In the News
On April 30, the Board of Trustees honored its outgoing president, Lisa Donohue ’83, with the Milton Medal, recognizing her years of leadership and dedication during a significant period
of growth for Milton Academy. The Milton Medal recognizes extraordinary service to the school.
“Lisa’s incredible service to Milton clearly makes her deserving of this important honor,” said Board member Claire Hughes Johnson ’90, who succeeded Donohue as president on July 1. “Lisa served Milton during a critical period, and every time the school needed more from her, she increased her level of time, energy, and dedication to Milton’s success. Although Lisa credits Milton for its positive role during a formative time in her life, what is most impressive is her ability to separate the Milton of the past from what the school and the students most need today.
Constantly guided by what’s best for the students, Lisa set an example for all of us.”
“What does it mean to be human?” philosopher Cornel West asked Milton students. “How do we hold onto integrity in the face of oppression? How do we hold onto honesty in the face of deception? How do we hold onto decency in the face of insult and assault, and how do we hold on to the enabling virtue of them all—courage—in the face of catastrophic bombardment?”
West, a renowned scholar, writer, and activist, joined students taking Philosophy and Literature virtually last week. He discussed how literature can help people understand seemingly insurmountable challenges, or what Samuel Beckett called “the mess” of modern human existence.
Young people are facing catastrophic political, social, and environmental issues, West said. They may find some clarity in the work of artists and thinkers who “wrestle with catastrophe.” A self-described “Chekhovian Christian,” West said he finds healing in work that confronts disaster head-on.
“That’s James Baldwin. That’s Nina Simone. That’s Luther Vandross. That’s Raheem DeVaughn. That’s Bootsy Collins and George Clinton, the funk masters who transform their suffering into a sound that heals us, that keeps us going,” he said. “So when we talk about what it means to be human, we have to be unflinchingly honest and candid. Beethoven said he looked unflinchingly at the evil and grimness of the world and still pursued beauty. So it is with anyone with a blues sensibility: They look terror in the face and still want freedom for everybody.”
Anton Chekhov “is a bluesman with a Russian twist,” West said of his favorite writer. Chekhov’s writing is loving and compassionate, and he “never reduces the catastrophic to the problematic,” facing the challenges of life with the gravity they deserve.
People should engage with those who disagree with them in order to grapple with essential questions about humanity, said West. These questions span generations, borders, and cultures, he added.
“Faulkner lived in white supremacist Mississippi. How could we connect with him? Because he’s wrestling with the same questions,” West said. “He’s just wrong in his politics, but can be insightful in how you come to terms with loss, how you come to terms with lament. Everybody wrestles with loss.”
To practice humanity requires vulnerability, self-reflection, and bravery, and education must go deeper than formal schooling—it needs to be a lifelong commitment to investigating big questions, West told students.
“Socrates was right, the unexamined life is not worth living. But to examine life is painful and requires courage to think for yourself,” he said. “Who are you, really? You’ve got to find your own voice. Your voice is like your fingerprint. It is uniquely, singularly yours, and you’ve got to fight for it because everybody grows up being socialized into an echo—just an extension of some silo of your culture, your family, your context. You’ve got to find out who you are.”
Milton Academy’s endowment performance is critical to the school’s current and long-term success. With a value of approximately $400 million the endowment contributed 18 percent of the school’s budget last year.
Recently, Milton Academy’s Board of Trustees discussed how the school’s endowment investment decisions are made and how environmental, social, and governance factors (also called ESG factors) are considered as part of the school’s investing philosophy. Following a review of university, college, and other independent school best practices, the Investment Committee recommended that the school add more specific environmental, social, and governance (ESG) guidance to the school’s Investment Policy Statement, which sets forth the guidelines the committee uses to manage the school’s endowment. These guidelines require that the committee collect ESG data annually, review existing and prospective investment managers’ holdings and firm practices, and incorporate that information to better inform investment decisions. The Trustees approved these changes in 2021, ensuring that ESG considerations play a larger role in the school’s investment process.
Overall, the incorporation of ESG factors into Milton’s investment policy marks an important step forward and places Milton in a leadership position among independent schools. It also demonstrates the school’s ongoing commitment to data-driven decision making, environmental sustainability, and diversity.
If it was mechanical or electrical, Kendall Chun tinkered with it: He restored vintage radios, brought failing home appliances back from the brink, built his own electric guitar. If something he made or fixed could bring happiness to others, even better.
Chun, the electrical engineer-turned-Milton computer programming teacher, always had multiple projects going at once. His joy of creating something by hand was infectious, leading him and a handful of students to the off-campus Milton Makerspace, a warehouse where they could work on builds that extended beyond classroom projects. Notable creations include last year’s augmented-reality sandbox, and an arcade cabinet with a functioning program that would allow users to play thousands of classic arcade games.
“It started with Mr. Chun,” said Austin Kinnealey ’23. “He loved arcade games and he was so enthusiastic about this idea, so it caught on. It’s something that everyone can enjoy.”
The students were making great progress on the arcade project—the cabinet had been designed and fabricated, then assembled, housing a computer that provides access to the games—when Chun fell ill in the spring from a recurrence of cancer. Chun, who was also the director of the school’s Outdoor Program, died on April 26.
One of the most difficult parts of the project remained incomplete. The students had to figure out how to wire the physical elements of the cabinet (such as buttons and controllers) to the program, so that users could effectively manipulate a wide variety of games. Without Chun’s engineering expertise, the electrical steps of the project would be significantly harder to figure out, but the students were undeterred. They had to finish it.
Some of the students working on the project, like Will Glick ’24, had some experience designing and 3-D printing things, but nothing on the scale of the arcade project. Chun introduced them to an I-PAC board, which serves as an interpreter between the mechanical aspects of a game—pressing buttons or moving joysticks—and the computer function, like making Super Mario jump on screen.
The students brought the arcade cabinet to the Schwarz Student Center in June, where they set it up for a trial run. It was unpainted—they were bandying about some design ideas—but it worked. An open-source program gives them free access to classic arcade games, and plans are in place to load some student-designed games in the future. After a return to the Makerspace and some additional design work, the plan is to install the cabinet permanently in the student center for anyone to play; a nice break from a busy day and a fitting tribute to a beloved teacher.
Finding and learning the software for the games themselves was not too difficult, said Tommy Wideman ’23, “because there’s such a big community online of people who love these games. We were able to follow their lead to set it up and make whatever little changes we needed to.”
Thomas Wideman, Tommy’s father and a friend of Chun’s, helps supervise projects in the Milton Makerspace, a site near campus where makers are able to develop and work on projects. The first project that Milton students worked on was the augmented-reality sandbox—now located in the Pritzker Science Center as a tribute to Chun—where users can manipulate the topography of the “sand” and create rain using an Xbox Kinect Sensor. With Chun’s help, the students learned Linux, the operating system they used to program the sandbox, to design, build, and operate it.
“Kendall’s students were really close to him,” Thomas Wideman said. “He just loved to make stuff, and getting the kids to make stuff. Someone said at the celebration of his life, ‘He was a man who had too many projects and not enough time.’ He could cover everything, from fabrication to electronics to hardware, and he was a go-to for students who wanted to create.”
To make the arcade cabinet, students used computer-aided design (CAD) to draft the plans. Dovi Hirsch, a woodworker at the Barney & Carey lumber company—and a climbing friend of Chun’s—donated his time to precisely cut the wood, following the students’ design.
Shortly before Chun died, Thomas Wideman told him that the students planned to press on with the project as a tribute; Chun was happy to hear it. His presence remains strong with the students, they said.
“He helped us with so many things,” Glick said. “But his greatest contribution, I think, was the energy and happiness he brought to being with us and creating something together. A meaningful part of this project was that we realized that it’s completely fine to spend a year doing something that doesn’t have a purpose beyond ‘it would be awesome to do.’ That, in itself, is not a frivolous thing.”
Alexandra (Alixe) H. Callen ’88 will begin service as our next Head of School on July 1, 2023. Below is the school’s June 8 announcement:
Alexandra (Alixe) H. Callen ’88 has been selected by the Board of Trustees to be Milton Academy’s 13th head of school, effective July 1, 2023.
Callen, a Milton graduate with extensive teaching and leadership experience in both public and independent schools, currently serves as the head of St. George’s School in Middletown, Rhode Island, a position she has held since 2017.
During her time at St. George’s, Callen and her team undertook a full-scale effort to review and renew the school’s curriculum to support interdisciplinary and connected learning, prioritizing strong academics and reflecting the latest research in education. In collaboration with the school’s most veteran faculty, Callen formed the Senior Teaching Cadre and has energized pedagogical and professional development through dedicated programs for teaching and learning. She led the development of St. George’s current strategic plan, campus master plan, and the school’s first diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plan. Her team also launched the Beloved Community Initiative, a program focused on the history of St. George’s and the experiences of students across diverse identities. Over the past five years, she has collaborated with the school’s advancement office to raise more than $20 million to support new capital projects, including two new turf fields and the restoration of the Memorial Schoolhouse. She has overseen all aspects of the school’s operation, including academics, student life, equity and inclusion, finance, advancement, admission, college counseling, and athletics.
“Alixe Callen is a leader and intellect who combines innate curiosity and careful listening with a strong desire for action and the courage to push for positive change,” said Claire Hughes Johnson ’90, chair of the Head of School Search Committee and incoming Board of Trustees president. “With her sound judgment and inclusive style, Dr. Callen’s enthusiasm for delivering a stellar environment for student learning will permeate all aspects of education and school life and will help her excel as the next leader of Milton Academy. She embraces the constantly developing advances in pedagogy and curriculum development and is unafraid to ask bold questions and seek positive change. As a Milton graduate, Alixe’s connection to and love for our school underpin her strong commitment to continuing our ongoing work to build the best community for Milton students today and in the future.”
“I am thrilled to be named Milton’s next head of school,” says Callen. “The opportunity to follow in the footsteps of my friend and mentor Todd Bland is a tremendous privilege. Thirty-five years ago, the Milton faculty challenged me to become a critical thinker, eloquent communicator, and inclusive and thoughtful leader. The lessons they imparted continue to inspire me every day. To be chosen as the School’s next leader is the highest professional honor I can imagine. Thank you to the search committee and the Board of Trustees for this incredible opportunity. I am humbled and delighted to be entrusted with the future of my alma mater.”
Milton Trustees unanimously supported the recommendation by the Head of School Search Committee to hire Callen, following a rigorous search that considered several highly qualified school leaders. Callen’s experience and ability to look into the future and navigate changes in pedagogy and education—along with her focus on student-centered curriculum development, collaborative approach to leadership, and enthusiasm for building community—were among the many positive attributes noted during the selection process. The Search Committee and Milton’s Trustees were additionally impressed with Callen’s motivation to champion Milton’s intentional, deeply held commitment to building a diverse and inclusive community that fosters an understanding of injustice and a common goal of fair, equitable practices for all.
As part of a long-planned succession strategy, Head of School Todd Bland will remain in his role at Milton through June 2023 and will work with Callen and Milton’s Board of Trustees to ensure a smooth transition of leadership as his tenure ends.
“Alixe is the right leader at the right time for Milton Academy,” said Board of Trustees President Lisa Donohue ’83. “She has proven to be a decisive administrator who values collaboration and she places students at the center of all her work. I have full confidence that Alixe will continue the excellent progress that Todd has made and continues to make at Milton and I look forward to a bright future for our school.”
“I have been delighted to know Alixe for the past 25 years and appreciate her as a tremendous friend and extraordinary fellow educator,” said Bland. “I could not imagine a better next head of school for Milton Academy than Alixe. She combines the very best qualities of heart and mind, and I am so excited to support her leadership at our wonderful institution. I look forward with great enthusiasm to working with Alixe over the next year to provide the smoothest transition possible for Milton.”
Callen received her bachelor’s degree in American civilization from Brown University, a master of arts in teaching degree from Brown, a master’s degree in administration, planning, and social policy from Harvard University, and her doctorate from Harvard, where she was elected to the Harvard Educational Review. Prior to St. George’s, Callen was the upper school director at Lakeside School in Seattle, the principal of Acton-Boxborough Regional High School, in Acton, Massachusetts—a 2,000-student public school consistently rated among the best in the state—and assistant principal of Needham High School, in Needham, Massachusetts. She has also held leadership, teaching, and research positions through the Harvard Graduate School of Education; the Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School in Devens, Massachusetts; the Sedona-Oak Creek Unified School District in Sedona, Arizona; and the Coalition of Essential Schools.