From Cleveland to Concord, new SPS Dean of Equity and Inclusion James Greenwood chronicles his journey to St. Paul’s School and shares his aspirations.
Tenley Rooney: Tell us a little about the path from Cleveland’s public schools to the boarding school world.
The trail starts at Kenyon College in central Ohio, where I was a first-generation college student from Cleveland, Ohio. I went to a summer program at Kenyon the year between my junior and senior years of high school, and I loved it. It was a three-week pre-college experience for kids from Cleveland and Columbus. Really, of course, getting kids more interested in college from the inner city if you will.
I continued to work in that program as an intern during the summers, and as a student-teacher. While I did that, my advisor who happened to be the director of the program said, “I think education is your thing, and that you should look into this.”
TR: So, what was your first job in education?
I was the assistant director of admissions at the Williston Northampton School out in Easthampton, Mass. I was there for five years, and I did admissions work with a particular focus on multicultural recruitment. I also taught in the history department, lived in the dorm, I advised clubs and activities, all of those sorts of things. And I loved it. It was a great way to start my career in education. I had some really great mentors there who helped introduce me to boarding school. Because it really is – if you haven’t been through it – completely different.
During that time, too, I went back to grad school. I went to Brown and got a masters in teaching there. I got a second master’s degree in education from Teachers College at Columbia, through their Klingenstein Center, which is specifically for independent school education. I’m currently in the midst of a doctoral program at Boston College as well.
A friend recommended me for the director of multicultural affairs at NMH (Northfield Mount Hermon). After nine years there, I went on to Shady Hill, a day school in Cambridge, Mass., as director of inclusion and multicultural practice, but I found that I missed boarding school. I really did!
TR: What is it about boarding school life that you find so compelling?
I feel like there was something really special about the types of relationships and the depth of relationships that you’re able to form with students in a place where you live with them and see them sort of in that 360 way. In the dining hall, on the athletic fields, in the classroom, and in all of aspects of their lives. I found that I really missed it.
TR: More and more schools are including a position like yours on their faculty. Why?
Well, I think ultimately what they all have at their core mission is trying to build a more inclusive community, one where students from a variety of different backgrounds can find equitable success in school. Also, recognizing that we are an increasingly diverse country and world, we need to equip our schools, all of our students in these schools, with the capacity to effectively communicate across lines of difference.
So, it’s important for our different under-represented populations, but it’s essential for all of our students, and multicultural education is best for everybody. We, as a society, tend to do better work in diverse groups than we do in homogeneous groups.
TR: Could you explain your role as dean of equity and inclusion at SPS?
Schools, I think, are increasingly finding the need to deliberately and intentionally support efforts and initiatives around this work. It’s one of these things where there can be a tendency to say, “Well, it’s everybody’s work,” and it is. But if it’s everybody’s work, you don’t have anyone particular person directing it, and it can easily fall to the wayside. I often say it’s like in my house growing up. I have two brothers, and it was always this, you know, “everybody does the dishes,” but if it’s everybody’s responsibility to do the dishes, the dishes don’t get done unless you have particular charges and responsibilities.
TR: So, tell us about the role.
Some of this year will be devoted to figuring out what is necessary here, or what would be helpful here at St. Paul’s because, in any diversity work, it needs to be tailored to the specific issues in the specific place at that specific moment in time. So, a lot of this will be thinking and listening.
But to sort of grossly over-simplify what the work has looked like in previous schools, which I imagine it will look like here, is dividing the work into two camps. There’s the work that happens with the students, and then the work that happens with the adults. With the students, supporting historically underrepresented and marginalized populations at the School such that they can find equitable access and success in the programs here, but then, supporting the entire student body in growing in their capacity around, again, communicating effectively across lines of difference.
And there’s the adult side of it, which is also around supporting the building of a diverse faculty and staff body here, and also working with our whole faculty around their capacities, working with a diverse student body.
Our best work in supporting students and reaching students in the classroom has to be grounded in their own cultures and backgrounds and drawn from that. The examples you use, the literature you use, are reflective of the communities and populations that these students come from – their indigenous cultures – in such a way that they are both recognized, validated, and some people would argue, sustained, too.
At a place like St. Paul’s, where we have an international population, we are already dealing with that globalized mindset in a way that really presents a huge opportunity for our students. They can develop these skills at an early age that will help make them leaders when they go on to whatever comes next.
TR: This might be redundant, but what do you enjoy about this work?
What drives my work here is keeping the students at the center of it. I think they’re still in this adolescent place, they’re still shaping their identity, and there’s still an openness to exploring new ways of being, and just figuring out who it is that they are. I think that’s really different. Adolescence really is all about figuring out who it is that you have been, who you want to be moving forward, who you are. There’s something exciting about being able to help guide that process and something that’s in the way of giving back. I know how important it was for me to be able to have mentors and teachers who helped guide and shape where I went in education and in this world.