For Barbara Chase, Head of School Has Been Just One of Many Jobs at Phillips Academy for Past 15 Years

As hungry Flagstaff students streamed into Phelps House for the cluster munch on Wednesday, Barbara Landis Chase, Head of School, received a compliment on the architecture of her house. “It’s your house,” she quickly responded. This quiet, individual moment of graciousness is one of the many private interactions that students experience on occasion with their Head of School, a position that, to students, sometimes feels aloof and bureaucratic. But for Mrs. Chase, building connections within the PA community—students, faculty and alumni combined—has been the driving force behind the role at Andover, for all 15 years of her tenure here. Over thirty years ago, Mrs. Chase was a passionate lover of learning who “fell into” teaching, she said. Today, she is the first female leader of one of the largest prep school communities in New England. “Every day I get up and think I just love the people I work with. I love the students. I can’t imagine a job where I would feel that way as much as I do on this job,” Mrs. Chase said. After growing up in Lancaster County and attending public schools throughout her life, Mrs. Chase enrolled at Brown University to pursue a degree in history in the class of 1967. “I had been a really good student but I didn’t get a terrific preparation the way you guys do here. I’d always gotten A’s and then I went to Brown. I had written exactly one term paper my entire time [during high school] when I got to Brown,” said Mrs. Chase. While learning about history at Brown, Mrs. Chase also found love in Mr. David Chase. “I met him at Brown. We hated each other at first – we did not like each other at all,” she said. The two had mutual friends and eventually “saw the light,” she said. The Chases became engaged by their Senior year at Brown and were married three days after their graduation. “Nobody [really] does that anymore,” said Mrs. Chase with a laugh, referring to her marriage so soon after college. After their days at Brown together, Mr. Chase began to attend graduate school and Mrs. Chase “needed to work,” she said. Mrs. Chase began her teaching career at the Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island. “I wouldn’t say that I was terribly successful student at college. I didn’t get all A’s or anything like it. But I always loved learning and I was always very curious intellectually. I guess you can say I fell into [teaching], but as soon as I fell into it, I fell in love with it,” said Mrs. Chase. “I had always loved children, but honestly, I didn’t know how much I would love [teaching them]. I couldn’t teach in public schools because I wasn’t certified. I wouldn’t typically have gone to an independent school but I couldn’t teach at a public school. I just fell in love with it. Honestly from that first year, I adored it,” Mrs. Chase continued. After Mr. Chase was drafted into the Vietnam War, Mrs. Chase began instructing music in 1973 at the Wheeler School, also located in Providence. From 1976 to 1980, Mrs. Chase served as the director of admissions at the Wheeler School. Mrs. Chase then moved on to her next position in education as Headmistress at the Bryn Mawr School, located in Baltimore, Maryland. It was at the Bryn Mawr School when Mrs. Chase was first contacted about working at Phillips Academy. “I was sitting at my desk…and got a call from a search consultant: ‘I’m doing a search for Phillips Academy. The search committee would like you to consider being a candidate,’” said Mrs. Chase. Among all the roles that Mrs. Chase occupies at Andover—as Head of School, a conduit for alumni-administration relations and more—she confessed that teaching is her greatest joy. While Mrs. Chase has taught a variety of subjects from music to English, from third grade to high school, she admitted, “History is my real love.” Mrs. Chase teaches ‘Abolitionism in Black and White,’ an Independent Project seminar in History that “explores the American anti-slavery movement through the lives and work of abolitionists, both black and white,” she said. Serving as Head of School has not been any easy task for Mrs. Chase all these years. “When I came in there was a strategic plan that had just been passed. It was about the quality of residential life in terms of both the quality of dorms and availability of house counselors and complements to students in the dorms. That was a great plan but it had a very large price tag associated with it,” she said. The plan included creating a third faculty apartment in bigger dormitories to reduce the student-to-teacher ratio. Mrs. Chase also spearheaded Andover’s movement towards an entirely need-blind admissions policy. Need-blind admissions, a policy in which the PA Admissions Office considers applicants without any regard to their financial background or needs, was employed at the start of the 2008-2009 academic year. Mrs. Chase also said that she considers the modernization of the Andover curriculum an important goal for the school. She said that she wants “to be sure that [the curriculum] is relevant to students living in the twenty-first century a very global century.” To achieve this goal, Mrs. Chase has examined how each course functions in its distinct department, as well as “how they work together as a whole to educate students to be responsible global citizens,” she said. Over the years, Mrs. Chase has accumulated a treasured, intangible bank of her favorite memories, her “whimsical encounters with great people” or moments. She remembered a particular cluster munch that she held at Phelps House some time back. When she opened her front door after the munch had ended, she found several snow angels that students had sculpted on her frosted lawn. “The great joy for me has always been spending time with students and teaching. I have loved every minute of it. I also love working with adults, faculty administrators and the Trustees—they are all intelligent, innovative and committed to this place and the students,” she said.