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Parkers destination, Buffalo Seminary, in Buffalo, NY. Courtesy of Boarding School Review.
Head of Upper School Blair Parker Departs
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    Head of Upper School Blair Parker Departs

    Parker’s destination, Buffalo Seminary, in Buffalo, NY. Courtesy of Boarding School Review.

    On October 11, Head of School Bo Lauder announced that Blair Parker, the three year head of the Friends Seminary Upper School, will vacate her position at the end of the school year. Parker will take on her dream job as Head of School at Buffalo Seminary, a private all-girls high school located in its namesake city in upstate New York. She will continue her duties at Friends until July 1, 2024. I met with her in December to reflect on her tenure.

    Before arriving at Friends, Parker had spent a lifetime in education, obtaining a master’s degree in private school education at Teachers College, Columbia University, and working as an administrator at the National Cathedral School in Washington D.C. and the Riverdale Country School in the Bronx. Although she was not looking to leave her position as Assistant Head of Upper School at Riverdale, she could not help but apply for a position at Friends: “Knowing the landscape of schools here in New York, I knew Friends by reputation as living up to its mission as a Quaker school,” Parker explained. “This was an opportunity to work at a school I have only heard good things about.” Despite her initial visit to Friends occurring over Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Parker still was able to see what she considered “a remarkable community. Everything was just amazing.” 

    Parker was eventually selected to be the successor to Kate Reynolds, the previous head of Upper School at Friends Seminary. Besides the community and values of the school, Parker also felt that the position of Head of Upper School was irresistible. “I love that I get to work with over 300 students, faculty members, and administrators.” Thankfully, Parker was greeted with a warm welcome, even during her initial arrival in the mostly desolate month of July. “Many people came to chat with me, and I got a great sense of what this community was before September even came around.”

    There is no average day for Parker. “I don’t even know if that is possible, and I love that about my job.” She described her day as consisting primarily of many short meetings with students, teachers, parents, and guests. She also makes an effort to spend at least part of each day in a classroom to fully understand the happenings of the Upper School. “My day is scheduled in fifteen minute increments. It gives me the opportunity to interact with so many different people and perspectives across the school.”

    Parker considers these one-on-one and small group sessions the bread and butter of her job, in contrast to big group sessions like assemblies and Meeting for Announcements, which are students’ main opportunities to see administrators. “I would love for students to know more about what I do all day and who I am,” Parker commented. “It’s easiest to get to know each other in closer settings.” Still, some of her favorite moments at Friends have been division-wide talent shows, where the brilliance and capability of the student body is on display. “I love how it looks like we didn’t highly organize it, because of how well the students do.” She was especially heartened by the support from the student body when she went up as a volunteer for a juggling act in her first year.

    Ultimately the biggest challenge and triumph of Parker’s term has been leading the Upper School through the latter stages of the pandemic. As early as her first Back to School Night, she made a push to establish a sense of normalcy amidst the turbulent times. “It’s so weird how we have had to refer to things as ‘in-person’ or ‘virtual.’ That night, and to this day, I had talked about this legacy of the pandemic and moving on. I asked that we stop referring to school as ‘in-person school.’ School is school, and we go there to form a community. That’s been my goal since I got here, to find ways to come together.” Many other accomplishments of Parker’s administration have come from this desire to think about how to best support students, such as the elimination of traditional exams, expansion of the senior project system, and the creation of the Diversity, Equity, and Belonging Committee. 

    Parker further added that “nothing will top the pandemic, but there’s been other challenges with school culture, communication, working with individuals and with the whole community. Part of this job is knowing that there are going to be constant tests.”

    Like her arrival to Friends, Parker did not anticipate her departure from the school after only three years. However, the timing felt right: “I had always wanted to be a head of school, and this opportunity popped up.” Although initially unsure about a possible move to Buffalo, a city she had not previously visited, she felt it was the place for her. “The city has everything my family wants and needs. It’s sort of been an accident that I have been in New York City as long as I have, twelve years after I graduated grad school. I’m from Atlanta, and Buffalo feels more like what I grew up in and what my kids can grow up in.”

    Still, Parker understandably feels bittersweet about the decision. “I’m truly sad to leave Friends. I love the school and the students here. It’s truly something special, especially in the context of New York City, that this community is here and thriving.”

    Blair will be truly missed at Friends Seminary. Yet we will cheer her on in the next stages of her life and career.

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    About the Contributor
    Zach Halverstam, Senior Editor
    Zach is in 12th Grade and is serving as Senior Editor. He enjoys reading, exercising, playing word games like crosswords and Wordle, and playing the saxophone. A fun fact about Zach is that he can place every country on a map (feel free to challenge him).

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