In early February, Sequoyah’s Interim Head of School, Mike McGill, sent out an email announcing that Rebecca Hong would be Sequoyah’s new Head of School starting July 1st, 2023. Hong was the third of the finalists to visit the K-8 and high school campuses. She is currently the Director of Institutional Equity at Spence School, a K-12 independent school in New York City.
Renee Dake Wilson, a Sequoyah parent and co-chair of the search committee for the new Head of School, described the beginning of the search process by noting, “We received 65 or 70 applications,” all for a job description created on the basis of Sequoyah’s needs and keeping in mind “the priorities of the community.” After narrowing down the list to nine semi-finalists, each was interviewed individually and “it became very clear which candidates were really a match for Sequoyah. It was like ‘Oh, these people get it and could totally do the job’ and that’s who became our finalists.”
Dake Wilson knew Hong was the right fit for Sequoyah based on her interactions with Sequoyah’s youngest students. Dake Wilson noted that “Jenny [Hazell], the teacher in the Bamboo Forest, said [that] when Rebecca came in[to] her classroom she got down on her knees and started talking to the kids instead of just looking at them. She engaged with kindergarteners.” Not only did Hong work well with the youngest members of the Sequoyah community, but “When she met with the administrators … we got stories of back and forth feedback and parsing of the issues rather than just ‘I hear what you’re saying’ and shutting up. She could talk about it and they would adjust and inform each other in a really deep, understanding level. Her communication skills were so superior, it was just wonderful to see.” Additionally, Dake Wilson observed, “Brian Eagen [Director of Field Studies] talked about how [Rebecca] related to his program of outdoor education and experiential learning [in a way] that was comfortable and seemed like she got it from the beginning. So over and over again, we saw examples with sophisticated conversations with parents, fun times with students, idea swapping with administrators … It was someone who we could see…getting our community and being able to have a dialogue with it.”
Hong visited campus in late January, where she met with students, faculty, parents, administrators, and the Board of Trustees and blew everyone away with her enthusiasm. In an interview for this article, that enthusiasm was on full display. “I’m so thrilled … to be coming,” was the first thing she said. “It’s a school that has an incredible mission-driven focus, and it’s a school where the adults and the kids alike have all chosen really actively to be there.…When I came to campus I found that…you get a real sense of joy and commitment to the place and a stewardship of the place from people.”
Hong was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in rural Vermont so she was really excited about Sequoyah’s field studies program. She earned her undergraduate degree in English and American Literature at Stanford. She then earned a master’s degree and doctorate in Comparative Literature at Cornell. She worked as an assistant professor at the University of Michigan and left to work in restaurants for five to six years before finding her way back to education because she missed kids and teaching.
Hong had countless nice things to say about Sequoyah, especially the teachers who she called out as ”creative and open and … incredible people,” but the one thing that she kept coming back to was the community as a whole. “That sense of community is so strong and the sense that you all can do something big in the world and you have the power and the ability to work with other people to do that, I think that’s so great … it makes me feel like it’s a place where I’ll have a lot of partners in taking care of the school and being in service to the school.”
From her visits to Sequoyah’s campuses, Hong saw “a hunger for growth from many people in the community, to deepen what’s happening in the high school and to also grow the numbers of the high school, to deepen our support and care for the teachers and the administrators and the staff that are there, to continue to think about what the new circumstances of our world will mean for what students should be able to do and learn, [and to foster] a constant sense of evolving and ambitious curriculum for that.”
Throughout the interview Hong expressed how genuinely excited she is to be coming to work in this community alongside both faculty and students across the entire K-12. She said, “Maybe the thing I’m most excited for… is getting to know the people. I really like a lot of the people that I met in my four days there. It’s a small enough community that I feel like I can get to know the students and get to know the adults in the community…I love educators and I love students who are learning.”
When Hong gets to Pasadena she’s looking forward to going on “many beautiful hikes and walks” as well as getting a dog. Hong grew up with a golden retriever and her sister has two border collies. She notes, however, that “I have to do a little bit of research for a dog that’s chill enough so I can do my job next year.”
Ninth and tenth graders will be around for her direction during their junior and senior years, so they should be looking forward to working alongside such a qualified and friendly person. Be sure to say hi when the time comes!