By Abby Scott
Being a head of an independent school is very demanding at baseline, and that rigor only amplifies during a global pandemic. A few weeks ago, I interviewed Kim Samson, Beaver’s new Head of School. It’s a tough year to start as Head of School, especially after replacing a head who had been at Beaver for 28 years. She’s also leading us in the middle of a pandemic, and is working hard behind the scenes to improve our school for the better. But because of the pandemic and being online, some of us haven’t gotten to meet her individually or to talk to her yet. Here is some information about our new Head of School you might not have known.
Where did you work before Beaver?
Right before Beaver, I worked as Assistant Head of School at a school called Hawken in Cleveland, Ohio. I worked there for 9 years. Before that, I worked at Milton Academy. I spent 19 years at Milton. I started there as the Dean of Students. My own children, who are now 28 and 31, went to Milton Academy. I started working as the Dean of Students when they were 11 months and 3½ years old. As they started to get close to about 6 and 10, I decided to go back into the classroom. I worked as a Chemistry teacher who sometimes did a bit of Physics teaching too. I was also a class dean. I was back in the classroom for about 14 years.
What are your interests outside of school?
I am pretty active, I would say. I really love to swim, hike, and bike. I love to ski. I ski cross country and downhill. I like to snowshoe. I do mountain biking and road biking, although I would say that I am getting a bit more wimpy in the mountain biking realm. I lived out in Ohio where the mountains just aren’t as big, so now going to the top of a big mountain and pointing my bike downwards just does not seem as smart anymore [laughs]. I love walking my dog and I love to read. I love taking a day and just reading whatever I want to read.
Have you read any good books recently?
I really liked Braving the Wilderness by Brenè Brown. I liked what she had to say about society right now and the way that we need to do a better job bridging the gaps between people that disagree. I like historical fiction. One of my favorites is Cane River by Lalita Tademy. It’s about a black woman who was a CEO of a fortune 500 company. She decided that she’s going to take the year off and explore her family’s routes in enslavement. She went back four generations and traced the history of her family post civil war and how people glorified it. I often read things that take me into a different culture.
What’s your favorite food?
Probably pizza. If I had to live on an island by myself, I wouldn’t want to live without pizza. I also love fish. Any kind of cooked fish.
What’s your favorite movie or tv series?
Right now, I’m totally into The Crown and Schitt’s Creek. I also have liked watching Burn Notice and White Collar, I’m into spy-oriented things.
How are you liking your new neighborhood?
It’s great, but I don’t really know any of my new neighbors yet because of COVID. I like walking my dog, Riley, around campus at night. She is half golden and half mutt. She is a rescue dog. She was found on the side of the road with her litter. Her mother and all of her siblings were taken in for foster care. We drove to Western Virginia to pick her up. She’s about 2½ years old now, and she’s very big. She’s actually about 75 pounds.
What was your experience as a student?
I liked school. To be honest, old fashioned school was fine with me. It’s quite possible that the education that I believe in most now would have terrified me. It’s really been throughout my career that I’ve experienced how important failure is and how we can learn from it. School was a very safe space for me. For my schooling, I started at Pingree and for college I went to Wellesley College. It’s fun for me to be the Head of a School at Beaver, which started as an all girls school. However, I’ve always worked in co-ed schools. I really believe that going to Wellesley did so much for me as a young woman, but i’ve never really wanted to teach at a same sex school.
Why did you decide to become a teacher?
I think that teaching is like a calling. My mother, my aunt, and my sister were all teachers. So I think that I was kind of born to be a teacher, but I wanted to be a doctor. My dad was a doctor. I graduated from college very much pre-med, thinking that I would be a doctor, and then I was hired by a boarding school. I thought that it was just going to be a year long thing, I’d take the MCAT and apply to medical school, and I got into it. I loved it. I kept thinking, why would I leave something that I loved in order to go to school for 8 to 12 years? So I just kept going with it.
Why did you choose to work at Beaver?
Beaver is doing everything that I want to be doing. I completely believe in 21st century education being completely different from the last hundred years of education. When we look ahead to the role of artificial intelligence in your lifetime, and the ways in which kids need to both understand it and be able to work with it, Beaver is doing everything that it can to equip you for that.
What do you think you’re going to bring to the Beaver community?
I think that student’s experiences from class to class can be very different. I want to support these students. I think that aligning to the mission and thinking about how to do school differently is very important. And we need to think about how we assess students, and how the process can be just as important as the end point. We have to think about what the growth trajectory has been, and where somebody has landed compared to where they began. I think that there is so much that beaver has been chewing on in the last decade, it’s some great stuff. We understand who we are as a school, I don’t need to carve out the niche of beaver, beaver knows what it’s niche is. But how do we apply that to student to student and teacher to teacher interactions? That is what I want to help us figure out.
Do you have any advice for current students right now?
I think that my advice right now is mainly about equity and inclusion. It’s about digging in. If you think about it and you’re a person that maybe has avoided conversations about race, culture, ect., it’s a really important part of life. Avoiding those conversations now, in the same way that you may have avoided some aspects of your academic education, it sets you behind. Being culturally competent and inclusive is something that is really important in life today. Everyone is going to have international interactions across multiple cultures, and having a deficit in that area, especially when you have so many opportunities to engage and learn from people who are different from you, can be a big mistake. I would say, be careful about how much you value your completely free time at the exclusion of missing some really important opportunities that are being provided to have deeper conversations with your classmates and schoolmates.