BC Development Office
Q & A with Dr. Waller: Welcome To Berkeley Carroll
Dr. Lisa Waller recently joined the Berkeley Carroll community from the Dalton School as the new Head of School. She is excited to immerse herself in our community and eager to learn how she can best help to propel it forward. The Blotter interviewed Dr. Waller to hear more about her impressions on The Berkeley Carroll community and the plans she has for the school’s future.
Irene: What were your first impressions of the Berkeley Carroll community? Have your thoughts on the community changed since you began your tenure as Head of School?
My first impressions were that Berkeley Carroll is a very vibrant, very welcoming community. It was clear to me early on that the people I met before starting to work here cared very deeply about the school and wanted to know that I cared about BC too. Students, colleagues, parents–everyone has been receptive and welcoming. The installation was a real highlight for me in terms of feeling a warmth and excitement about my arrival.
I: What have your interactions with the student body been like?
I have interacted with students in a variety of ways. I meet with my 10th grade advisory on an ongoing basis. They seem comfortable talking among themselves and with my co-advisor, Ms. Moroney, and me. I am in the process of visiting classes in all divisions and I am impressed by how engaged and thoughtful our students are. I have attended meetings sponsored by JADA, Girls to Women, and the POC affinity groups, and I have also been to a couple of volleyball and soccer games this season. I have built open office hours into my schedule for Upper School students and I am working on scheduling a series of meetings with groups of Middle and Lower School students. I have enjoyed visits from middle schoolers who come by to look around my office and to say hello. I have also visited with a first grade class that wanted to know if I was nervous about starting at a new school. It was great to speak with and reassure them about their own fears of starting a new grade. There are the everyday interactions when greeting students at Carroll Street and Lincoln Place at the start of the day and even the friendly smile that comes with catching students’ eyes during fire drills. I am appreciative of the opportunities that I have to connect with students in a number of contexts throughout the day.
I: What has been your favorite part of the day here at BC so far?
The truth is that everyday at BC is different. Something unanticipated always comes up–sometimes pleasant and other times challenging. Of course, I love spending time in the classroom. I have also really enjoyed my one-on-one meetings with my colleagues on the faculty and staff; they are helping me to understand BC and how it has evolved over time. I have appreciated talking with parents at various events and I also enjoy talking to prospective families during our admissions talks. When I can get downstairs, lunchtime is great too.
I: Have you noticed any similarities between your experiences at The Dalton School to your experiences at Berkeley Carroll?
Much has been similar between being at Dalton and being at Berkeley Carroll. There is a rhythm to the school day and also a generative energy that are evident in both schools. One difference for me is being in an entirely new school environment where there are so many people to get to know. As I mentioned, I’ve made it a priority to meet one-on-one with every staff member who works here. I am also trying to connect with students and faculty in a variety of ways.
I: If you could teach any class at Berkeley Carroll, what would you teach?
Definitely American Studies. I am trained as an historian, with my research focus having been on the 20th century Civil Rights Movement–specifically the Northern component of the movement. I was also an English teacher and I would love the opportunity to teach a class that fuses the disciplines of history and English together in the way that American Studies does.
If I were to teach an original class, it would be on Social Justice Movements in the Urban North from the mid 20th century to now. Other classes that I would enjoy teaching include African American history, a class on the different iterations of feminism, a class on the NYC public school desegregation movement, or a class on educational justice.
I: Why did you choose, if you did, to have your office placed in the heart of the middle school?
I wanted to be near students–near the hustle and bustle of student life. The middle school is the link between the younger students at Carroll Street and the older kids at Lincoln Place. I’ve enjoyed being in an area surrounded by children navigating the waters between childhood and adulthood. Just like you mentioned, I see this area as being the heart of the school. Out of all of the other potential options, the space my office is in right now seemed right to me. From the windows, to the color of the walls, I always like my office at school to feel like home. I’ve found that people respond positively to being in an office that is welcoming–like the comfortable living room in a home.
I: Are there any things about the school that are still confusing to you? How can we as a community help you to better acclimate to the school?
At the moment, mastering a schedule that includes both a 7 day rotation and the regular 5 day 2:45-3:30 schedule has been challenging, particularly because my academic schedule generally follows the 7 day rotation but meetings with individuals who do not work at BC are scheduled on a Monday through Friday basis. Chatting with me, telling me your perspective on what should never change about the school and where you perceive room for growth are ways that the student body can help me acclimate to BC. Sharing your BC stories is the best way to do that.
I: What is your vision for the school? What are specific things you want to improve upon during your tenure as Head of School?
I’m not a person of hubris. My first year will be spent getting to know BC and all its contours, so I will then know how best to sculpt it. It’s important to me that there is a broad public perception of Berkeley Carroll as a school that engenders outstanding academic performance while at the same time fusing academic rigor with a broader social awareness. There’s a lot of balance in this community. It is both demanding and joyful. It is an academic and intellectual space that is also social and practical. I always want innovation to be at the heart of what we do, so that we can recognize new approaches to learning and incorporate them into what we already do well here. BC students ask good questions and the people who work here are also committed to professional growth and asking equally good questions.
I: Finally, is there anything that you wish the student body knew about you that you haven’t already expressed?
I am an autodidact of Spanish. It has been one of my longstanding goals to become fluent in Spanish and every day I try to cultivate this learning goal of mine. Acquiring a new language is a gift. When you can speak a language, that is when the culture of that language unfolds for you. I have had so many impromptu interactions with people I didn’t know because of the efforts I was making to speak in Spanish and the way they graciously received my attempts.
I also love many types of music. I was a singer in a blues band, a Central African soukous pop band, a Southern African band, and a few others. Besides music, I also love decorating and designing physical spaces, from choosing the textiles and making curtains to selecting furnishings and accessories.
I would like the student body to know that I am a good listener and a good guide and mentor. At my installation two of my former colleagues spoke. One was my student during his junior year in high school who I hired to work on my administrative team. The other was a young woman who I hired as an intern who went on to become a fully vested teacher at my former school. When they spoke, I felt gratified by their descriptions of me as a mentor, sponsor, and supervisor. They recognized me as a person who was invested in their success. I care about students and I want to see students do well as people and as scholars. I always try to make decisions with this in the forefront of my mind.