School Community Says Goodbye to Mr. Wilson

Zach Halverstam, Staff Writer

On December 7th, 2021, Head of School Bo Lauder announced that Hassan Wilson, the longtime teacher and Assistant Head of the Friends Seminary Upper School, would be stepping down from his position. Wilson will take on the role of Executive Director of the Constellation Learning Institute (CLI), an educational company focused on providing flexible online learning to independent schools. His title of Executive Director at CLI is akin to the title of Head of School at Friends Seminary.

Before arriving at Friends in 2004, Wilson—referred to as “Mr. Wilson” by students—taught at a public high school in his childhood neighborhood of Belmont, located in the Bronx. “I was looking for a change,” he said when I met with him in early January, “and there were a number of positions available.” He was immediately drawn to Friends by a positive description given by a placement agency.

“Some of the things they described about Friends Seminary,” he said, “which I think are still true today, is that the school had a warm and inviting community where students are not competing against each other, that the school doesn’t announce grades and SAT scores.” Wilson went as far as to tell the agency: “only send my resume to that school, [and] that if I don’t get that job, I’m going to stay.”

In his nearly two decades at Friends, Mr. Wilson helped reinvent how the Friends Seminary classroom looks and functions. He made curricular adjustments, like implementing the “flipped classroom” model, both in his own science classes and the Upper School curriculum in general, which gives students the opportunity to learn through discovery and practice rather than merely by lecture. He also had a hand in some of the physical changes on campus, like ensuring that the school’s renovations included more windows in classrooms. These changes are all reflective of Mr. Wilson’s belief that classes should be tailored to fit the needs of students.

Mr. Wilson said, “Being at Friends has afforded me the opportunity to speak to teachers. I’ve done a lot of work helping them meet their students’ needs, and trying to see each of their students as individuals. Not just the high flyers, but all the students in the class.”

Friends students regularly interact with Mr. Wilson about any administrative matter from the course request process to disciplinary issues. “I unfortunately have the role of talking to kids when they have not made the best decisions, which can put you in conflict with students.” 

However, Mr. Wilson likes to see these conversations as a “form of love,”in that he can help students move forward from their mistakes. “There are tons of stories where I’ve had conversations with students, and it’s been a learning experience where I can see them as human beings.” 

Recalling a meeting with a former student, Mr. Wilson said, “She told me that she didn’t have that discipline growing up, and she wished people were harder. Sometimes when you’re a kid, you don’t see that.” 

Samara Friedman ’22 commented that although “people know him as having a disciplinary role, he’s just such a funny person. If you have him as a teacher, he’s always playing music and laughing with you.” 

In addition, many students who know Mr. Wilson more personally described him as fun and compassionate, not just a rule-enforcer. Isabelle Pass ’22, a member of his advisory, described his role in her first time back at school in person since the start of the pandemic: “I was kind of nervous since I’d been virtual for so long. He was there and was just laughing and having a good time. It really brought my spirits up.” She further described him as “an understanding person, and [he] is super inspiring and someone to look up to.” 

 Many students primarily remember Mr. Wilson not as the Assistant Upper School Head, but as a beloved eighth grade science teacher. “His class was uniquely structured,” said Anya Juneja ’22. “It was self paced and really showed me what science can be. It sparked a love of science in me.” Riya Juneja ’22 elaborated, saying, “He was an inspiring teacher who motivated you to take control of your own learning and seek control.” 

The two students have Mr. Wilson again this year for Biotechnology. Although he will be mostly working remotely in the second semester, he will still teach the class from home.

During the second semester, Mr. Wilson will split time between CLI and Friends with a reduced portfolio of Friends-related work. He will still be overseeing academic activity like the add-drop date for classes and the study-away process. However, other members of the Friends community, including Katherine Prudente, Erin Mumford, and Blair Parker, will take over some of his day-to-day disciplinary and guidance work.

A lot of Mr. Wilson’s work at CLI will revolve around setting the institute’s vision and educational approach. Many of these changes reflect Mr. Wilson’s accomplishments with advancing curriculum and addressing students’ needs at Friends. Mr. Wilson said, “An area of growth [at CLI] is definitely professional learning, in which I’m going to take an active role in supporting and creating programs for teachers. It’s also about how to meet the needs of our kids, who come from thirty to forty different schools. It’s really about the day-to-day and how to make that better.”

Reflecting on his tenure at Friends, Mr. Wilson described the school as a home and the community as a form of family. “The people here have taken great care of me as an individual, from my colleagues, to administrators, to Head of School Bo. So it’s hard to leave a place where you feel you’re having an impact, [and] they also show that they care about you. I came to Friends when I really was a young teacher, and I feel like I’ve grown up here.

Mr. Wilson’s departure is a great loss to the Friends Seminary community. The Friends Seminary community will miss him, yet we will cheer him on as he continues to bolster and innovate education elsewhere.