Head of School
With a career that includes a wide range of experiences, Milton’s new head of school looks forward to the challenges ahead.
By Dr. Alixe Callen ’88
I often refer to my career as an educator as one of both/and. I’ve worked in both public schools and independent schools (and, indeed, even spent some time at a charter school). I identify both as a teacher and as an administrator. East Coast, West Coast—both! Even as a student, I attended a public elementary and middle school before enrolling at Milton. The opportunity to learn and work in a diversity of environments has helped to shape my identity as an educator, providing me with all sorts of insights and experiences.
When first considering applying for Milton’s headship, I hesitated. My family was happy; I was doing good work. Why upset that apple cart? In the end, however, it was Milton’s own embrace of both/and that brought me back.
Milton is famously both a boarding school and a day school. We serve both elementary and secondary students. And while we are an independent school in all the best ways, we certainly embrace a larger public purpose.
My affection for Milton’s both/and status dates back to the mid-80s. As a middle school student, I had been obsessed with the idea of boarding school for years. With no internet, and thus no websites, I perused the catalogues that arrived at my house nearly daily, comparing and contrasting the various cultures and offerings of an assortment of schools. And although I could see the appeal of the trappings of a more traditional boarding school, it was Milton’s both/and nature that drew me in. Here was a school that was both residential and cosmopolitan. I could go to boarding school and live in a major metropolitan area.
What I did not realize when I enrolled was how much Milton would impact my sense of agency, my belief in my power to make a difference in the world. Milton graduates through the ages have absorbed the expectation that our experience here on Centre Street should be employed for a larger purpose. We are privileged to receive this incredible education and we’d better put it to good use.
For me, putting my education to good use has meant both serving the children and families in my immediate care and striving to create better schools for all. In addition to my direct work in schools, my doctoral research focused on building public support for school reform. I was particularly interested in how we might help more-privileged populations, who have almost always been served well by their schools (public and private), to support reform that enhances strong schools for all.
For many years, I believed my work was best accomplished in the public sector. However, I have come to see the many ways independent schools like Milton can serve as incubators for big ideas. I look forward to grappling with those big ideas in the coming months and years. The world of education is changing more rapidly than we can imagine. Traditional skills and knowledge are increasingly outmoded. With every possible bit of knowledge available via technology, more than ever our students need the ability to think critically, to communicate effectively, to build connections, and to employ this amazing education in the interests of the larger world.
My embrace of a both/and philosophy has taken a new turn now that I am both an alum of Milton and its head of school. I look forward to using the skills I learned here on Centre Street and those I’ve learned out in the world as I take on this amazing opportunity.