Q&A with Head of Upper School Chris Angell

ChrisAngell_MedRez In his new role as Head of Upper School, Chris Angell brings years of experience as a teacher and administrator at private, public, and international schools. School News recently talked with Chris about his priorities and how he is ensuring students thrive in the classroom and in the community.

Describe your role as Head of Ross Upper School. My primary role is to make sure students are safe, happy, cared for, and getting the best possible education, and to support our talented faculty members with the tools and resources necessary to be successful teachers and mentors.

I’m also responsible for Residential Life, and you’ll see some important developments in the program throughout the year.

Overall, I want to see every student at every level be the absolute best they can be, and they should feel confident that I, along with the faculty and staff, will do whatever’s possible to help them succeed. That means putting programs, people, and initiatives in place to enable progress on multiple levels.

On a personal level, I’m the “face” of Ross Upper School to many. So it’s important to share the optimism, energy, enthusiasm, and interest I bring to the office every day. It’s a welcome responsibility, and I’m looking forward to a dynamic year at Ross School where we can look across the school and community and see positive change, growth, and success.

How do you stay connected to the students? An important step is to be visible. I’m there in the morning to greet the boarding and day students in the Center for Well-Being, and I walk the campus during the day to meet them. I also deliver a short, motivating message at the start of each day, and eat lunch in the Ross Café as much as possible.

That’s a start, but then you have to dig deeper. My goal is to establish a rapport with each student and find out what’s going on with him or her. Are they happy? How are classes going? What types of activities do they like?

When I walk into the Café, the first thing I do is look for kids that are eating alone. If I don’t find any, I will seek out one of the “national tables.” It’s an opportunity to get a read on how students are doing as a group that helps me to understand the dynamics of the student body.

Town Hall meetings are also a great way to connect as a community. Every Monday, we gather in the Great Hall to share important updates about the school and activities. We may also call assemblies for special events like the Pope’s recent address to Congress.

Yet another vehicle to connect is the Advisory program. One of my responsibilities is making sure that the advisors act as advocates for the kids and proactively offer guidance for how to handle certain situations with a teacher or schoolmate, or help the student in the case of a disciplinary action. The advisors keep me up to speed on what’s happening with their students.

What are your top priorities this year? First is ensuring success for every student in the school and creating a safe, welcoming environment to learn, laugh, and grow. I believe in living the Core Values, and I’ll start by leading by example. Ultimately, we’ll help students understand the significant contributions their actions make to our community.

Another big area of focus is on working with the staff to bring about better integration between boarding and day students, and we’re looking for opportunities to foster those bonds. Athletics and clubs are great examples, but we’ll also talk with the students to get specific suggestions for group trips and outings. Another important part of the mix is ensuring our ESOL [English for Speakers of Other Languages] program is operating at maximum efficiency and encouraging international students to speak English in more settings. Everybody wins. ESOL students perfect their English, and the community benefits from more lines of communication.

I’ll also help to let the students know each day that they are cared for by every adult. Kids who feel cared about are the most likely to succeed inside and outside of the classroom.

You mentioned developments to the Residential Life program. Tell us about them. The year is off to a great start. I’m working closely with the Residential Life staff to help develop the program to improve student life and their overall experience at Ross. A big change will be to the transportation situation after school and on weekends. We have a fleet of SUVs with certified drivers that will provide rides between boarding homes and regular runs into the town of East Hampton. We’ve also instituted a program on the weekends where kids are provided with transportation to Bridgehampton, East Hampton, Sag Harbor, and other locations as needed.

What brought you to Ross School? Ross School has an outstanding reputation as an innovative, forward- thinking school, especially in terms of the curriculum. But what really knocked me out were the people I met. It has been a great experience getting to work with such talented and caring professionals.

Over the course of my career, I was fortunate to be a teacher, administrator, and head of academics at great institutions including CATS Academy in Boston, China’s No. 2 Hefei High School, and Saint Edward's School in Florida, and it’s a pleasure to now share my experience at Ross School.