This year marks the start of a new era at the Nantucket New School, as former head of school Jon Alden has moved off island after five years spent working at the school. Alden is replaced by Todd Eveleth, who previously spent seventeen years working at a school in Boston and three years teaching at a different school in New Hampshire before that. Eveleth majored in English and political science at the University of New Hampshire before attending journalism school at Syracuse. He was chosen through an intensive selection process to be the new head of the Nantucket New School.
The Nantucket New School is a private school that runs from preschool through eighth grade, with around 150 enrolled students, many of whom go to the Nantucket High School after graduating. Its official website mentions its goals for “academic excellence with respect for the pace of childhood” and “attention to the individual learner.” Emphasizing the school’s focus on small size and family atmosphere, the mission statement reads in part, “we believe that a small school is uniquely equipped to meet the individual needs of students and their families. A low student/teacher ratio provides opportunities for us consistently to recognize each student as a person and as a learner. Strong student/teacher relationships are essential to our success, as well as partnerships between teachers and parents…”
Eveleth echoed these ideas, explaining that, “having a tight environment is part of the appeal of a school that’s 120, 130 kids… to be in a school that’s this size, there’s a great deal of flexibility, there’s a great deal of creativity.” He added that “the ability to know what they are going to respond to, and kind of what direction to push them in, and what type of assessments really work for these students, that is a really important factor in having kids feel successful.”
A fifth and sixth grade New School teacher, Alicia Graziadei, agreed, saying, “the Nantucket New School is a close knit community… we are fortunate to have opportunities for students to interact with each other between grade levels.”
Despite this being his first year, Eveleth seems to already be comfortable in the new setting. “It’s been a good transition so far,” he said. “If you had asked me when I accepted the job, would I feel as comfortable as I do now, I would have said no way. It will never happen. It’s such a great group of kids, it’s such an amazing group of faculty… I feel really good about choosing this town for my home.”
Graziadei also noted that Eveleth was transitioning well. “Todd has already shown he’s passionate about the Nantucket New School,” she said. “This can be seen in the lunchroom where he can be found talking to students or greeting our school community at the front door each morning.”
Sarah Swenson, an eighth grade student at the school, spoke highly of Eveleth’s relationship with the students and the school as well saying,“[Eveleth] makes sure to talk with the students and interact with them often.”
Eveleth has expressed the importance of the quality of his students’ day-to-day interactions in the school. “Everything comes back to the students… the most important part of my job is making sure that every kid has the best experience we can provide. And sometimes that means I’m out with the kids, sometimes that means I’m with the board, sometimes that means I’m at a conference. But we need to keep an eye on the fact that everything we do needs to be targeted at the experience of the student and making sure its the best experience we can provide.”
The New School doesn’t seem likely to change much in the near future, as many conventions that have already been well established won’t be altered, and the school still holds the same values. Eveleth expressed his desire to respect traditions that have made the New School what it is; “Change is slow,” he remarked.
He also intends to bring the same energy to the school that has been there for years. “We are trying to bring energy to everything we do. When you feel energy in a school, that makes it a positive space. I think that when a school feels positive, students want to be there; I think when students want to be there, they come out of school happy. A happy student is an engaged student is a student that learns better, so there’s no question that an energy around a school, when it’s positive, is a great thing,” Eveleth said.
“This year, everyone is excited and ready for one of our best years at [the Nantucket New School]. From the very first day of the year, students were greeted warmly by Todd.” Seconded Graziadei.
But all of that is not to say the school will remain static. Eveleth was quick to offer assurances that the New School was building in structure and communication- but most of that is happening behind the scenes, where it is unlikely to be noticed. He also mentioned a partnership with the Nantucket Art and Artists Association that he called “powerful” and “passionate.”
However, Eveleth is also not afraid to note that the New School, despite its atmosphere and energy, is not ideal for everyone. “It’s important to find the right fit. My daughter went to public school from preschool through her senior year and had a great experience. My son went to a boarding school and it was the right fit for him.” Eveleth also explained that the New School, because of its mission and because of its size, does not have the supports some schools have for certain students. For an example, Eveleth indicated that for a student with profound dyslexia “we are not the right fit. If they need really specific dyslexia tutoring everyday, we can’t do that.” This, Eveleth extrapolated, goes right back to one of his often quoted mantras. “Find the right fit.”
This idea exemplifies something Eveleth values greatly. Something he says is the most important part of his job. The most important part of a school, in general: the students. “Everything we do, right? Every job in this building should revolve in some way around helping the students.”
By JohnCarl McGrady