Into the limelight: Director of Operations Janet Lyon retires after 22 years at Archer

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Photo credit: Felicia Paik

Janet Lyon and Jane Davis celebrate Lyon’s retirement at an after school faculty and staff party. “She deserves to retire because she’s worked so hard at this point over these years, but it’s like I feel like I’m losing a piece of myself,”  Davis said. Lyon is retiring from her role as Director of Operations after 22 years at Archer.

By Thea Leimone, Features Editor

The Archer School for Girls was founded in rented-out dance studios. Students traversed the Palisades Village from class to class, and Janet Lyon walked right with them. The school found a new home, The Eastern Star Home for Women, where much work had to be done, so Lyon did it. In the transformed classrooms, students developed Archer’s mission statement and began a culture of ambitious and joyful learning, and Lyon transformed right with them.

From registrar to director of operations, Lyon has had her fair share of positions over her 22 years of employment at Archer. In her final role, she has been in charge of projects such as the library, gallery, science labs, IdeaLab and the Diana Meehan Center. But, as October comes to a close, so has Lyon’s time at the school.

“I’m feeling very mixed emotions. I feel very sure, and it feels very right to be retiring. It’s the right time. No matter what, it’s a leap of faith. No matter what, it’s big change in my life. I’m not quite sure what that’s going to look like, but I’m usually looking forward to figuring that out,” Lyon said. “This place is really close to my heart, as it is for many of us. So, the work itself, the institution, this building, the people, people being amongst that of course are missed by a social interaction. Being a part of something bigger than just myself will be very missed.”

Associate Head of School Karen Pavliscak has been working at Archer for 21 years. During her time at Archer, she has seen Lyon progress professionally and noted her successful strategies in planning.

“I was first a teacher here, so I knew her as a registrar. She was setting up schedules, and she would do these matrices, all over the wall with every class — this was before we use computers to do it,” Pavliscak said. “She was so strategic, and, then, when she went in operation, she was using that same strategy and planning for every element of the building facilities and supporting the teachers and outfitting the classrooms — and, so, I’ve really walked alongside [her].”

Upon telling Head of School Elizabeth English of her planned retirement, English encouraged Lyon to enjoy her time of transition and celebrate her work and achievements from her two decades of work with the school. Lyon noted her surprise over how much she has been looking back on memories and the outpouring of love from the community.

“It just allows you to reminisce and tell stories, which honestly has let me process all that I’ve done — and how often do we actually get to stop and think, well, actually, yeah, I did do those things?” Lyon said. “It’s really made me realize that, on so many levels to this job that I’ve created over the years, that’s why I’m here 22 years because every day is a new day. And it’s great. I love that — that students need information and we’re doing this [work].” 

To commemorate her career and celebrate her retirement, Archer held two celebrations for Lyon. The first was a planned after school event with faculty and staff. The second was a surprise assembly with decorations and gifts. The assembly featured English and Lyon, who spoke about her work moving into and transforming Archer into the school it is today.

Stepping into Lyon’s office, it was hard to avoid the strings upon strings of gold stars strung from wall to wall. On the day of her celebration, faculty wore star-themed outfits in reference to the Eastern Star that sits upon the top of Archer, which Lyon was a part of re-obtaining when the previous owners decided to return it to the building.

This celebration was fantastic. I knew we also had an event after school, in the evening, for faculty and staff. I did not know about the date, time and the community — the bigger, wider community [celebration] with all the students. It’s hard to put it into words. It’s beautiful, it’s taken me by surprise,” Lyon said. “The outpouring of love, the kind of job I do, I just do it, right? I’m enjoying doing it all day, much like many of you are. So, what it’s done is really made me stop — and, one, I don’t like being in the limelight, so it’s made me embrace that and just accept it and enjoy it.”

Associate Head of School for Finance & Operations Jane Davis has been working with Lyon for 12 years. Davis handles the financial and Lyon the logistical aspects of operations at the school. The two worked hand-in-hand during the construction of the entire Diana Meehan Academic Center. 

“I have always felt like she is my partner. She’s been my partner, and I can’t imagine that. Now I’m faced with it because she’s leaving, and she deserves to retire because she’s worked so hard at this point over these years, but it’s like I feel like I’m losing a piece of myself,”  Davis said. “We got through a lot of difficult times together. And, you know, the thing that I love about her is that we never took ourselves too seriously. We always managed to come up with solutions and, you know, we also just had a lot of fun together.”

I don’t like being in the limelight, but it doesn’t mean that you’re not at work, but that you’re a part of that puzzle and making it all happen.”

While not taking herself too seriously at work, Lyon has found the dynamic environment of Archer and Archer relationships to be ideal for her working style — out of the limelight.

“And the fact that for me, individually, it’s an environment that has allowed you to create an evolving job that isn’t necessarily in the limelight. Because it takes all of us — it’s all kinds of people and personalities and, as opposed to being known for being in the limelight, it’s also been an amazing journey to being known for not being in the limelight. I don’t like being in the limelight. It doesn’t mean that you’re not at work, but that you’re a part of that puzzle and making it all happen. It takes those people, too, right? Because we’re all different personalities. Archer has allowed me to find my place, and learn, and teach and enjoy what I do. And of course the fact my daughter went here, you know, sixth through 12th grade and I’ve seen the impact it had on her. So of course that makes it — and always will — special.”

During the construction of the Diana Meehan Academic Center, the school had to remove a large tree in the back of the school, and rather than simply tearing down the tree, Lyon worked with students to facilitate the transformation of the tree into benches with quotes from famous female leaders that now reside in the new building.

Pavliscak praised Lyon for adaptability and consideration in the in other projects, but specifically in the construction of the new building, when administration felt concern over students being distressed over seeing their old classrooms and lunch spaces being torn down.

I love that she worked with the teachers to make the construction a learning experience. We put paper over the glass so that students here wouldn’t really feel a sense of loss [from the building], and then after working with her, we agreed students should be part of the process, so we taught them what machinery was [being used], we took the paper down, we did tours and put on hard hats. The girls came with some serious ideas about what the scope should be like, so I credit her for saying, ‘Let’s not protect girls from change. Let’s help the girls lead the change and feel empowered by it,’” Pavliscak said.

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  • A bench by the Publications Lab with a quote from Former United States Secretary of State Madeline Albright. This bench is one of multiple made from the tree torn down during the construction of the new building.

    Photo credit: Thea Leimone

Lyon said Archer and its mission have allowed her to develop as a professional and as a person; that she has been allowed to both work comfortably out of the spotlight, but has also been pushed face her fears and turn them into strengths.

“Archer has allowed me to take on new things, learning things like public speaking, which I never thought was my strength before and gives me a lot of angst. Even during the student assembly last week — even this [interview] gives me a little angst, but here we are and I’m doing very well. Archer allows each individual to build on strengths, that’s what it’s done,” Lyon said. “I’ve done some presentations on safety. I can’t believe I did that, but I did because again Archer encouraged that and gave me the environment to figure it out. And to have the knowledge that you’re sharing it and to be a leader — that was pretty special.”

Lyon’s work and connection to the school will remain for decades to come. From restoration to transformation to construction, her impact can be seen in every hallway.

“Every system, every, everything that you look around and touch and feel here has had her imprint on it. She’s done every building project we’ve done here, every process we have,” Davis said. Everything has her footprint, handprint and footprint on it — so from the buses to the parking lot to all of the facilities people who will miss her so much — so, she, her heart, is ingrained in the DNA at Archer.”