School leaders not only shape the educational landscape at area schools, they set the tone for school culture as well. In our new interview series, we’ll be introducing you to educational leaders at our partner institutions. We’re kicking things off with Karl Adler, head of school at St. James Academy in Monkton.
meet karl adler, head of school at st. james academy
Tell us a little about your life before becoming headmaster at St. James Academy. What drew you to the institution?
I grew up in a small beach town, Longport, New Jersey, on the Jersey Shore. Since it was such a small town, I headed off to a boarding school, The Hill School, in Pennsylvania for high school. My independent school experience, with its high standards and individualized attention, had a lasting influence on me. It influenced me as a student in high school, college and graduate school, and it shaped my career path as a teacher and school leader.
I started my career working as a high school English teacher, working at two single-sex private schools, and then I served as a middle school division head in a co-ed K-12 school. I have also supervised summer programs for Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth at a variety of college campuses in the United States as well as Hong Kong. In working in a variety of schools, religious and non-religious, co-ed and single sex, K-8, 6-12, and K-12, I have found that the co-ed K-8 model with a religious component is ideal. It’s the ideal environment for children to learn, grow and flourish into young people. I was drawn to St. James Academy because of these three important components.
What three words best describe St. James Academy?
Dynamic, nurturing and engaging. Dynamic, because we offer a variety of programs and initiatives that allow every student to find their niche, their passion. Nurturing, because our school environment is so inviting and safe that students develop meaningful relationships with their teachers and they are willing to take risks. Students will ask tough questions in class, try new activities or sports, and perform on stage in musicals. Engaging, because our teachers design their curriculum so that students connect with the material directly, and take ownership of their learning.
Take us through a typical (if there is such a thing!) “day in the life.”
Ha! I am not sure we have typical days — but yesterday began with a kindergarten class performing on the morning radio broadcast that our middle school students run. When they finished, students in the lower wing of our school lined up along the hallways and applauded as the kindergarten students walked back to their classroom. Later in the day, 3rd graders were working in the hallways on their inventions for the upcoming “Invention Convention.” The second graders were writing letters to their pen pals at an Amish school that they visited in the fall. Fourth graders were writing letters to their independent reading authors, seventh graders were working on their independent science research projects, using temperature probes. Many of our students spend time in our library during lunch because they have basketball practice and they have leads in the upcoming musical, “West Side Story.” I didn’t mention the flight project in the Maker Space lab . . . I could go on, but I think you get the picture. Dynamic, nurturing and engaging.
Five years from now, what does education look like at St. James?
At St. James Academy, we will continue to serve our mission, in a Christian environment, a program of excellence for the intellectual, social, emotional spiritual and physical development of our school community to promote a global perspective and intercultural understanding, to prepare each individual for life-long learning, and to live a creative and compassionate life worthy of a child of God and contributing member of our world.
Our school culture is one of reflection and innovation. Our teachers are some of the most dedicated and impressive teachers with whom I have worked. We have professional book clubs over the summer, our Board or Trustees and Parents’ Association sponsor mini-grants to develop new projects based on the recent research, and we spend our time in faculty meetings sharing new ideas with colleagues.
In the past five years, we have developed new curriculum in design thinking, adopted morning meeting techniques from Responsive Classroom and expanded our robust technology program to include more coding. Our teachers trained in multiple reading and math techniques, and we developing strategies to explicitly teach executive function skills.
If there was one book you would like all of your students to discover, what would it be? Why?
Wow, that question might be too difficult to answer. I hope that all students discover a book that they love, and return to read at different times in their lives. This could Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, or S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders or Sandra Cisneros The House on Mango Street or Tolkien’s The Hobbit. I am a life-long reader, and I love to discover new works and return to certain books. I find that when I return to particular books at different times in my life, I gain a deeper appreciation and understanding of the work.
How would you describe your leadership style? How do you inspire your staff? Your students?
I would describe myself as a collaborative leader who tries to allow different voices and new ideas to emerge. I try to make myself available to students, parents, and teachers. I am a quiet leader, who leads by listening. I try to incorporate the ideas of teachers, parents, and students into the fabric of the school community.
Taking off the Headmaster hat for a moment and putting on the parent one — why do you send your own children to St. James?
My older son’s role model is one of our school’s music teachers, and my younger son’s role model is the school librarian. The older one has found his voice within music, and the younger is discovering different worlds within the pages of books. My children have been cared for, loved, encouraged, pushed, and nurtured to become capable, confident young people with strong minds and good hearts.
One thing about you that might surprise people?
Having grown up on the Jersey shore this might not be surprising – – but I have been to 12 Bruce Springsteen concerts.
Interested in learning more about St. James Academy? Join them for their Winter Open House on Friday, January 20 at 8:30 am. Visitors will observe classrooms, tour the campus, meet faculty and students, and experience the community at St. James Academy.
Photography by Laura Black.