When Maureen Walsh was young, she was a figure skater. As she got a little older, she switched to hockey.
“Figure skaters were always the really good hockey players because we could skate backwards so well,” she says. That kind of adaptability has helped her throughout her career as an educator, administrator and coach. (It’s likely her ability to see what’s happening behind her, honed through all that backwards skating, came in handy, as well.)
During her career in education, Walsh has landed in spots all over the northeast. As of this fall, she’s taken on a new challenge – as Interim Head at St. James Academy, a coed independent school for children in kindergarten through 8th grade, located in Monkton.
Prior to taking the reins at St. James, Walsh spent 15 years as the head of the Bryn Mawr School, where she was also an ice hockey coach. Before that, she was in New York City, where she ran a lower school and was an admissions director. At points during her career, she has also taught in boarding school and worked in admissions at Williams College.
“I’ve kind of done the whole thing,” she laughs. “In in terms of admissions, I’ve interviewed 18- month old children up through college applicants. That’s a wide range!”
Before she set foot on campus, Walsh was already familiar with St. James and its students; that familiarity made the decision to step into the Interim Head role an easy one.
“From my role at Bryn Mawr, I’ve known St. James students very well, so when the opportunity popped up, it was very appealing to serve the school,” she said.
The students weren’t the only draw. “We have a lot of wonderful teachers and great administrators,” she said, explaining that one of the things she’s enjoying most about her new position is having the opportunity to mentor some of the younger staff. “Late in your career, one of the things you like to do is help others develop their craft, so I’m eager to do that.”
Walsh is quick to point out that St. James has a lot to offer students and their families, from academics to a gorgeous campus to a values-oriented approach to education.
Much of the school’s strength lies with its people and its individual student focus, which is supported by a 7:1 student-teacher ratio, she says. “Because we’re such a small school, we have small classes and can address the individual student’s learning approach,” she explains. “Lower elementary school is all about learning to read and to work in the languages of reading and writing and math.
“We’re using the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme in grades 6 – 8, which is a really robust curriculum that not only helps expose our students to a more global view of the world, but also has to do with service and individual learning.”
Walsh’s plans for St. James focus on developing programs that help strengthen resources; that includes a new construction project on the school’s beautiful, 89-acre campus.
“We are planning to build a new sports pavilion this year, which we will also use as an outdoor teaching location. Our campus is just so drop-dead gorgeous; this provides us a really nice spot.”
She also has plans to enhance the existing school community and tighten the school’s bonds to the entire region; she frequently offers reminders that St. James is not just a neighborhood school for those in the Monkton area.
Part of St. James’ mission involves not just educating the child academically, but also helping them grow up to be responsible, confident and respectful young adults.
Walsh is especially proud of the school’s “approach to developing our kids’ sense of self, with some old-fashioned values like courtesy and a respectful approach to daily life at school.” During the school day, they talk about manners – right down to how to shake hands. And, as St. James is the parish school for the Episcopalian church of the same name, there is a weekly chapel service.
“Most of our students are probably not Episcopalian,” she points out. “But there is a moral grounding at the school – we’re pretty clear about what our values are and I think they are universal values. We believe in civility and we talk about it.”
Parents within the St. James community value character, she says, and the school makes a focus on character a priority.
St. James is hosting a series of parent coffee seminars focused on topics related to parenting. The first of these events takes place October 18 at 9:30 a.m. The subject is “Character Matters: Raising Your Child for the Ultimate Success” – it will focus on those values that are so important to the school community and how to implement them as parents.
For Walsh, watching students grow, both academically and as people, is a major reward.
“It’s such a great professional life to watch kids growing up and take part in their growing up to become well-formed, well-spoken and confident young men and women,” she says. “To play some part in that – who would want to do anything else?”
St. James Academy, 3100 Monkton Road, Monkton, MD 2111. For more information about St. James Academy, visit www.saintjamesacademy.org or call 410-568-7563. To learn more about the October 18 parent coffee event “Character Matters: Raising Your Child for the Ultimate Success,” visit www.saintjamesacademy.org/parentcoffee