20 Sep Alumni Spotlight – Dr. Eleanor Nicholson
Dr Eleanor Nicholson has spent the last month at Woodstock running the Women in Leadership Program. At Woodstock, she has dedicated her time to the Centre for Imagination, as well as staff and students alike. We caught up with Dr Nicholson as her time at Woodstock drew to a close.
What brought you to Woodstock?
Two streams brought me to Woodstock. We had a couple who were very close friends, Political Science Professors at the University of Chicago – our daughters were best friends from Kindergarten. They did research in India and had their children going to Woodstock. My daughter Martha came to Woodstock in ’79, she was just here for her Sophomore year. While at Woodstock she became good friends with Jeet Singh (class of ’81) and when he started the Winterline Foundation he asked me to be a part of it.
From 2004 -2006 I was Principal of Kodaikanal International School, but because of the Winterline Foundation I remained connected with WS. While I was at Kodi my eldest granddaughter came to Woodstock – as an 11th grader she came for one semester, loved it and decided to come back from a second semester. She went on to be Valedictorian for the class of ’06. I was interim Principal at Woodstock from June to December 2011.
What are you doing now?
I didn’t do anything formal for two years until last May ’16. I had been Principal of a charter school in Chicago so I had been asked to be principal and mentor to a young lady who had been chosen to be principal but needed mentorship. In May ’16, the same school was looking for a Principal again and she served as interim Principal. It was really really hard – morale was in the basement and teaching had deteriorated, discipline problems were serious, I had an excellent assistant Principal. Then came election day and if the morale was already low, it became worse. It was hard to get things going properly.
CFI and why I came back
It was the Women in Leadership Course and CFI that brought me back. I missed Woodstock and wanted to come back. I love the School and India – it was just serendipity when Amy (Director, Centre for Imagination) said she was doing what she was doing.
I think it is very important to have CFI moulded into the ethos of the school, it will take time but in any school an interdisciplinary or a conscious intentional way of bringing specialists to share with students and staff is unusual. More and more colleges are doing it…kids are so capable of doing these things. Woodstock is a school for privileged school, not just economically but families who value the education that Woodstock is providing. In the United States education is so test focused. It’s all about performance. Kids are bored in school which is why discipline is difficult, it’s a dreary picture. When you have an opportunity to bring so many disciplines to your curriculum, it is the opportunity the Centre for Imagination has.
It’s going to take a few years of marketing and excellent programming. School life is so busy, to make room for kids to do independent projects, there are going to have to be exceptions and carve out time for kids to do work – it can’t be on top of – it has to be instead of. What sort of credit will go to colleges. Because the educational system is so focused on courses and grades – many colleges are changing which is great, and accepting interdisciplinary projects. Amy has a phenomenal plan, and I am excited to see what the future brings.
Are mentors important?
Yes mentors are important. The new President of the State Bank of India is a woman and she credits mentors with getting her where she is. You have to be pretty self reflective to be doing what you are doing, an aspirant does not always know the right questions.
What is valuable about the WS experience and why we understand each other in a unique way?
It’s the stunning natural beauty, the history is engaging and the community is incredible. The adults who live here are at their best. It is a warm hospitable place – I felt like I was coming home. The intellectual atmosphere in some instances are really interesting. A boarding school is unique either way. The negative and positive is that you are away from your parents. You become independent very quickly. The camaraderie of the kids, their enthusiasm. The bazaar!
Share with us a note on your time in Mussoorie
I miss my friends, beginning with the Longs, the members of the board, the mountains. Just to be a part of the community again. I don’t miss the food!