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A Message from the Board – October 1, 2020
We are writing to share the news that Dr. Peña has agreed to extend her interim head of school commitment to include the 2021-2022 school year. When filling the interim role, we sought out strong and experienced leadership to transition GSA out of a challenging time and provide stability to our community leaving it in the best possible position for a permanent head of school. We found this strong leadership in Dr. Peña and have witnessed her put that leadership into action. What we couldn’t know when we offered her the interim head of school position for this school year, was the continued impact of the COVID pandemic resulting in a new challenge and focus on distance learning along with safely and fluidly moving to on-campus learning.
As Dr. Peña spent the summer engaged in this work, a subset of the Board began to interview search firms for our permanent head of school search. When we engaged with the expertise of these firms, we began to better understand the shifting dynamics of undertaking a search for a new head of school at this time. Fundamentally, the pool of candidates is different than in the past as many candidates are choosing to stay on another year at their current schools to ensure stability. Additionally, we believe that the reality of both virtual interviewing and virtual campus visits puts constraints on our ability to find the best permanent head of school to lead us into the future at this moment. As our understanding of the current context for a search evolved and we witnessed Dr. Peña’s leadership through these past months, the Board determined making an offer to extend Dr. Peña’s role as Interim Head of School to include School Year 21-22 would put GSA in the best position possible. We are very excited and grateful that Dr. Peña has accepted the extension. This will allow her to lead us through this year and continue to build on our stability for our permanent head of school in the school year 2022-2023. Please see below the draft timeline milestones for the 2022-2023 permanent Head of School search.
Our entire Board continues to support the work of the collective team that is ensuring we are preserving the essence of the GSA learning experience while prioritizing the health and safety of our girls, our faculty and staff, and our larger community.
GSA 22-23 Head of School Search Timeline
- Develop committee selection criteria
- Develop a community engagement plan
- Select committee
- Select a search firm
- Begin working with a search firm on the GSA candidate search plan
- Begin reviewing and vetting candidates
- Begin the interview process
- Candidate onsite tours
- Candidate onsite interviews
Early Spring 2022
- Selection of GSA 22-23 HOS announced
- GSA 22-23 HOS begins
The Girls’ School of Austin is thrilled to announce the appointment of Dr. Rosa Peña as our interim head of school for the 2020 – 2021 school year. In Dr. Peña, we found a powerful combination of school leadership experience and an educational philosophy that aligns with GSA’s vision and culture, making her an ideal fit to lead the GSA next year through our transition.
Dr. Peña comes to GSA after 32 years of public service with the Austin Independent School District where she is currently the Executive Director of Human Resource Services. She holds a Ph.D. in Education-School Improvement and a Master’s in Educational Leadership from Texas State University.
Dr. Peña served with distinction as an AISD elementary principal for fifteen years. Before her tenure as the founding principal of Baldwin Elementary in Southwest Austin, she was the leader of Zavala Elementary School in East Austin. In this role she was responsible for hiring, supervising, and evaluating faculty, developing educational programs and mentoring new principals as a vertical team leader as well as overseeing the day to day operations of the schools. Following her role as principal, Dr. Peña became the Director of Leadership Development for the district, where she ran leadership development programs, secured grant funding, supported the hiring of administrative positions, led professional learning opportunities for campus leaders and collaborated with university preparation programs.
Dr. Peña’s passion for empowering young women, her commitment to serve others, and her dedication to lifelong learning fit well with GSA’s mission to develop confident young women who lead intellectually vibrant and fulfilling lives. Her experience in school leadership and her operational skills clearly match the requirements we developed for the interim position. Her charge will be to work collaboratively with our community to build on our strong program while preparing us for the next steps in our school’s journey. Upon accepting our offer, Dr. Peña wrote, “I look forward to becoming a part of the GSA learning community and working with the students, families, staff, faculty, and the Board during this interim year.” The feeling is mutual.
The interim search committee evaluated thirteen candidates for the interim position and unanimously concluded that Dr. Peña was the best fit for our community. The GSA Board of Trustees unanimously approved the search committee’s recommendation. Described as a beacon of light by her colleagues, Dr. Peña also received ringing endorsements from the students and faculty who met with her during her visit as well as former GSA head Lisa Schmitt. Dr. Peña’s official start date at GSA will be July 1, 2020.
Our search for an interim head of school for the 2020 – 2021 school year is underway. During the January meeting, the board agreed that the primary role of the interim is to prepare the school community for the next permanent head of school. We agreed the candidate must have previous head of school experience, both strong leadership, and operational skills, and they must embrace the mission, values, and ethos of the Girls’ School.
The Interim Search Committee has been formed and is composed of Rachel Lee (GSA faculty), Carey Eskridge (GSA parent), Lex Sanford (Trustee, GSA parent, and Chair of the Committee), and Tricia Yost (Board Chair and GSA parent). The Committee has met and formulated the Committee’s plan and process and has also begun gathering feedback from our faculty.
Our consultant, The Education Group, actively explored 13 candidates based on our needs and narrowed the group to three candidates. At this time we have invited two of those on campus for visits. These visits are scheduled to begin starting February 7 and will include class observations, faculty conversations, and further deep-dive work by the search committee.
The search for a permanent head of school will begin later this spring. As we shared previously, our intention is to have robust parent involvement for this search. We are working on further developing this process and the committee selection and will be sharing more on that soon.
In late December the GSA Board of Trustees voted unanimously to accept Cathleen Eclarinal’s resignation as head of school. The Board made this decision after Ms. Eclarinal acknowledged a breach of trust with the school’s finances. And although the school’s finances were not significantly impacted, the Board concluded that it had lost confidence in her ability to lead our community effectively.
GSA has selected two staff members from within the GSA administration, Frances Ramberg and Shanna Prewitt-Hines, who will co-lead the school for the remainder of the school year with the guidance of our Board Chair, Tricia Yost. We will begin the search for GSA’s next permanent head of school this spring and will have interim leadership until the 2021-2022 school year. Over the next three months, we will evaluate and determine our interim leadership options for the school year 2020-2021. The GSA Board will support the co-leaders to ensure that the GSA continues to educate our girls, admit new students, and support our faculty and staff.
GSA is a strong and resilient community and we remain dedicated to providing an excellent education for our girls and supporting their academic and social-emotional wellbeing.