Head of School Day Tradition Began in 1991 Under McNemar

Students and faculty can thank Donald McNemar for yesterday’s Head of School Day. McNemar, former PA Headmaster from 1981 to 1994, canceled classes on February 2, 1991 so students could have a health and recovery day, after an overflow of students in Isham Health Center. Ruth Quattlebaum, Instructor in Art History and School Archivist, said that McNemar created Head of School Day in collaboration with Isham to help students regain their health. In the winter of 1991, “the infirmary was filled to capacity” due to a highly contagious flu outbreak that engulfed the campus, said Quattlebaum. McNemar continued to cancel a day of winter term classes in following years, initiating the Head of School Day tradition. Barbara Chase, Head of School, continued the practice when she began in 1994. Chase added a twist to the tradition by appearing at dinner time in Commons with a girls’ field hockey stick. Chase said that the idea of using a field hockey stick to announce a day off originated at the Wheeler School, where she once worked. “It was an all-girls school and [field] hockey was very important,” said Chase. The Wheeler School principal traditionally removed his clothing until he was left in madras shorts and a shirt. He would then unveil a field hockey stick and announce the cancellation of the next day’s classes. Chase has since carried the tradition with her to Phillips Academy. The Andover class of 2001 gave Chase the stick she still uses today. Isham still has the most influence regarding the date of Head of School Day, Quattlebaum said. Diseases and germs spread quickly at a boarding school, and when the number of sick students grows, administrators set a date for Head of School Day, said Quattlebaum. She also said that the Commons staff, the Athletic Office and cluster deans are aware of the date for Head of School Day a few days before the rest of the campus. “Most teachers don’t know [the date of Head of School Day] until students know,” said Quattlebaum. Nancy Jeton, Special Assistant to the Head of School, said that even Chase does not know the date for Head of School Day far in advance. Quattlebaum said, “[Some] faculty would like to see [Head of School Day] built in [to the schedule].” But she believes that scheduling Head of School Day would take the fun out of the predictions and surprise. Administrators would also not be able to predict when students would need a day off the most, said Quattlebaum, so a planned Head of School Day would change its original intent. Two years ago, two students sent a fake Head of School Day e-mail by impersonating Chase. Rebecca Sykes, Associate Head of School, remembered the confusion that followed in the administration and the scramble to send another e-mail making a correction. While Andover has since made certain that there are not breaches in the PAnet security, Sykes said she and other administrators “haven’t changed the practice of Head of School Day…Students accepted the prank and [the administration is] very trusting of the student body.”