Dear Flintridge Prep Families and Friends,
I am writing to share the news that Jim Pickett will not be returning as Head of School for the 2021-22 school year. The Board of Trustees has appointed Vanessa Walker-Oakes as the next Head of School at Flintridge Prep, effective immediately.
It goes without saying that the past year has been incredibly challenging for schools and Heads across the country. For Jim in particular, in his first year as Head of School at Prep, it was difficult to establish the deep relationships with the team, faculty/staff, Board, and community that could have happened in a year without COVID. During this time, it became clear to him, and the Board agreed, that he could best serve Prep as the bridge to a new Head of School.
In his letter to the Board of Trustees, Jim shared, “As difficult as it is to leave Prep, circumstances of this year have led Susie and me to reevaluate our priorities. The time is right to pass the torch to a new person and turn my energy toward matters of a personal nature. Susie and I have aging parents on the east coast that will necessitate our increasing attention and travel.”
He went on to say, “I am committed to making this transition as seamless as possible. It has been an honor to serve as Head of School, and I am so grateful for your support and the opportunity to serve the mission of Flintridge Prep.”
In managing the ever-changing landscape of rules and restrictions, Jim was able to guide Prep through the transition from online, to hybrid, and finally to in-person learning. The Board of Trustees is grateful to Jim for his stewardship during the last 12 months where despite the tumult of COVID, he was able to set the stage for our next steps in DEI, student services and support, upcoming academic program work, communications and marketing, admissions and enrollment management and strategic planning. We are also appreciative that he has agreed to stay on in an advisory capacity through the end of the calendar year to assist with the transition to a new Head. The Board wishes the Picketts well as they take their next steps.
With Jim’s departure, the Board of Trustees carefully evaluated its options and has voted unanimously to appoint Vanessa Walker-Oakes as the next Head of Flintridge Prep.
Vanessa has been a valued member of the Prep community for 18 years, serving as a beloved teacher and most recently as Assistant Head for Student Life. During her tenure at Prep, Vanessa has also served as Senior Class Dean, a Grade Level Advisor in both 7th and 9th grade, Director of College Counseling and Dean of Faculty. Additionally, she has been a member of the Admissions Committee for 18 years. Vanessa and her husband, Dan, have four sons; two are Prep graduates, one is a current Prep student and her youngest is a student at Saint Mark’s School.
During the Board’s evaluation process, Vanessa shared her thoughts around the areas of top priority for Prep in the next several years that include educational vision and curriculum, student health and wellbeing, admissions and enrollment management, resource development and diversity, equity, inclusion and justice. Her vision for the work to be done is forward-looking and will bring change while remaining rooted in our mission and values as an institution. The Board is confident that Vanessa’s institutional knowledge, exceptional leadership qualities, vision for the future and devotion to Prep make her the ideal person to lead Prep at this time.
In responding to the Board, Vanessa wrote, “I am deeply honored to have the opportunity to serve this remarkable community as Head of School. Prep nurtures future leaders who embrace joy in learning, responsibility for the wellbeing of community and oneself, and respect for the unique gifts and diverse experiences of each and every individual. In the past two years, commitment to each other and our shared mission afforded us the strength to embrace change and thrive in difficult times. Relationships and connections have always been at the heart of Prep’s success. These core values and the Prep students, faculty, staff, families and Board members who live them daily are what drew me here almost two decades ago, and they continue to inspire me. Building new relationships, new connections will be our future. Knowing Prep’s strong foundation and imagining Prep’s dynamic years to come, I am thrilled and thankful to be on this journey together.”
We have exciting work ahead of us as we return to school in person this fall. We will embark on our next strategic plan that will chart the course for the next chapter at Prep. The Board of Trustees and I enthusiastically look forward to working with Vanessa on this and many other critically important projects in service of the mission of Flintridge Prep and our community.
I hope you will all join me in thanking Jim for his tireless service to our school this past year and in congratulating and welcoming Vanessa as the next Head of Flintridge Prep.
Kristina M. Leslie
Chair, Board of Trustees