Get enrolled in Hastings & Smith-Williams 101
Elizabeth Hastings is replacing Andrea Kelly as assistant head of school, as well as making her débue as the dean of academic life. Her office is the second thing you see when entering the building, she has a daughter Lauren in the 10th grade, and maybe you heard she moved to New York from Minnesota. But what else should you know about her?
Ms. Hastings was most recently the middle school director and proud parent at the Blake school in Minneapolis.
“I get the whole spectrum of going through schools, as a parent as well,” said Ms. Hastings.
Her experience in virtually every facet of the community gives her a holistic perspective on the school system.
Ms. Hastings started as a teacher before working at a university where as she said
“I taught teachers how to teach.”
She then took on a curriculum-based position at a very small school. Afterward, she took her position at Blake before moving to New York.
In addition to working in all realms of American education, Ms. Hastings has taught in Germany.
“What drives me is studying how people learn, it truly fascinates me. And how we can make school the best experience for students. It should be fun, it should be engaging, it should be hard, like they’re thinking hard, but they should enjoy thinking hard,” said Ms. Hastings.
Ms. Hastings said her biggest challenge this year will be patience.
“I’m a do-er, I want it now, I want it yesterday. I’ll hear a great idea and I’ll say ‘Let’s go!’, and I know, because I’ve been doing this for a while, that my enthusiasm isn’t enough to make change. So taking the time, and that’s always so hard for me, taking the time to build that belief, that that’s the direction we want to go in. But that’s also what I feel I do really well. I can get us moving in the right direction,” said Ms. Hastings.
Ms. Hastings personifies the progress that Packer intends to make in the coming years.
“My job here isn’t to fix things, because there’s nothing that seems incredibly broken,” said Ms. Hastings.
As an overarching goal for this year, Ms. Hastings wants to get to know Packer well and hopes to observe what works and what can be improved. Ms. Hastings has already reached out to faculty, teachers, students, and families to learn about how Packer functions.
“It’s about honoring what here and what’s working and listening, I mean I think you really have to listen. In my short time, people will just say ‘Hey can you streamline this for me?’ and I say ‘Sure!’ just because I can see it from another perspective.”
Welcome to Packer, Ms. Hastings!
When her name was announced at convocation this past Sep. ninth, the crowd erupted with a fanfare of applause.
“She has been an energetic force for diversity and equity within the school,” said Head of School Bruce Dennis. “She’s known throughout the city, and in fact, the country.”
Semeka Smith-Williams has been working at Packer for 11 years, and teaching kindergarten for 10 of them. Ms. Smith-Williams has also been the leader for the teacher mentoring program, the interim director of diversity and equity between Eric Polite and Ràmon Javier, the head of Lower School diversity, and is now taking on her role as the schoolwide Director of Diversity. Recently, she won the Parents Association Excellence Award in teaching, reflecting her dedication to her job and to Packer.
Already Ms. Smith-Williams has established that CIA (community in action) day will no longer be a biennial event and will happen every year. Ms. Smith-Williams has a clear objective of what CIA day is for.
“The purpose is to engage in a school-wide day of pause from our regular routines to think about diversity, equity, and social justice,” said Ms. Smith-Williams.
She places great value in making student voice heard, and saw from last year, that engaging students by leading workshops is successful. This is partly because Ms. Smith-Williams believes that adults, including herself, sometimes have a limited perspective on what the future will look like. She hopes that she can help get adults and students on the same page.
“Speakers and performers are great, but I don’t want to fill the day and take away from what students can share with one another. I want to strike that balance,” said Ms. Smith-Williams.
Many students remember that last year, the author’s of Changers wrote about life experiences they themselves did not have, which sparked a fire amongst many students.
Ms. Smith-Williams also has an idea to add a portion of the day where Upper Schoolers meet and interact with the Lower School in a read-aloud or a morning meeting.
Ms. Smith-Williams has a firm grasp on the in’s and out’s of Packer, and as a result she has a unique perspective on what needs to be done to make it a better place for everyone.
“The transition has been smooth, for the most part, because I know the school, and many families as well as students that I’ve taught from the first grade to the tenth grade,” said Ms. Smith-Williams.
As a goal for the year, Ms. Smith-Williams plans to make diversity and equity conversations continue throughout the year, in classes and among the community. She hopes to infuse school-wide structures with thoughts about socioeconomic class, religion, and race.
“School-wide empathy is a focus point right now,” said Ms. Smith-Williams.
Ms. Smith-Williams anticipates that creating times and spaces to engage in these conversations will pose an issue.
“So many wonderful things happen at Packer, sometimes when you add things to the mix, it means that we have to remove something else to create space. The biggest challenge is deciding what needs to come off the table for this to come on,” said Ms. Smith-Williams.
Packer is lucky to have you, Ms. Smith-Williams!