“Education is everything to me,” said elementary school principal Trelane Clark ’92, P’22, who also serves as president of CA’s Alumnae/i Association, in the Performing Arts Center on June 10, 2023. “It is my daily, and it is my passion, and it is my love as well as my work, so I’m really excited to talk about that with these gentlemen.” Her enthusiasm set the tone for a reflective and aspirational conversation with Concord Academy’s Head of School Henry Fairfax and researcher, policymaker, and strategist Turahn Dorsey ’89, formerly Boston’s Chief of Education. In this program, the final conversation in the speaker series at CA’s Centennial Celebrations, each considered the future of education at Concord Academy.
Fairfax first looked back on his own independent school journey. “The school I went to, on a main line just outside of Philadelphia, wasn’t designed for women or people of color,” he said. He added, “It never felt like home.” In contrast, he said, “One of the things that is super exciting about Concord Academy is that we start[ed] as a scrappy all-girls’ school. … I find that we are uniquely positioned to do something really significant moving forward because of our DNA.”
Dorsey added that CA’s origins—as part of the gender equality movement initiated by the Seven Sisters, a group of historically women’s colleges in the Northeast—had a political purpose. “The future of this school, I think, will have to transpose that purpose,” he said, to “honor the full spectrum of identity, building on a legacy that was about women’s liberation … to create communities that lift everyone up.”
Dorsey challenged the audience to think broadly about the role of independent schools. “We need private institutions like this to think about what their redesign and reengineering will be for public purpose,” he said. What “justice building,” he asked, will emerge? “Concord Academy has done, I think, a remarkable job in terms of building on that history of access,” he continued, “but it’s not enough to be in the club. … For the most part, systems produce what they’re designed to produce, and so we are worried about inequities because we have designed systems that produce inequity.”
Considering how Concord Academy is uniquely poised to advance justice, Dorsey highlighted several differentiating facets of CA’s culture: a focus on supporting “the developmental process of becoming,” “centering morality” while helping young people examine their developing interests, commitments, and senses of self, students’ “first-person input in the learning process,” and a willingness for educators and students to “stand on equal footing.” He summed up, “My hope for the future of CA is that CA thinks very intentionally… how we nurture whole people … who want to be agents for justice going forward.”
“We are actually educating whole human beings,” Clark responded. “What happens with us, I think, in education is that we sometimes can forget that we are preparing students, we are preparing whole people to change this world, and that’s not an easy task. But it’s such a necessary task.” She shared that CA, and especially former Head of School Tom Wilcox P’01, had been instrumental in shaping her identity and path as an educator.
Clark started volunteering to make the CA experience better for students, particularly Black students and students of color, who came after her. When her son decided to attend, she was excited he had chosen CA. “In all the other schools that we visited, there just was something missing,” she said, a “sense of belonging.” Still, she said, she had a responsibility to “ensure that his experience was much better than mine.” A frequent presence on campus, she was nicknamed “Mama Clark,” because other students understood she was advocating for them as well.
The rest of the discussion centered on the commitment in CA’s mission to “striving for equity.” Fairfax talked about what this entails, in practical terms. “Part of the future of education is going to require significant investment in what it is going to take to have us show up as a need-blind institution,” he said, stressing the work and deep investments needed to make this aspiration a reality. He also noted the importance of CA’s advising system for building trust and of listening to students, encouraging vulnerability from adults as “leading learners, leading listeners,” and accountability “when trauma shows up.”
Dorsey emphasized that equity is not the same as equality. “We have to focus on a set of folks who have been disproportionately wronged first to get to equality,” he said. He also advocated getting more specific about what equity means for individuals.
“The contributive advantage that CA has, I think, is that the community is small enough for you to be attentive to everyone’s needs at a personalized level,” Dorsey said. He proposed that CA could provide a “blueprint” for larger institutions and public enterprise, and he stressed that some sacrifice would be needed: “You have to renegotiate privilege to do equity well.”
Fairfax stressed the importance of developing this vision and strategy collaboratively as a community. “We’re designers, we’re architects at a time and in a space where we can do something really, really magical together, and I’m looking forward to co-authoring that and steering it and guiding it as a leader, but not gobbling up all of the vision,” he said. “I think that is something that we should share together, because there are some really amazing people in this community, as evidenced by the panels and everything that we’ve seen today.”