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Marlborough School Student Newspaper
The Student News Site of Marlborough School

The UltraViolet

The Student News Site of Marlborough School

The UltraViolet

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April 12, 2024

The Legacy and Leaving Words of Head of School Dr. Sands

We spoke with Head of School Priscilla Sands about her retirement from Marlborough, and about her career leading schools as a whole. 

UV: Was there a central figure in your life who inspired you to become a head of school? 

Sands: My mom was a Head of School and told me that out of all her children she was most surprised that I followed her path. It was not a burning dream of mine to lead an independent school, but what I did have was an itinerant first act of my life. I was traveling with my husband, and we were living in different places around the world when I had my children, and because we were never in one place for long enough, I had to create jobs for myself. 

UV: What was your first leadership role?   

Sands: While living in Pennsylvania, I got a job at a local independent school becoming the community service director. Suddenly the job for admissions came up, and I said, ‘I think I can do that.’ The Head of School gave me the job and I was successful at it. Afterwards, I became the Assistant Head and then when a headship was open at an all girls school that was struggling with enrollment being down, I got the job by being a puzzle person and thinking of solutions for issues. The two things I tried to keep as my North Star as a head of school was humility and grace. Always take my work seriously but never take myself seriously. I have had to be able to laugh at myself and understand when I have made mistakes. What I have really loved about Marlborough, coming in during a difficult time, was helping the school to regain its confidence and love itself.

UV:  How have your methods of school leadership changed over time?

Sands: I think I went into my first headship with naivete. When I came to Marlborough, I knew I was set up for success with a good team — an excellent team. I always want people around me who can do their job better than I can, which they could. Therefore, I certainly gave everyone more autonomy in their job. Heads of Schools used to just own it all. I think that while I have always been collaborative, I now understand the difference between distribution and collaboration. 

UV: What advice would you give to a student who could see themself becoming a Head of School?

Sands: I’d be so excited! I would say to not go down a narrow educational path. The best thing that happened in my life is that I had a lot of jobs. Some were awful and some were wonderful but through all, I gained so much. I remember reading in Newsweek that creativity in schools was gone, something I worried about at Marlborough. So I wanted to make sure that students had the opportunity to think, to spend time and to ponder. The more educated you are in the world, the better your chance of following your dreams. 

UV: What is one piece of advice you would encourage Jennifer Cicarelli, succeeding head of Marlborough, to follow?

Sands: I think she is going to come in with her own skills and her own way of working, but I would say that the amount of worry I have gone through, children and profession, is less important than it seems at the moment. Also I think keeping equanimity is important. At Marlborough, I have been a fanatic for working out. If I have a full day of work, I will carve out time in the middle of the day to exercise. Exercise and meditation is key. I would say to Ms. Cicarelli, play for the long game. 

UV: What is something you want to add to your life after finishing your headship? 

Sands: The first thing I want to do is drive across the country. I was born in Maine and went back every summer, but I want to go to New England in the fall. We are going to live here [Los Angeles], but I want to travel!

UV: What do you want your legacy at Marlborough to be?

Sands: When you leave a headship in a healthy school, the sand fills your footsteps very quickly. I would love my legacy to be for my senior team and staculty to have a sense of pride and say ‘Look what we did together when she was here.’ Not what did she do, but what we did together. The thing that I want students to know is that above all else, I want them to be their best adult selves. I want them to take care of themselves, to grow and have empathy. Without empathy, you won’t succeed. I want them to know that I cared for them, even if they didn’t know or see. 

UV: What will you miss most about being a head of school? 

Sands: I will miss being surrounded by students. It’s the ambient noise of having you all around. Somebody said, ‘Doesn’t it make you crazy to hear all that noise?’ I said, ‘No, it’s the music I live by.’ That’s what I’ll miss the most.

 

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