New Head of Upper School Joins School Community


Kellen Fenrich, Editor-In-Chief

Blair Parker, a long-time educator and administrator in independent school education, was announced as the new Head of the Upper School in an email from Head of School Bo Lauder in mid-March. “We believe that the strengths and experiences she brings are just what our Upper School will need as we, hopefully, reunite on campus next year,” Lauder said in his email. 

Parker will replace outgoing Head of Upper School, Kate Reynolds. After leading the Upper School division for three years, Reynolds is leaving Friends to pursue a teaching career. She originally planned to move closer to her parents in Boston, but when her husband’s job was extended in New York, she decided to accept a job as an English teacher at Riverdale Country School, which would enable her to spend summers and holidays with her parents.  At the Riverdale Country School – where Parker currently serves as Assistant Head of the Upper School, Interim Director of Financial Aid, and teaches History – Reynolds will coincidentally be teaching one of the same classes that Parker has during her time at the school.

“The past year has been painfully difficult and changed lives, including mine, in so many ways. The pandemic has repeatedly humbled me into seeing that there is no such thing as a firm plan or a predictable future,” Reynolds said. “We make the best plans we can, guided by our values and the knowledge we have at the time, and then we learn to roll with the new obstacles and oddities thrown our way.” 

Reynolds described her decision by alluding to an improvised social distancing tactic she helped design this past year: using pool noodles to demonstrate how much distance students should maintain between each other. “Remember the pool noodles?” she said. “A crazy solution to enable us to be in company with one another. My next move is a pool noodle move – nonlinear and perfect in meeting my current needs.”

In his email, Bo Lauder wrote, “We thank Kate for all that she has brought to Friends, and I do know that her legacy will live on and form a firm foundation for her successor.”

Parker joins the community after a long career in education. After graduating from college, Parker immediately pursued teaching, working as a history teacher at the Emma Willard School in Troy, New York and leading the junior varsity basketball team. Two years later, Parker moved to the National Cathedral School in Washington D.C. to take her first administrative opportunity as a Dean and serve as a member of the Social Sciences faculty. 

Parker said the opportunity to serve as a Dean at the National Cathedral School convinced her to pursue school leadership.“I like thinking about every aspect of a school community and how it affects the people within it,” she said. “The classrooms are really important spaces and I’ve continued to appreciate my time in the classroom, but I’ve really enjoyed getting to know students too and working with my colleagues outside of the classroom as well.” 

Parker’s appreciation for the academic experience outside of the classroom inspired her to pursue a Masters Degree in Independent School Leadership at the Columbia University Teacher’s College. After completing the program, Parker decided to stay in New York City, moving to the Riverdale Country School where she initially served as a Dean before becoming Assistant Head of the Upper School. In addition to working as an administrator, Parker taught history for all eight of her years at Riverdale, was the coach of the Boy’s Golf Team for three years, and served as Interim Director of Financial Aid.

While working in the New York City Independent School network, Parker said she has admired Friends Seminary from a distance. “I came to know Friends Seminary while I was here in New York, and have admired it from afar,” she said. “There’s nothing that’s deterred me from Friends Seminary, which has been really exciting.” 

Parker said she had not initially planned on looking for a new job this year, but that she was compelled to apply for the Head of Upper School position when it became available. “I was not going to do a job search this year,” Parker said.“But when this opportunity came up, I knew I had to go for it because I just know what an amazing community you all have.”

Parker said she was also drawn to Friends by its size. “I’m really excited to be in a smaller community where I think I can know all of the students in the Upper School,” she said.

The pandemic made the application process for the Head of Upper School a unique experience, Parker said. As school continued with social distancing restrictions, she had to apply virtually. 

Parker said the abnormal application process was more challenging, but that it worked out well. “I walked by school a number of times, but I’d never been inside the doors,” she said. “I thought it was going to be hard to get excited. I thought that was going to be hard to do, having not set foot inside your doors. But I actually found the warmth of faculty members, parents, and students came through on Zoom very well.”

Parker described what she is most looking forward to next year. “I’m excited to be, hopefully, in the meeting house next year together as a community, both as a division and sometimes as different grades.” In addition to Upper School Division meetings, Parker looks forward to being a part of all-school meetings.

In light of the constantly changing landscape of the pandemic, Parker believes that next year it will be important to move forward with care. “We need community time and social time, but we also need to understand that that’s going to be weird for a lot of us,” she said. “I mean, I still feel weird without a mask on, you know, around new people, and I know that’s going to be the same for people.” 

In addition to the challenges that come with reopening towards the end of the pandemic, Parker said there are a number of things on the administration’s agenda heading into the 2021-2022 school year. For instance, to make up for the cancellation of the ninth grade retreat, Parker explained that the administration has planned a tenth grade retreat so the grade can spend time together. 

Parker said she has also been meeting with community members to get a stronger sense of student life. “I met with student leaders when I was on campus last week and heard very clearly that one of the things that’s been hard is the workload transition between last spring and now,” Parker said. “For the first time, students have classes that meet two days in a row, so they have homework two days in a row.” Parker said she has “started working with the scheduling team to go back to a calendar that will not have classes meeting two days in a row to help ease into the workload transition as well.” 

When asked what time the school day may start next year, Parker said that she could not comment, but did mention that at Riverdale she made the Upper School start at 9 A.M. 

 “I am honored that you have invited me to lead your Upper School.” Parker said in a statement to the Upper School. “Regardless of what our return to school next fall will look like, I hope to amplify student voices as we work together to strengthen our community. I look forward to having conversations with each of you.”