An Interview with Branson’s New Interim Head of School, Ellen Moceri
By Sam Lushtak:
On May 5th, Branson announced that Ellen Moceri will be interim head of school for the next school year. Ms. Moceri has had a long career in independent schools, which includes 28 years at the John Burroughs School in St. Louis. She most recently spent 13 years as the head of the Ransom Everglades School in Miami until her retirement in 2014. In 2013, she presented a TEDx talk, entitled “Private Schools Have a Public Purpose,” about her efforts to establish and grow summer programs for underprivileged youths, which you can watch here. The Blazer recently interviewed with Ms. Moceri, during which she described herself as a “data-driven person,” and offered the following insight into her thoughts about Branson, her plans for next year, and her interests.
On her favorite part of Branson thus far: “I’d have to say, the thing that has impressed me the most so far is the students. I was extremely impressed by their attitude during the assembly, the fact that they were so respectful of each other and of the faculty, that they were very interested in what was going on, that they had a genuine curiosity. I also very much enjoyed the various students I met in the student government at the lunch tables. They’re thoughtful kids, and that’s the biggest attraction at any school to me: what the student body is like. They’re a very purposeful, interesting, curious, hard-working, motivated group of kids.”
On what she hopes to accomplish during her time at Branson: “One thing I really want to do is bring students that do not have the resources Branson kids have to the campus in the summertime. The kind of program I was interested in was the one that I implemented at John Burroughs School, but was founded in San Francisco, called Aim High. I’d like very much to see Branson do an Aim High summer program. I think that would be very important to Branson, to reach out to the community and have the school serve a community that does not have the resources that Branson has. My guiding principle is that ‘private schools have a public purpose.’ We have such incredible resources, and it’s incumbent upon us to share them with others.”
On how Branson can become more involved in the community: “There’s a lot of outreach programs kids can do, a lot of community service stuff that they can do, that shows that they care about a world beyond Branson, and I think that’s very important. The mission of the school that I came from, Ransom Everglades, was to train a leadership class that would give more to the community than they took from it, and that’s what I think all of our schools should do. To whom much is given, much is expected, and so I will try, in every way that I can, to expand our outreach in the community. It’s not only good for the community – and I don’t just mean the Ross community – but it helps our kids see that it’s a big world out there that they have a role in making it a better world.”
On health and wellness in schools: “I very much want to spend time with students. I want to know how they’re feeling. I want to know what’s going on in their lives. The board is interested in a mental health awareness program, and I really want to work on that because I think that’s terribly important. I’ve read the articles about suicides in Palo Alto at Gunn High and that sort of thing, and I want to talk about those issues, to see that the kids are safe and that we’re helping them lead healthy lives.”
On the relationship between students and the administration: “I surmise, given some of the things that have taken place, that the relationship couldn’t have been as strong as it should have been. But what I’m going to do when I get there is to ask students what it is they would like, what kind of relationship they would like with the administration, how it would be beneficial to them, and what things they’d like me to do. And then I’m going to do my very best to do those things. I spent this last year in retirement working with magnet schools and charter schools, with their leadership… and so I spent the whole year working with adults. But what I realized, after spending a year with adults, I really prefer spending my year with kids because that’s what I care about. So I will come there and talk to kids, and see what it is they want in me. I will do my best to meet what that is.”
On athletics: “I want to support the athletic program a bit more. I believe very strongly in team athletics for kids, and I think that every kid should have a team experience in whatever it is. I just think that’s part of your learning and I think it’s part of school spirit. I would like to try to engender more of a sense of that next year. I’m going to go to a lot of the kids’ games and I’m just going to show my care, that I’ll be there… Being on a team teaches you what an incredible experience it is to work with other people for a common goal. You can do what you need to do individually, but if you don’t work with the team you’re never going to succeed, and I think that’s a great lesson that kids need to learn. That’s why I love sports.”
On football at Branson: “The interest in football is declining in independent schools, and it certainly was debated at Ransom Everglades, to say the least. It’s been declining because parents are very concerned about head injuries, that that can ruin the kid for life… We established at Ransom Everglades a program where you had a baseline brain scan at the beginning of the year to see that you didn’t have any impacts from concussions, and if you had any injuries or concussions during that school year, it would be run through that system so that you would see what had happened to your brain. Several students from my school went to the state and said that they had to have a law that required that every school provided that baseline exam, and in fact we raised a lot of money to ensure that public schools could do that. Yes, football has injuries, but so does soccer… so I wouldn’t say that it’s a game-changer, but I would say you have to look at it. I think your real issue [at Branson] is how many kids you have, and how many sports you can support. But I would be happy to investigate it with the kids.”
On what she likes to do in her free time: “Well, I’m an opera buff, so I’m happy to come to San Francisco because you have a very good opera company. You also have a very good symphony, and I love the symphony. I love beautiful gardens, so I will be spending my time in the gardens in San Francisco, and I love to take walks. I like to commune with nature, so to speak. I don’t play golf or tennis because I don’t like to stand in the hot sun and hit a ball, but I do like to be with nature. I spent a lot of time this year taking some interesting courses, which I won’t be doing next year, but I’m kind of a lifelong learner. I’m always taking courses and talking to people about what I’m reading. I’m also a political junkie, and as the political campaigns heat up, I will spend certainly quite a bit of time looking at what’s going on.”
On her sports fandom: “I’m a sports fan, and my home team for baseball is the Cardinals. I’m from St. Louis, and I’ve been a St. Louis fan all my life, even though I’ve lived in a lot of different other areas.”
On her favorite athlete: My ultimate sports hero is Lebron James. I lived in Miami when he played there, and I have to tell you that watching Lebron James, he is the most incredible athlete. He is just like a force of nature. In addition to being an amazing athlete, he was an incredible community guy. In Miami there was this place called the Overtown Youth Center, and he spent a lot of time there. He did a lot of mentoring for black students, mostly black boys, and he’s just a wonderful guy. He is my favorite athlete, so I will be rooting for him against Golden State. I’m sorry to tell you that.