Practicing Servant Leadership in a Boarding School Community

For the past 26 ½ years, I’ve been incredibly lucky to be a part of a special community. I’m an on-campus faculty spouse at Garrison Forest School, in Owings Mills, Md. where my wife Debbie teaches Chemistry and is science department chair.

In the summer of 1992 as a 25-year-old newlywed, I moved into my wife’s one-bedroom faculty apartment in a dorm. If you had told me than, that I would spend over 25-plus years living on campus, I would never have believed you. The thought seemed impossible.

I could never have imagined how transformative the experience has been.

Last week, I attended The Association of Boarding School’s (TABS) 2019 Conference in Boston as a corporate supporter. I came away from the conference with a renewed sense of passion for the independent school educational experience and a new appreciation for those educational professionals who embrace the boarding school community.

At the conference, I met three very different boarding school professionals who truly practice servant leadership. Defined as a leadership philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve, I have strived to reach this ideal throughout my career. (My role model was watching my father, a rabbi of a large Tucson, Az. Congregation, lead a community.)

Each of the professionals I met at TABS exemplifies all that is good about the independent boarding school community.

The first is a new physics teacher who told me that he was in the NFL for a short time and then played in the CFL for two years. He is a new dorm parent and coaches the school’s football team (and, yes, his players love that he played in the NFL). He was very excited to be at TABS and learn as much as he could about all aspects of what it takes to successfully run a boarding school.

The second is a doctor who serves  as the medical director for an East Coast boarding school. She has a passion for ensuring that all of the school’s students live a healthy and balanced lifestyle. The fact that she has chosen to work in a boarding school environment is an impressive statement.

The last is a 30-year Head of School who was honored for his three decades of service to his boarding school at a special awards lunch for his leadership and dedication to his students and community.

Meeting them and hearing their journeys that led to serving at a boarding school was inspirational. It reminded me of my own, unexpected journey of service to Garrison Forest’s boarding community.

For 13 years, we were dorm parents with two small daughters. Each of our daughters (both proud Garrison Forest graduates) came home from the hospital to our faculty apartment. Our apartments also grew with each child, becoming a second home to the dozens of girls who lived in the dorm.

We hosted dessert and movie nights, fielded questions about everyday living, offered a supportive ear when needed, ate family-style dining hall dinners, drove bus runs to grocery stores and movies (Debbie still does this), and embraced all the countless everyday moments that mold a group of people into a family.

Now, as empty-nesters, we are no longer in a dorm but still live on-campus and participate in the residential life of the school. In 1992, I had assumed we would be on campus for just a few years. Now, I cannot imagine a better place to have raised two daughters than on the campus of a girl’s day and boarding school where diversity and a shared sense of values are celebrated.

Equally transformative has been working side-by-side with dozens of on-campus faculty and families who believe in the shared vision of serving a larger community. The common mission was, and still is, to provide a warm, caring, nurturing and safe environment for Garrison Forest’s boarding students to thrive and grow on campus.

I’ve also learned a great deal about the independent school ecosystem and the values that help shape it. Marketing and advertising have been the core of my professional career. Eight years ago, when I founded Kalix Marketing, I knew that I wanted to do so with servant leadership at the core of our marketing firm.

Our job at Kalix is to first educate the independent school community on best practices when it comes to marketing, to listen carefully and then to offer advice. It’s what we do, and I have Garrison Forest School’s community to thank for that.


President’s Notes
Jonathan Oleisky

Jonathan Oleisky

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