Head of School Elizabeth English announces upcoming departure, reflects upon time at Archer


Photo credit: Anna Brodsky

Head of School Elizabeth English poses with Assistant Head of School Karen Pavliscak. This is the last year that the two administrators will be working together. “I’ll miss my close strategic partnerships with people on the senior administrative team,” English said.

An email arrived in every Archer community member’s inbox on August 27 bearing the news that Head of School Elizabeth English will conclude her tenure at Archer and become Head of School at the National Cathedral School in Washington, D.C. for the 2019-2020 school year.

When asked to explain what prompted her decision, English said that “a desire to go home” to her family in the Boston area was the major factor. She emphasized that choosing to leave was “agonizing” because she always thought she would retire from Archer.

“My heart hurts,” she said, tearing up. “This was a very hard decision. I love this place, and I always will.”

Executive Board member Grace Wilson ’20 said she was “shocked” when she heard the news, but that she’s “excited” for English.

“I am really grateful to have had Ms. English for my whole experience at school,” Wilson said. “It’s hard to lose a leader, [but] she’ll be impacting other schools the way that she’s impacted Archer.”

English described the community’s reaction to her departure as “really moving.”

“There’s certainly sadness, but I think there’s been an outpouring of gratitude and support that I wasn’t completely prepared for,” she said.

The Oracle sat down with English and several senior administrators to discuss her contributions to Archer and the legacy she will leave behind.

Influential innovations

English’s arrival at Archer ten years ago coincided with the financial crisis of 2008. In this uncertain period, 50 families left the school, and English had to let 22 employees go.

“For a young school, it could have been catastrophic. We might not have made it,” she said. “It was a really hard way to start as a head, and it didn’t make me popular at the outset. I had to really be strong.”

One of English’s early decisions during this tumultuous time was to crystallize the school brand. Symbols of Archer, like the trademark logo and the tagline “Ambitious, joyful learning” were launched early in her tenure.

“Making an investment in [the brand]—it was a risky thing to do. But she knew where she was trying to take the school,” Director of Communications and Strategic Marketing Quyen Ngo said.

Even as the financial burdens upon the school eased, English encountered another challenge: the neighbors’ attitudes towards the Archer Forward construction plan.

“Our location here in Brentwood has been really hard,” she said. “I think from the school’s outset, long before I came here, there’s been an irrational opposition to Archer.”

Despite these challenges, English led Archer initiatives such as the STEM program, NOLS partnerships, Flexible Tuition and the completion of the IdeaLab and Media Space, according to a school-wide email from Board Chair Frank Marshall.

“She and her team have put Archer on the map, and we are now a nationally recognized leader in girls’ education,” he wrote in an email interview.

But when asked what she is most proud of, English cited faculty and student culture rather than external accomplishments.

“This is a place of love, and it’s a place that’s very easy for anyone who’s a part of it—whether you’re a student, a parent or a teacher—to be themselves,” she said.

Legacy of a leader

English has spent the last decade exercising a leadership style that focuses on forging relationships and developing others’ capabilities.

“An extraordinary leader [is] someone who understands that you lead by empowering others…and cultivating leadership in others,” she said.

English’s team expressed appreciation for her supportive mentorship and encouragement. Ngo characterized English’s enduring personal influence using a quote by author Flavia Weedn.

“‘Some people come into our lives and quickly go. Some stay for a while, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never, ever the same,'” she quoted. “Ms. English has definitely left a big footprint on my heart.”

Assistant Head of School Karen Pavliscak has been similarly moved by her relationship with English.

“She’s been an inspiring role model for me,” Pavliscak said. “Although she is so articulate and wildly intelligent and has has this visionary outlook and this fearless approach, at the core of her being is a profoundly kind and compassionate person. And I would say, let’s all be that kind of leader too.”

A mission-driven mindset

Although both Pavliscak and Ngo will miss English’s mentorship, they expressed confidence that her legacy is cemented in the school’s culture. Pavliscak portrayed English’s mission-driven philosophy as an enduring characteristic of the community.

“She has modeled a servant leadership approach that means you’re centered on the mission and the student experience and to empower every adult in the community to do their best to meet our students’ needs,” she said. “Her capable leadership has set up all of the components so that we can move forward strong, courageous and passionately focused on what the mission means in the next ten years.”

Citing the opening of the Academic Center, the school’s upcoming reaccreditation and the Board of Trustees’ new strategic vision, English sought to reassure community members that Archer will accomplish “extraordinary” things in the coming years.

“I want the school to feel confident about its future,” she said. “When you look at who the teacher leaders are and who the senior administrators are, there’s so much capacity in this community…this school is in good hands.”