News that is open to the public.
A letter from the Ancona School Board of Trustees
Dear Ancona Community,
On behalf of the Search Committee and the Ancona School Board of Trustees, we are thrilled to announce that Nancy Nassr has been chosen as Ancona’s next Head of School. We believe Nancy’s expertise in teaching and learning, her lifelong commitment to social justice and diversity, and her exceptional results this year as interim Head of School make her the ideal person to lead Ancona into our next chapter.
For 55 years, Ancona has been dedicated to diversity in both our community and our curriculum. As a school, we are committed to providing the highest quality progressive education rooted in social justice that empowers our students’ voices. We were thrilled when our world-wide search for our new leader yielded three exceptional finalist candidates. After a rigorous process (which involved extensively interacting with all three), we are confident that Nancy embodies Ancona’s values and can best help us continue to build on our legacy. See below for a more detailed discussion of the process.
Nancy has been an educator for over 15 years: as a classroom teacher, instructional coach, and school leader. Nancy joined the Ancona community in 2016 as Assistant Head of School, and has served as Ancona’s Interim Head of School since August, 2017. In her short time as interim, Nancy has worked with the school’s administration to improve our enrollment by all early measures, strengthen our understanding of the school’s financial picture, and to build a climate of both professionalism and joy. She also reimagined the school’s leadership structure, with a goal of empowering teachers and increasing collaboration. She is leading the implementation of various systems and protocols for improved performance, including a new Student Information System for streamlined communications. The midyear faculty and staff survey showed overwhelming agreement that the School is headed in the right direction under Nancy’s leadership.
Before Ancona, Nancy served as Associate Director of Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS) Chicago Quest; prior to that, she spent over ten years teaching humanities to middle and high school students. She earned an M.A. in Educational Leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University and a B.A. in the Teaching of English at the University of Illinois, Chicago.
Nancy shares: “To be selected as Ancona’s new Head of School is a great honor, and even greater responsibility. There are no words that would be sufficient enough to describe the overwhelming pride I feel each day I enter our school to work alongside our brilliant educators and staff members, serving our incredible students and their families. For all of us here at Ancona, whether families or employees, we have a choice—a choice to attend school here, a choice to work here, and a choice to stay here. The fact that we each choose this school, in this place, and in this moment in time is a reflection of what I hope to be a fundamental tie that binds us all—the belief that children, if provided with the right setting and supports, can change the world. To truly educate a child is to provide them with choices in how they learn, how they relate to the world and even how they understand themselves. At Ancona this is what we aspire to do everyday. I graciously accept the prodigious task of leading Ancona in its next iteration—cultivating the rich legacies that came before me, and the ones we will create together. Thank you for this opportunity. I hope that we will find and create avenues for thoughtful collaboration and growth as we embark on this journey together. After all, we are each a beautiful thread in the tapestry of this great institution.”
Nancy was born in Egypt and immigrated with her family to the United States as a child. “In my household, we were raised with the belief that sound character and education were fundamental to our existence as human beings. As a practicing Muslim, social justice is a concept that underlies all of our practices as a family. Raising my two beautiful multiracial boys, I am committed to cultivating strong individuals who understand that they too have a responsibility to the people and world around them.”
In her free time, Nancy enjoys spending time with her family and friends. She is an avid hiker, reader (post-apocalyptic novels are her current favorites), and photographer. Nancy lived in Hyde Park for many years. Her sons were young ones when they lived here, so she is very familiar with all the toddler hot spots. She spends her weekends traveling across the tristate area for her sons’ soccer games.
Ancona Board Chair Lara Moynihan says: “Our commitment to the pursuit and practice of cultivating diversity within our community made Nancy, an accomplished Muslim woman of color, an outstanding choice that reflects who we are and what we stand for. With over 80% of heads of independent schools being white, and 66% being men, we are thrilled to have this opportunity to reflect diversity in our leadership. The Board of Trustees heard from many members of the search committee that the search afforded them an opportunity to sit with Nancy and have authentic and inspiring conversations about leading Ancona. They shared with us that everyone in the community should have that opportunity because Nancy’s virtues of integrity, commitment, and self-reflection truly set her apart. As Nancy moves forward in her role as Ancona’s Head of School, she looks forward to hearing from and sharing with all members of our community who afford her that opportunity.”
About our process:
The Head of School search process was extensive and international in scope. The Search Committee was tasked with assessing and refining the Head of School job description, recruiting applicants, creating a vetting process specifically designed to identify candidates whose skills matched the core competencies we identified as essential for this role, identifying a slate of top candidates for the position, leading the community in engaging with the finalists, and making a final recommendation to the Ancona Board of Trustees. The fourteen search committee members represented the Ancona faculty, staff, parent, and alumni parent communities. Each member was chosen based on their expertise in the areas of education, social justice, and/or executive search.
The Search Committee reviewed over 50 applications for the position. They narrowed down the exemplary pool of candidates to 18 first-round candidates, seven semi-finalists, and finally three finalist candidates. After compiling feedback from the student, parent, faculty, staff, alumni, and alumni parent communities, reviewing each candidate’s performance during the finalist interviews, and engaging in thoughtful conversations with the candidates’ references, the Search Committee presented their findings to the Board of Trustees. Ultimately, the Board determined that Nancy’s training, experience, skill set, and passions make her the best candidate for the role.
Throughout the process, the Search Committee welcomed and encouraged input from stakeholders across the Ancona community in a variety of ways, including: surveys; two town meeting events; extensive discussion with faculty and staff; dialogues with students; and a community forum with the finalist candidates. We are so excited that well over 200 members of the community participated in this process. Your contributions were incredibly valuable in making this important decision.
The Head of School Search Committee was led by co-chairs, and Ancona parents, Monica Santana Rosen and Rachel Waldron. Monica, CEO of Alma Advisory Group, an education leadership search and development firm, says: “As co-chair of the Head of School Search Committee, I understood the effort before us as we launched this search. I came into the process ready to find the best-qualified candidate for our school. As someone who focuses on school leadership everyday in my work life, I feel so confident in the decision to offer the Head of School position to Nancy. At every step of the process, Nancy demonstrated an exceptional ability to lead a strong educational program, to help our faculty learn and grow, and to inspire both current and prospective families. I look forward to getting to see Nancy lead our school into the next stage of its development, while protecting those aspects of our culture and progressive education model that make our school such a special place.”
Thank you to the Search Committee for their tireless work to ensure a thorough and equitable search process and to you, our wonderful community, for your guidance and insight throughout the search. Please reach out via email at gro.l1540333275oohcs1540333275anocn1540333275a@hcr1540333275aesan1540333275ocna1540333275 if you have any questions or feedback.
The Ancona School Board of Trustees
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Elie Wiesel
Please join the Ancona born upstander group, So You Want to Be a Superhero, as we dive into a 3-part session this fall exploring issues of injustice and harm, and empower participants with concrete tools for taking action. Join Jenny Mannis, Carla Kupe-Arion, Gail Stern, and Nancy Nassr as they present participants with contextualized scenarios intended to engage attendees in thoughtful dialogue about what we can do when faced with these challenges. We will provide participants with a variety of formats for exploring issues of race, religion, gender and sexual orientation and tools for addressing these topics with friends, family co-workers and strangers.
To prepare for the upcoming workshops the organizers would like participants to sign-up for all three sessions in advance as each session will build upon the next. As a basis for our work together, we will be using the text Strengths Finder 2.0. The books are included in the registration fee and will be distributed in advance. We request that participants take the assessment before our first session.. Strengths Finder was developed by Dr. Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D. along with Tom Rath and a team of scientists at Gallup to uncover the oftentimes hidden strengths we all possess. We will use this book as a basis for leveraging our collective strengths in working to unpack these challenging topics, utilizing our natural strengths as a fundamental tool for empowerment.
When: Sunday, October 1, 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM; Saturday, November 4, 2:00 PM – 5:00 PM; and Sunday, December 3, 2:00 – 5:00 PM. If you have a scheduling issue, please reach out. We may be able to accommodate some conflicts.
Where: Each session will be located at The Ancona School with childcare and refreshments being provided.
Cost: $30 inclusive for all three sessions. Financial assistance is available for individuals requiring support. This help will be kept completely confidential as we do not want finances to prevent anyone from attending. Please reach out to any of the organizers above to request assistance.
Materials Needed: Strengths Finder 2.0 (This book can be purchased on Amazon and will come with a code to complete the personality assessment). If you cannot purchase your own copy, one can be purchased on your behalf.
Registration is now closed!
Fiona Farrahi and I started on the same day in July six years ago, and we will be leaving on the same day in July this year. That makes us coeval (with an a!). It is only fitting that I should be the one to sing her praises as we prepare to send her off.
Yes, it is sad but true: Fiona has her ticket in hand and will soon be packing her bags, but before I tell you her destination, I want to reflect on all the great things Fiona has done for Ancona over the past six years.
We have to go back to our pre-Aviator days to start this tale, back to Fiona’s key role in rolling out the school’s award-winning rebranding (her hand was in the butterfly idea). Fiona was instrumental in making sure our image aligned with our mission, and that it enhanced our 50th anniversary celebration. Then she took that brand and painted the town red (and yellow). Besides utilizing traditional print media, Fiona expanded Ancona’s reach in the market by exponentially leveraging digital media and even created Ancona’s first social media program and public social profile. We are the Aviators today because Fiona coordinated a poll of our students to choose a mascot for the school. True to the spirit of Ancona, she put the controls in their hands, and watched them take off. (more…)
From Spanish class to salsa, from socio-economics to soccer, Ancona 8th graders experienced Mexico in many authentic ways on their week-long Spanish-language immersion trip to Oaxaca. By staying with host families and by engaging with local business owners and students, our 8th graders had many opportunities to experience the culture of Oaxaca and to practice their Spanish language skills in real-world settings.
The students began each morning with a two-hour Spanish language class at the Instituto Cultural de Oaxaca. In the afternoons, they went on various excursions to museums such as the Museo Rufino Tamayo, where the director himself gave them a detailed and impassioned tour of the incredible collection of pre-Columbian artifacts artistically displayed, and the The Museum of Oaxacan Cultures, housed in the beautiful cloister adjoining the Templo de Santo Domingo and surrounded by a botanic garden, which includes a huge hoard of gold and jade Mixtec treasures unearthed at nearby Monte Albán.
Monte Albán itself was one of the destinations to which we traveled on longer excursions away from the city. This ancient ruin was the seat of Zapotec culture for nearly 1000 years and is one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica. After a guided tour, students tested their stamina by climbing the 42 steep steps of the south temple mound as many as twenty times (a new Ancona record!). We also visited the second most important Zapotec ruin in Oaxaca at Mitla (originally Mictlán), which is unique for its elaborate and intricate mosaic fretwork and geometric designs that cover the tombs in this site dedicated to the underworld, to which our 8th graders excitedly descended to see the small tombs for themselves.
We also visited the largest tree in the world–largest in circumference, that is. The 2,000-year-old cypress in Tule is 52 meters in girth. It supposedly takes 23 adults to reach all the way around this tree trunk–though we did not try it ourselves.
Another natural element students got to immerse themselves in (literally) is the hot springs at Hierve el Agua in the Sierra Madre del Oaxaca mountain range. These springs have created waterfall-like formations over the many centuries they have been depositing minerals where they bubble (“boil”) out of the mountainside.
One of the most engaging experiences of the trip to Mexico was the opportunity to visit and learn about a number of Oaxacan women who had started businesses with microloans from the organization Fundación En Via.
Students learned about the businesses, such as cheese- and tortilla-making and even a beauty salon, that these women started up with the interest-free loans. In the village of Teotitlán del Valle, they got to observe and even try their hands at carding and spinning wool and preparing dyes for beautiful, hand-made textiles. The guides from the organization were very impressed with the sophisticated questions our 8th graders asked and the degree of interest they showed in the cultural and economic aspects of the program. “You can always tell an Ancona student . . .”
When we asked the students what their most meaningful experience was on this trip, many of them talked about the extraordinary exchanges they had with the school children they met. Twice they sat together to talk and learn about each other, the “intercambio,”
and then they all played a game of soccer together–with mixed teams that they self-selected. Everyone was a winner that day! This, and the other opportunities to interact with the people of Oaxaca, at home with the families, with the school children, and with the local business owners–and just the people they met on the Zócalo (the town square), are what make this stay in Mexico so different from a tourist trip; it allows our kids to be truly open to another culture and other perspectives. This trip is a true culmination of all the work in speaking, reading, and writing Spanish, the creative problem-solving and critical thinking, and the commitment to social justice our 8th grade students have been engaged in at Ancona for over a decade. It is truly a transformational experience.
To see more pictures and videos of our 8th grade students in Mexico, please visit My Classrooms.
Tips to Help Your Student Succeed: Introduction to Executive Function Skills with Marydee Sklar
Please join us for an enlightening evening with educator, author and national speaker, Marydee Sklar. She is looking forward to sharing how the brain is behind a student’s struggles with time management and organization. Learn how her simple tips can help you to set up success for your student and your entire family.
Educators, parents, community members and students in seventh grade or higher are welcome to attend this free education event.
Please Register for Tips to Help Your Student Succeed with Marydee Sklar
Our community of parents, supporters and friends (including so many of you) have made this grand vision come to life, including Ancona parents Sarah Dunn and Martin Felsen of UrbanLab (and this year’s recipients of the Harelik Award), project managers Kathleen Golomb and Denise Davis of the University of Chicago, and Bonnie Wishne, our stalwart Head of SchoolEmerita. Ancona staff and board members continue their excellent support and investment in this project, too: Trustees Chip Bamberger and Lara Moynihan; Director of Finance and Operations, Reggie Walker; Facilities Manager, Fred Rozenich; and Assistant Director of Institutional Advancement, Angie Martinez.
Ancona welcomes Keya Graves to the External Affairs office as the new Enrollment and Outreach Manager. Keya is no stranger to independent schools as she spent the last six years working in Admissions and Information Management at Sacred Heart. Keya will be joining the staff in July and is excited to work with the committed families who support everything Ancona!
Outside of Admissions, Keya loves spending time with her two daughters, cross-fit training, baking, reading and watching really scary movies. She enjoys photography and is committed to empowering women and girls. She is a lifelong member of Girl Scouts and has been an active member for 30 years. She maintains that she is excited to a part of a school that is committed to all children.