Deputy Head of School Merrilee Mardon
May 21, 2024

Up Close With Merrilee Mardon

Andover’s Deputy Head of School shares her perspectives and partnerships during her first year

Merrilee Mardon Is On A Mission

In fact, several missions. Because as deputy head of school, Mardon oversees so much of daily life on campus. Academics and faculty fall under her purview, so too the student experience, including health and wellness.

Mardon assumed the post last July, arriving from The Hotchkiss School, where she served as associate head of school and dean of faculty. A graduate of Smith College, Mardon earned a PhD in economics from the University of Massachusetts and taught economics and gender and women’s studies at Connecticut College before joining the Hotchkiss faculty in 2008. Here, Mardon shares her perspectives and partnerships during her first year at Andover.

How do you approach your role as deputy head of school—and how does it pair with your philosophy on education?

In essence, my job is to help the dean of students, dean of studies, dean of faculty, and chief medical officer do their jobs well and feel supported. It’s taking care of students, ultimately. For me, I’m in the work because of the value I place on education, especially in its broadest sense. It’s not just academic work, but also helping students learn how to live in a community—be good citizens, be good advocates, and ideally serve others. I think Andover students have a strong potential for future leadership, so that makes the work seem that much more important. At the end of the day, I want to help the Academy continue to empower students, ensure they learn and grow—and do it in a way with dignity and respect for everybody involved. I also want them to do it while having some fun, because this is high school after all.

You work very closely with our head of school, Raynard Kington, of course. Can you please share more about that partnership?

One of the reasons I came to Andover was because of Raynard. He has a vision that stands out in the world of independent schools, and he demonstrates strength of leadership. I think, for him, I bring deep experience in independent schools and also from higher education. I am a little more acquainted with how boarding schools function in the day to day, and I think that’s helpful for him as we translate his big ideas to the actual everyday living of school life. It’s been a good start, and I’m excited to see it continue.

The tangible impact of the school’s alumni, families, and friends can be found around every corner and in every classroom.

Merrilee Mardon Deputy Head of School

What are some of the immediate and long-term initiatives you currently lead?

One of the most critical initiatives is the Learning Steering Committee, which is part of a comprehensive process of imagining the school in 20 to 30 years. The committee is charged with making recommendations about our next phase, whether that’s changes to the academic program, to co-curriculars, or to residential life. It’s a significant and collective endeavor. I co-chair this group of 12 experienced instructors, and we’re in the process of defining our priorities. And then learning from the wider campus community and also from our alumni and other external communities about how to make recommendations for the next iteration of Andover. This multifaceted project actually creates numerous smaller projects as well, like evaluating the daily schedule. Right now, we’re looking at all aspects of our educational program. We’re in the process of seeking feedback from students and campus adults and preparing to engage with external community members. We are also reaching out to other educational organizations.

You teach as well. What has impressed you most about the PA student experience? And what are some of the potential opportunities you see?

Right now, I teach economics to seniors, and I’m really impressed with how well prepared they are. The students I’ve met this year can do just about anything I ask them to do. They know how to ask good research questions. They know how to discern information. They take guidance and feedback very well. So that to me is hopeful because that’s the thing we want to protect and grow going forward. I mean, the opportunity is always imagining we’re creating joy in learning and having high standards, because the PA student can achieve those highest standards if they also feel supported along the way. It’s OK to make a mistake because the adults have got your back.

Merrilee Mardon continues to place special emphasis on an enhanced student experience.

More broadly, how can Andover continue to position itself for future success?

We are really focused on student life and creating equity in the learning experience, wherever that learning may occur. So that no matter where a student comes from, all students are served extraordinarily well by the program. I think we assist students well now, but there’s room for improvement. Going forward, this means asking the critical questions and paying attention to what it means to come from different backgrounds and then to arrive here.

Raynard shared with the Learning Steering Committee research from the RAND Corporation regarding best practice in creating equitable learning environments. We’re exploring this in committee and then looking outward and assessing real world applications. We’re very much on the same page about where we’re headed, and it’s a journey we’re taking together.

How have you observed philanthropy at work on campus? And why, from your perspective, does it remain vitally important?

The tangible impact of the school’s alumni, families, and friends can be found around every corner and in every classroom. The generosity shown toward our world-class faculty and their commitment to teaching has particularly impressed me. I also value all the opportunities our students enjoy beyond the classroom.

The Abbot Academy Fund grants have long been a wonderful resource in this regard. So too individual gifts. We recently had a donor sponsor a talk by chess grandmaster Gary Kasparov at an All-School Meeting. It was an amazing experience, particularly afterward in the Q&A. The students asked these brilliant questions, ranging from chess to conflict in Eastern Europe. It was remarkable, and that was all a result of philanthropy.

Is there anything else you wish to share?

Simply that Andover is an amazing place. We all count ourselves lucky to be part of this community—and look forward to what our school can be in the future.

Categories: Philanthropy

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