By Peter Bloch
Recently, I had a chance to meet with Mo Copeland, our Head of School, and Elizabeth Gewecke, the President of the Board of Trustees. These powerful women run the whole operation here at OES.
So who runs what? “I work closely with the board and make sure that the school follows their vision. I also work with the heads, do exit interviews with seniors, and I have my own advisory group. My biggest job was hiring the associate head of school. Now I have to figure out master curriculum projects and what we’re going to be doing as a school for the next 3-5 years.“
Mrs. Gewecke, however, gave me a more abstract answer. “It’s my job to make sure that the school is healthy, so that it can continue to grow and thrive. My allegiance is entirely to the school.” Mrs. Gewecke went on to argue that it’s most important that the visions of the board aren’t planned by the people running it so much as by the school they serve. Their goal is to understand the essence of the school and how the students and faculty want to take it, so that they can open it up to as many possible paths to success. The desired end product is: “to move it forward, improve the campus, secure the people, and make sure our curriculum is top-notch.”
The OES Board of Trustees is composed of around twenty people. At least 30% are Episcopal, a requirement set forth by the bylaws. The Chair of the Board is the bishop of Oregon, Michael Hanley. He attends all the larger board meetings. “He is super supportive of the school,” raved Mrs. Gewecke. “He’s very interested in our learning and serving of the community. He absolutely loves and is proud of the school.”
So then how do people so prominent in the school administration prevent themselves from drowning in their work? “I have learned to try not to be busy,” said Mo. This caused everyone in the room to laugh, as she had clearly come from multiple meetings, and was barely on track to finish by the end of school. “I do set aside blocks of time so that I can keep current on industry reading and walk around the school. There’s a lot going on here at OES.”
Mo Copeland has been a resident in the Pacific Northwest since attending Reed College. It was then that she cultivated an interest in our school. OES is a school that I’ve admired for most of my academic career. I immediately applied as soon as I could, and when I got the job, I guess the school was ready for my background. Until now, we still have yet to disappoint.
Before working at OES, Mo held the position of Head at St. George’s School, an Episcopalian, K-12 school in Spokane, WA. When asked about her appeal to Episcopalian schools, Mo said, “The emphasis on community. That sense of community only comes from an Episcopal school. It helps us plan much larger goals like a team rather than an individual. I was especially attracted to the service program and being involved in issues greater than we are.”
There is one question for Mo that is on everyone’s mind: What does the new Associate Head mean for OES? To this, Mo replied, “A continuation of Chris Shuck’s work. This means overseeing our general programs and specific, divisional programs. Our new Associate Head has a long experience in K-12 education, and we wish him all the best.”
In both of their perfect visions Mo and Mrs. Gewecke said they wanted most to see a growth in community. “I want to expand the community to include more alumni, parents, and more teachers,”said Mrs. Gewecke. “But I most want to leverage the history and strength of the community we’ve created for OES’ advantage instead of keeping the snapshot of what he had.” On the other hand, Mo’s response was more relevant to the OES’ current state. “I would like to see us become even more diverse. If we can become truly open, then we can have the difficult conversations that our community has to have. We can share all of our thinking and we don’t have to be so careful as to what we say because everyone listens.”
When the topic came to difficult conversations, I asked Mo about her response to the new executive orders of our newest President, Donald Trump. Apparently, there was a letter sent out to faculty, and an announcement made in Gathering, but everyone suffered from a lack of public statement. When I asked Mo what she wanted to make public about this issue, here’s what she had to say:
“Our school depends on its international families. Connection to the world is part of our mission. Anything that threatens that is worrisome. Families connected to the school are from all kinds of religious backgrounds. We support everyone here. We want to make it clear that we will support ourselves and we wish to protect our school and its values.” I believe that everyone at OES can get behind this sentiment.
“It’s truly an honor to be the head of OES,” said Mo Copeland. “I get to work with amazing people here, and I’ve learned a ton. I feel truly lucky to be here.” Echoing that statement, Mrs. Gewecke said, “I feel the same way. This is such a special place because it covers PreK-12. We turn little babies into young adults. It’s wonderful to see the trajectory and how a learning community helps people grow up. That’s why I do my job as best I can.”