By Jack Krieger
From 1999 until 2003, Dr. Jerry Larson was the Head of Cheshire Academy. Under his supervision, Cheshire Academy saw a lot of positive change in the form of a new residence hall and headmaster’s house. Under Dr. Larson’s leadership, renovations to the Richmond Health Center and the opening of the John J. White Science and Technology Center took place.
He returned to the Academy in 2012 to resume his tenure as head. During his time away, the school has seen many changes, both physically and academically. Recently I had the chance to sit down with him to discuss some of these changes and his plans as far as keeping CA moving in the right direction.
How is Cheshire Academy different now from when you were headmaster previously?
More people … more staff. I think technology is different, with the portal and the new learning management system. I think the stakes are higher now than they were 15 years ago. I mean the college process is crazy now, not that it wasn’t crazy back then, but it just seems more involved now. Obviously Simosa Field is a huge difference. There’s more faculty housing, but the kids are basically the same.
What are your views on the International Baccalaureate program here, and how do you think we have integrated it along with our other academic programs?
Well, my perspective is that the IB program was brought in as an adjunct to the advanced placement (A.P.) program, and to help the school get a global focus. I think that was probably not the smartest way to bring it in. IB is an inclusive program and last year we saw that people were trying the be exclusive with it; either you were all diploma or nothing, and now we are really encouraging students just to take one class as well as go for the full diploma. I learned, from talking to students, that the way the class is run tends to be more engaging and I think that it just fits with who we are as a school.
What are a few of the changes that you as the headmaster are currently working on?
One of the things we need to work on is to evolve the way teaching and learning is happening. Hopefully you have noticed a difference in the use of the portal. We also have the use of online grades now so advisors can see grades in real time. I think we need to go more with an emphasis on how we use technology in learning, using a blended classroom where you have some lessons online as well as the time spent in class. Digital media is also an area of focus, providing students the opportunity to really create something digitally, not just a PowerPoint, but beyond that with videos and such. I’d also like to try and find more ways to create time in the schedule, but I think the most important thing is progressing within the classroom, and getting people connected, and the students more engaged.
On a similar note, where do you think Cheshire Academy needs to improve, and how are we working to make sure those areas are focused on?
I think our academic program needs to continually improve, and be up on current learning styles. We need to work to integrate today’s technology into the classroom. Basically, how can we enrich the learning experience so that it’s not just a “stand-and-deliver” program? I think we do a really good job with that because of classroom discussions. I think our admissions office needs to improve; I would like to see us admit students earlier. There are 31 different boarding schools in Connecticut, so how we position ourselves in that marketplace is important. That’s critical work; that’s probably the most important work. I do think a diverse community is good but you have to manage that diversity and understand that diversity. I would say we’re here to create an American educational system for all students and it shouldn’t be divided. It needs to focus on getting all students ready for college. Alumni Development is another area that could use improving. Obviously this is a school that has a lot of alumni, yet they aren’t as engaged as we would like them to be. We are constantly trying to come up with new programs to get the involvement we are looking for and take the time to continually connect people with what we [are] doing as a school.