Last Friday, April 5, Becky Sykes, Associate Head of School, received the McKeen Award for her commitment to embracing diversity at Andover, exhibited through her active role in adopting equal-opportunity policies for underrepresented students and her creation of the Brace Center for Gender Studies and the Girls’ Leadership Project (GLP).
The McKeen award, given annually since 1998 by the Brace Center, honors those who have worked to eliminate social and institutional barriers for students. It is given in the spirit of Philena McKeen, a former principal of Abbot Academy known for her efforts to establish a healthy community in which all girls could thrive, according to Diane Moore, Director of the Brace Center.
“I did not see myself as a possible honoree but was inspired by my selection to work harder to help young women see themselves as leaders and develop the leadership skills they need for whatever their aspirations,” wrote Sykes, in an e-mail to The Phillipian.
Sykes joined the Andover faculty in 1973, which coincided with the first year of coeducation at the school. In her 40-year career, she has held several diverse positions, including telephone operator, house counselor, cluster dean, Dean of Community and Multicultural Development (CAMD) and, currently, Associate Head of School, according to Moore.
“In all of her roles, she has worked tirelessly to create a school culture where diversities are embraced as strengths and where individuals are always treated with dignity and respect,” said Moore.
Sykes helped to create policies providing equal rights to same-sex couples and equal opportunities for women and people of color, and was on the original planning committee for the Brace Center, She helped to pen its statement of purpose, according to Moore. Sykes was also selected to be a Brace Faculty Fellow.
“Ms. Sykes has been an exceptional leader in her time here. She combines the skills of a great administrator and a great social worker, and that’s really unusual. She leads not by force or fiat but by encouragement, persuasion and example,” said Tony Rotundo, Instructor in History and Social Science and former Co-Director of the Brace Center.
She helped found the Girls’ Leadership Project in 2009, and worked on it with Jenny Elliott, Instructor in History and Social Science, Sarah Coghlan, Assistant Director of Community Service, and Kathleen Dalton, Instructor in History and Social Science. What began as a mentorship project with a group of Lower girls soon grew into an on-campus lecture series designed to teach young women leadership and practical skills.
“Coeducation has enriched the experience of all the students and faculty of the last 40 years. Gender is an important element of our identity and an influence on how we interact with one another,” said Sykes.
Sykes, in an e-mail to The Phillipian, wrote that she was proud that Andover has maintained the highest educational and ethical standards through institutional changes, including the creation of the Brace Center, the presence of more women and people of color in leadership and the expanded access to Andover for “youth from every quarter.”
“I am so proud of our school’s ability to address even the topics that might divide us. I hope that from now throughout the next 15 months as we acknowledge coeducation at 40 years [COED@40] that we will both celebrate the benefits of being an institution that educates girls and boys and examine with a critical eye what we have yet to accomplish,” said Sykes.
In addition to the initiatives of the student-faculty COED@40 Committee, which Sykes co-chairs with Debby Murphy, Director of Alumni Affairs, the Brace Center and the Abbot Academy Association are working to raise awareness of what coeducation has given Andover, according to Sykes.
Sykes receiving the McKeen Award marks the honor’s 15th year. Former Head of School Barbara Chase, in addition to her own remarks, read a tribute to Sykes written by Head of School John Palfrey. Palfrey could not be in attendance due to a scheduling conflict, according to Moore.
The McKeen Award recipient is selected by the Advisory Committee of the Brace Center.