esiree Jennings joined WT as a First Grade Teacher in the 2015-2016 school year with a B.S. in Education from the University of Georgia and an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from Teachers College, Columbia University. With the intention of helping students observe and reflect upon their surroundings, one of her early adjustments to the first grade curriculum was to broaden the architecture unit to include foundational exposure, knowledge, and awareness of equitable practices in communities. “This lays the foundation for future learning,” notes Jennings. “It encourages students to ask increasingly complex questions that get to the root of social issues.”
It was this kind of thinking that Dr. Scott D. Fech was looking for when WT created a new position, Director of Academics and Gary J. Niels Chair for City as Our Campus, designed to review and align WT’s academic program within the framework of the school’s Mission and its Strategic Priorities.
As part of a national search, Jennings was tapped to fill the role. She spoke to us about her initial work and her vision and planning for the future.
Q: Your affinity for teaching is well known. What was it about this position that lured you out of the classroom?
I loved developing curriculum, and had consistently worked to strengthen my skills in that regard. I also felt a strong connection to the recent experiences I had supporting teachers in their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work as the Lower School DEI Liaison— I was energized to problem solve with them, and it was rewarding to help move the work forward.
These experiences reinforced my desire to grow in new ways as an educator, but I couldn’t imagine being too far removed from the heart and soul of our work—the students. This role allows me to impact curriculum, support teachers, AND remain closely connected to the learning and growth of students—it combines all of the elements I was looking for!
Q: A review and alignment of the PK – grade 12 curriculum is not a small undertaking! How do you anticipate beginning the work?
The process has started with gathering stories. Learning from teachers, grade levels, and departments about how we arrived where we are today and what their goals are for growth and evolution. As that picture becomes clearer, I’m working with faculty members to consider the extent to which the curriculum aligns with who we say we are.
Additionally, I am beginning to work with our DEI consultants on the DEI curriculum audit, engaging in a critical and thorough examination of the DEI work we are doing in our curricular content and teaching work.
Q: Community-based learning has long been a hallmark of a WT education with City as Our Campus. What further evolutions do you see in this work?
I hope that City as Our Campus can provide consistent opportunities for students and employees to engage in culturally responsive service learning throughout the PK – 12 curriculum. For this vision to be achieved, teachers need the time and space to develop this curriculum and to sustain its innovation and growth. I’m also eager to give greater space to student voice and choice in these experiences, and to nurture our community partnerships to greater depths.
Q: How do you envision your role impacting WT as a whole?
A valuable aspect of my role is helping to bring to light the ways in which all members of the WT community have a meaningful impact on teaching and learning. In partnership with our leadership team, our non-teaching offices, and our faculty, I hope to help develop opportunities that allow employees to connect with each other, share their work, and find ways that we can support each other in moving teaching and learning forward.