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. In the second installment of this series, meet Penny Evins, head of school at St. Paul’s School for Girls in Brooklandville.
penny evins, st. paul’s school for girls
Tell us a little bit about life before coming to SPSG.
Prior to this wonderful opportunity, my family lived in New Orleans, Louisiana. We have two children, and they were at a different developmental stage when we lived there. So, rather than playing on jungle gyms or in the jogging stroller, they now enjoy going to local events and at times running with us on the beautiful campus and surrounding trails. Some things that are still a part of our daily routines are walking to work/school, enjoying nature in our community, and getting to know our neighbors and surrounding community members.
In your welcome letter on the SPSG website, you write “We want our girls to recognize and harness the power of asking questions. We want our girls to feel comfortable with uncertainty, making mistakes, and taking healthy risks.” How does the education environment at SPSG support that?
At SPSG, the outstanding faculty and staff members advise and release the potential within each of our bold and courageous Gators. We regularly model taking healthy risks and discuss life in accessible terms within both small and large groups. The education at SPSG is, by nature, relevant to our current world. The joyful atmosphere allows our girls to relax into their best selves, rather than feeling overly pressured to be “perfect.” We have fun and engage in both the messy and tidy aspects of life. We believe in the power of authentic sharing and intentionally foster opportunities for our girls to lead. The students see themselves in each other and in their mentors.
What three words best describe SPSG?
Joyful, Challenging, Grateful. Joyful, because we foster a community that feels like home for our girls, our faculty, and our staff. You won’t go a day without hearing laughter throughout the hallways and classrooms and witnessing smiles on student faces. Challenging, because we equip our girls with an ethical and academic education, developing confident young women who are ready to take on what matters most – from physics to philosophy and medicine to management. Grateful, because we ensure that our girls are given opportunities and connections for life. Our alumnae regularly return to campus to share their experiences with current students, reconnect with faculty and staff, and come “home” to SPSG.
Why does the philosophy of single gender education resonate with you?
On our campus, we see boys and girls interacting daily and do not foster a bubble of single gender education; however, we know that girls learn best when they feel safe, valued, challenged, and understood. As such, seeing themselves in every leadership position held within SPSG allows them to take healthy risks and ask questions, as well as truly understand and respectfully challenge preconceived notions. Our students feel at home here; sharing time with their “brothers” from St. Paul’s School allows our students to experience the best of both worlds, equipping them for life beyond a single gender education.
Take us through a typical ‘day in the life.’ (If there is such a thing!)
Well, I am up earlier than I like to admit to exercise and interact with my family before heading up the hill (we live on the St. Paul’s Schools’ campus) to begin the day at SPSG. Most mornings, you’ll find me on the carpool circle, greeting our community members – one of my favorite moments of the day. Four out of five mornings a week, our school begins with an all-school assembly or Chapel. I hold the door and greet students, faculty, and staff with a morning salutation. I take in the sights and sounds of my colleagues chatting with students about their recent games, performances, hardships, or victories. Thereafter, I find my seat in the audience and have the privilege of listening to our girls share that which matters to them. I have the luxury of learning from their leadership. I spend time in conversations all day long. My office is in the middle of the action, the literal center of SPSG, and I find myself dipping into the lives of the girls when I need a pick me up or a shift in focus. They consistently center me and bring me sheer joy. My administrative assistant has said she wants to put a bell on me, as I tend to drift, and finding me is a “full time job,” but as I said, I am drawn to the students and, subsequently, don’t live by my schedule as much as the clock would like. My dog, Ansley, comes to school with me most days, and I delight in seeing the girls interact with her as she greets them.
I try to stand at my desk when emailing and do my best to keep up with all communications. I write many notes for reasons happy, sad, and otherwise. I speak with prospective families about this special place, and I catch up with alumnae who share how their lives of “full living,” as stated in our school song, are rewarding them and improving our world. I meet with our devoted and talented trustees, community volunteers, and terrific parent partners. We all pull in the same direction to achieve our mission and deliver the best experience possible for our students.
At some point, I walk down the hill to my incredible teammate, my husband, who is a lifelong educator, administrator, and coach. I am greeted by two very happy children, a son and a daughter, both in middle school at their respective schools, SPSG and St. Paul’s. I remind them to eat their veggies and fruit, wash their hands, do their homework, and eat a home cooked meal. When it is a great day, I am able to cook! I go to bed early, count my blessings, and ready for the next early morning.
How would you describe your leadership style? How do you inspire your staff? Your students?
Visible, emotionally and physically present, personable, transparent, and tireless. I close loops and encourage other to do the same. I inspire the staff by working as hard and with as much heart as I can. The same goes for the students. They know I care and they know I am always “there.” I also like to share humor and my own less-than-perfect self, giving us all permission to make mistakes and embrace “going for it.” Perfection is not the goal.
Take the ‘head of school’ hat off, and put the ‘parent’ hat on: why do you send your own daughter to St. Paul’s School for Girls?
The community at SPSG cares for the heart and mind of our daughter. She feels the loving support and high standards of the faculty and staff here on a daily basis. As such, she is becoming a better version of herself for them, and we, as parents, are able to partner with them in her growth. She is not a morning person, but she delights in coming to SPSG every day. This is a part of the school’s culture: our girls come in the door happy and grateful.
What is one experience you hope all students have while at SPSG?
I hope that all of our students are able to try something new, whether in the classroom, on the stage, or on the field, and learn that success found through hard work and effort is the sweetest of rewards.
Five years from now, what does education look like at SPSG?
We will always emphasize relationships at the core of our curriculum. However, our interdisciplinary and experiential learning initiatives are in sync with our mission, and the girls are constantly hungry for more “learning through doing.” As such, we will continue to harness this enthusiasm and grow such initiatives.
You have entirely free weekend with the family. How do you spend it?
We enjoy a big breakfast prepared by my husband while he and I enjoy our strong cup of coffee, read printed papers, clean things up around the house, and head outdoors. We are on foot – walking, running, enjoying nature, perhaps seeing something new. We are sharing stories of the past, laughing, having heated conversations, shopping for fresh ingredients for a Mom-cooked meal, watching a family movie, calling loved ones, having quiet time, sleeping as long as we like, playing with the pets, helping those less fortunate, and having family time. My two sisters and I talk all the time and, as such, they are certainly a part of this free weekend, if not in person, with several phone calls throughout. We say a blessing when together at the table, and there are usually some precious moments, shares, and a bit of sibling giggle time. We call them “messy blessings” and without a doubt, my family keeps me grounded and humble. We are a very close family of four and call ourselves “Team Evins.”
I would not be completely honest if I didn’t claim that I would be working, because even a free weekend involves SPSG. Being a head of school is a way of life, and it is a privilege to claim SPSG and this community as a part of mine.