Head of School Crystal Land Retiring in June of 2022

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Karishma Bhargava, Section Editor

On Jan. 11, 2020, Head of School Crystal Land announced her retirement. After working for 32 years at the School and acting as Head of School for the past seven years, she said in a letter to the entire Head-Royce community that she will be leaving in June of 2022.

In Land’s letter, she detailed some of the tasks she took on, including the Bridge to 2022 Strategic Plan and the Master Plan for the South Campus. In reflecting on her time at the School she described her reason for staying for so long: “I stayed because of my personal alignment with [the School’s] mission of academic excellence, equity, and civic engagement, because of the inspirational students I have taught and encountered at every step of the way, and because of a professional community culture that promotes introspection, connection, and growth.” 

When asked what the reasons for retirement were, Land noted there were many, saying, “I’ll be turning 60, and I always wanted to make sure I saved time for other things.” She’s interested in other kinds of work and noted that her current role is “wonderful, but pretty all-consuming.” Considering these things, she made the decision and ultimately hopes to put her skills to the possibility of mentoring women leaders, coaching heads of school, writing, and trying to be forward-thinking in the educational realm.

We sat down with Land to discuss the beginnings of her career, what she is planning for the future, and everything in between. 

 

Q: Could you give a brief overview of your roles during your time at the School?

A:  “I started when I was 27 years old – I came here in 1989-90. Right out of graduate school in education, I was planning to be a public school teacher and had ended up working at another private school. I realized I really appreciated the independent school perspective, and I applied to Head-Royce. I started working in publications, alumni relations, and teaching. I taught high school English for well over a decade into the early 2000s, and I was the Expos advisor for seven years. I was also a 10th and 11th-grade dean as well as English department chair. Around 2000, I became the admissions director for a couple of years, and I moved to the role of the academic dean. Eventually, I became the Assistant Head of School working under [former Head of School] Paul Chapman. While I took a leave of absence in 2014, they needed an interim head, and I came back. And a year later, I transitioned into Head of School.” 

 

Q: Did you always picture yourself becoming the Head of School, or is it a role that you eventually progressed into?

A: “I was the assistant head for 12 years, and I thought that it was a great job to be number two because I had to deal with the big problems, but I didn’t have to deal with the really big problems. My role included working on hiring and a lot of academic programs…Heads of school, on the other hand, have to do things like develop master plans, run fundraising, and work with the business office on finances. Honestly, as a woman, I probably sold myself short thinking that I could not take on those other business-oriented external tasks as effectively. And I also sold myself short thinking I wouldn’t like them. When I came back as interim head, I realized that I really liked being in charge. I have really learned a lot and enjoyed thinking about real estate development (e.g. south campus). I’ve also enjoyed the business side of the school, which includes finances, compensation, tuition, and budgeting. The lesson I learned was that if you give yourself permission to not see yourself in a stereotype box, like ‘English teacher’ or ‘administrator’, I might have seen myself as a head of school before I started six or seven years ago.”

 

Q: What aspects of your role motivate you the most? 

A: “When I came back in 2015, the board asked me to run a Strategic Plan process for the school. I find this to be one of the most important and interesting roles as head of school – you set the school’s direction. For example, one of the initiatives is Civic Engagement. Before the Strategic Plan, Ms. Feidelman wasn’t running the CCE; instead, we had community service hours by division but no larger initiative. Essentially, the Strategic Plan drives what we work on every year…it keeps everybody who works here on the same path more or less, rather than improvising year by year.” [See the Strategic Plan here.]

 

Q: In creating these projects, specifically the Master Plan, what do you have to say to students who are skeptical about this project (funds, construction, etc.)?

A: “I hope the South Campus Master Plan will be part of my (and the board’s) legacy as it’s a truly transformational project for all of our students, K-12. The first phase is all about providing expanded outdoor green space and exciting STEM/Maker/Design building opportunities, just to cite a few of the highlights. I can visualize teachers holding classes in the outdoor spaces, students building and designing in the maker and stem spaces, and our larger community connecting in new spaces. It’s still a dream, but we are working through the city of Oakland for approval. We hope to hold a ground-breaking before I retire and open up phase I in the 2022-23 school year. For those who are skeptical about funding, the funding for the project is coming from donors who are specifically interested in supporting this project (it’s not from any tuition dollars). This is all about the long view and creating spaces for students and learning for the future of Head-Royce. I think we are being “good ancestors” by building this campus. I can’t wait to see it in action.”

 

Q: Is there anything that you regret not doing or wish you did differently?

A: “Every day there are things I wish I did differently. Probably, though, when I came back as Head of School, I didn’t have as much time with students…and I really miss teaching. I certainly have touchpoints, but there is nothing like teaching. I have co-taught, but it is really tough with my schedule. So, ultimately, more time with kids.” 

 

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you faced as Head of School?

A: “You’re living through one of them. Try reopening a school in the middle of a pandemic. There were a lot of faculty concerns about coming back to school, there were a lot of parents who desperately wanted their kids to come back to school, there are other people who continue to be nervous that school is open, so it’s been a good challenge. Another big challenge has been the racial reckoning in the past year and more. Hearing students at the assembly a year ago talk about the painful experiences they have had at Head-Royce – that was painfully devastating. It doesn’t mean I did all those things, but it means that I was part of a school that caused harm. And I and my fellow administrators and teachers have the ability to change that, so I wish we did more sooner. 

 

Q: What is one of your favorite memories during your time at HRS?

A: “I loved my years of teaching Women’s Lit, and I also loved the fallouts to the American River. I used to always go with Juniors or Seniors, and by the time they are that age, students seem to really know themselves and the school. I found those moments together, especially when seniors are reflecting on their four to thirteen years of education at Head-Royce to be really moving.” 

 

Q: What wisdom would you like to impart to the new Head of School next year?

A: “Try to enjoy the small moments on campus with students and colleagues because there will always be big problems and challenges to solve. But in the day to day, the real joy for me right now is opening the doors of cars on Lincoln Ave and checking the Magnus app every morning. It sounds ridiculous, but I know more lower schoolers than I have known in the past because I am there every day. That’s just living in the moment, and enjoying the small things.”