In the fall of 2012, with her husband and two small children in tow, Laura Ross stepped onto the Greenhill campus for her first school day as the Head of Upper School. She was a terrified first-time division head in a new city, having just moved from Austin. However, as soon as she looked across the quad and saw the huge banner reading “Welcome Mrs. Ross,” she knew she had found a new home.
“It was so telling about [the Greenhill] community. I was so touched that these kids that didn’t even know me yet would do something like that,” said Mrs. Ross.
Five years later, Mrs. Ross and her family are saying goodbye to Greenhill and moving to Los Angeles, where Mrs. Ross has taken the Head of Upper School position at Harvard-Westlake School. She leaves behind a legacy of connectedness, innovation and resilience.
“When I think of Mrs. Ross, I think of a very personal person who wants to know everybody and one who makes strong personal connections. I also think of calmness. I think she has been very good at pushing us as a school to look at our programs and systems in terms of stress and pace, and wanting to do what is best for students has always been at the forefront for her,” said Head of School Scott Griggs.
Mrs. Ross’ commitment to alleviating students’ stress manifested itself through one of the biggest changes implemented during her tenure: the Upper School’s schedule change. The new schedule, implemented in the 2015-16 school year, features a 9:00 a.m. start; an hour later than it had been in the past. During her five-year stint, Mrs. Ross also oversaw notable changes such as an updated dress code and the addition of class deans.
Despite these tangible accomplishments, Mrs. Ross has valued relationship building over administrative changes during her time at Greenhill.
“I hope that I’ve made students feel known by me. My biggest goal is that students and teachers feel like I know them, I care about them as people, I know who they are and I know a little bit of their story,” she said. “That’s what I feel like my biggest accomplishment is: I know people’s names and I know who they are.”
Students have noted Mrs. Ross’ concerted efforts to connect with them on a personal level.
“I know that she always really cares about what we have to say. She’s always so nice,” said Hannah Caplan, a junior in Mrs. Ross’ advisory. “She cares so much about our school, and how things are done. She also is fun, silly and has a great sense of humor.”
That being said, Upper School Math Teacher Darryn Sandler, who co-advises a class of 2018 advisory with Mrs. Ross, noted that she is able to maintain a strong leadership and command of the school while also harboring strong relationships with the people she leads.
“I think the mark of a good leader is someone that takes the time to listen, and [Mrs. Ross] is always willing to listen to what you have to say,” said Mr. Sandler. “She might not always agree with you, but I definitely think she takes the time to listen and explain where she’s coming from if there’s a difference in direction.”
According to Middle School Math Teacher Gregg Ross, Mrs. Ross’ husband, she is able to exercise good leadership even considering the large number of groups she has to deal with on an everyday basis.
“I get stories from her day, and I’m always amazed at how she’s able to deal with all of these disparate groups,” said Mr. Ross. “She has students, faculty, parents, board, administration, and she’s able to actually make everyone feel valued, heard, and respected.”
From a personal standpoint, Mrs. Ross considers herself lucky that their whole family has been able to be on the same campus together for the last five years.
“We love that at night, when we talk about our days, we all know what everybody’s talking about, we all have a connection,” she said. “It’s been such a good fit for all four of us. Who gets to have everybody in your family in the same place in their lives? That’s such a gift.”
Harvard-Westlake is separated into two different campuses; one serves grades seven through nine and the other serves grades ten through 12. As a result, the Ross family will not be on the same campus. Mr. Ross considers this both a good and a bad thing for their family moving forward.
“All of the sudden, we feel like this family unit we have gets exploded a little bit,” he said. “But it also gives everybody a little bit more of their own fiefdoms, so we’re excited about that.”
According to Mrs. Ross, one of the things she will miss most about Greenhill is being on a K-12 campus, which will not be the case in her new position.
“High school gets so stressful, and I think probably for students too, you get that moment where you walk over by the cafeteria, and you see first graders looking at the peacocks,” she said. “It’s access to joy.”
While there are some notable differences between Greenhill and Harvard-Westlake, Mr. Ross does see a lot of similarities between the two schools. Among them are their approaches towards caring for students.
“We’re happy that we’re going to a school that has the same values and commitment to teaching the whole student that Greenhill does,” he said.
With her departure, Mrs. Ross leaves Greenhill’s Upper School in the hands of Trevor Worcester, current Middle School and Upper School Latin Teacher and Upper School Modern and Classical Language Department Head, who will take over as Head of Upper School next year. He believes that Mrs. Ross is a tough act to follow.
“I can’t fill her shoes,” he said. “What I can do is approach things similarly. Whenever an issue arises that needs to be addresssed, hopefully I would approach that issue in a way she would.”
Mrs. Ross noted it will be difficult to leave behind Greenhill’s unique atmosphere and student body.
“I’ll miss the culture of Greenhill. Just the way people treat each other here, and the general culture,” Mrs. Ross said. “I’m hoping my new school has a great culture too, but I know that this is a special one.”
As she prepares to leave, Mrs. Ross wishes that Greenhill simply continues to be the school she has grown to love over her five years on the hill.
“I just hope that it continues to be a place where people take time to recognize what’s good,” she said. “I’ve been so lucky and I’m just so grateful I had this opportunity. It’s been a good fit.”
Photo courtesy of Laura Ross