showed up on the Whitby campus, this school just felt different, more comfortable,” Anklowitz recalled. “As educators we know the hundreds of little things that happen behind the scenes. Whether they are conversations between parents and teachers, or the support that teachers provide that creates a warm and inviting atmosphere, we knew this was a place that we could also call home.”
Indeed Whitby is now home. The Anklowitzes moved into housing on campus, and Charles will soon start at Whitby’s Stepping Stones program for children 18 months to age 3.
Over the past 11 months, Anklowitz had several occasions to visit campus and start to get to know people at Whitby. He was in Greenwich during the “June work week,” when faculty and staff essentially have a week long debriefing of the school year.
“What’s been wonderful for me is to have the conversations with faculty and staff,” Anklowitz said. “I’m shooting my way towards sitting down with everybody one at a time.”
Asked about some of the challenges influencing education today, Anklowitz said, “Separating out the fads from what’s valuable is a challenge.”
Beginning with the influence of technology, devices and the internet on the classroom.
“For a long time there was a baseline assumption whatever we put into the classroom is going to be good, but we see that’s not always the case,” he said. “There’s plenty of pendulums in education that swing back and forth and tend to work in vast extremes. Somewhere in the middle tends to be the best place.”
“Yes, we want kids exposed to opportunities for coding and programming, but we don’t want to sacrifice what it’s like to have a book in your hand. We are constantly figuring out the balance.”
Anklowitz said he pushes back on the idea that education is moving toward an individualized model with devices to target learning.
“We know we all learn best when we’re pushed just beyond what we can do independently,” he said. “Technology helps, but, people start to lose me when they suggest that learning is anything but a social mechanism and a social process.”
“People in 1930s and 1940s said television was going to revolutionize education, and that you’d no longer have to be in the classroom to learn,” he said. “Being in the same room with people can enhance your own learning. That is never going to change.”
Anklowitz said toward that end, Whitby provides an advantage. “Being able to have two to three teachers in a class, depending on the age level, gives greater flexibility. We can all discuss one topic and break them down to smaller groups.”
Anklowitz said what counts most is creating an environment where students can engage with other classmates and other people in a meaningful way. “Students need to engage in a variety of contexts they don’t otherwise get,” he said. “If you take that out of the equation, you’re losing me.”
As for cell phones, Anklowitz said the school’s policy is balanced. “Upper school kids are allowed to bring phones but keep them in their bags during the day. Parents want their kids to have their phones in case they go to a friend’s after school or to a swim meet,” he said. “They want to be able to get in touch with them.”
“We don’t want to be inside a bubble, but we want our students to understand that because of the prevalence of devices, it’s so important to have conversations face to face.”
Anklowitz, who is a product of public schools, talked about the advantage an independent school offers.
“What I noticed immediately was a wherewithal, a confidence that comes from being in an environment where you are recognized as an individual,” he said. “You’re seen and understood in a way that resonates somewhere deep inside, and surrounded by teachers who make you feel that way. It gives you all the confidence in the world.”
Anklowitz said at Whitby, the idea is for the individual child to be known, seen and understood. “You can’t fall through the cracks here.”