As the new dean of World Languages and Literature at Ross Upper School, the School’s largest domain, Jack Hill is working with a very talented department of faculty, staff, and administrators to ensure the students receive an outstanding education. He recently talked with School News about his immediate plans to streamline communications between departments, as well as new ideas for programs he’s working to bring to Ross to support the students.
Describe your role at Ross School.
My job as dean of World Languages and Literature is first to look across our department to make sure the students’ academic opportunities and classroom experience is the best in the industry. As part of that, I’ll ensure instructors have the guidance, training, mentoring, coaching, and materials needed for them to be successful in the classroom. I also conduct formal and informal evaluations and observations of domain teachers, according to the faculty evaluation protocol, while assisting teachers in the pursuit of professional goals and growth. In addition, I participate in decision making about staffing and course assignments.
As the largest domain at Ross, the department includes three key areas: World Literature, English; World Languages, Mandarin, Spanish and French courses; and the ESOL (English for Speakers of other Languages) program.
We have 26 teachers and associates and two academic coordinators, all of whom bring years of knowledge and experience or fresh thinking to the table. I’m ultimately responsible for overseeing the programs and curriculum, but we have regular domain meetings to share information about what’s working and to identify areas for improvement.
I also work closely with other department deans and the Ross leadership team to develop and implement initiatives to make sure my department is constantly improving and incorporating best practices and new information and thinking.
Describe a typical week at Ross for Jack Hill.
I deal with both academic and administrative issues on a daily basis.
First, I address issues that come up with students. I’ve been an educator and facilitator for many years, and it is so rewarding to have an opportunity to provide the gift of a top education to young people. I believe that all students can become successful learners and that there are no predetermined limits to what students can accomplish at any age.
During my daily activities, both in the classroom and in meetings, I may learn about issues related to a student’s academic performance or experience at Ross. I always make time to connect with the student about why a particular situation is happening. Perhaps he or she is struggling to adjust to life at Ross, away from home, or is simply having a difficult time with course material. Dealing with those issues could mean discussing options with teachers, student advisors, or Residential Life, or arranging for some extra help during homework time. A great thing about Ross is that the faculty, staff, and administration share my passion for making sure the kids get the best from us as teachers, as well as the nurturing and support they need away from the classroom.
Because of the scope of the domain, I understand that the department deals with a curriculum that incorporates diversity, cultural experiences, and intensive coursework. I have weekly meetings with my peers and with the head and assistant head of Upper School to discuss content, progress, students, and ways to improve the curriculum.
I also spend a lot of time in the classroom. I teach Core English 10 and Advanced Literature for juniors and seniors. We are currently studying the the postwar period, including literature from Flannery O’Connor and Joyce Carol Oates.
As a global community, Ross welcomes students from many countries. What role does your department play in helping them to adjust?
The ability to communicate ideas in many different settings is one of the most important skill sets students will learn at Ross, and the World Languages and Literature domain plays a huge role in making that communication happen.
There are several things we offer to help students adjust to the Ross School curriculum and culture. It takes a lot of assessment on our end to make sure students are receiving high-quality instruction. We conduct placement tests at the beginning of the school year to determine their language and academic proficiencies, and then design an appropriate class schedule. Teachers constantly assess student progress and advancement or areas of concern, and they regularly share this information with me and student advisors.
Downtime and home life are also very important parts of how a student develops. I’m a house parent, so I get a firsthand take on what’s on students’ minds, and I often meet with our directors of Residential Life to see how the kids are doing away from campus.
At a high level, share your plans to improve the domain.
I’m currently establishing strategic plans and goals for the domain so we will have clear benchmarks to indicate progress.
As you can guess, interdepartmental and intradepartmental communication are priorities for me, and I’ll work to implement the best methods to strengthen the lines of discussion with my colleagues as well as the unity within our domain.
I would also like to incorporate the latest thinking into the curriculum, and that includes new technology and project-based learning paradigms. For example, in English classes, I’d like to see more visually creative learning techniques and projects that connect what is occurring in the classroom to our Spiral Curriculum.
Additionally, I believe reading and writing skills are critical to the success of our students in today’s world, particularly in competitive collegiate programs and contemporary workplaces. Thus, the skills we transfer to our kids are paramount to our continued success and must be consistently reevaluated.
Last, I would like to introduce new extracurricular programs such as a visiting author series and a peer writing center as a part of student support programs.
What brought you to Ross?
I was attracted by the global understanding of learning at Ross. The education at Ross is what education will look like worldwide in the future. Although the School is still establishing itself, we are proving to be leaders in our understanding of global education. I’m convinced that the world will love what our students can do.
I also agree with the Ross approach to Wellness. We pay close attention to students’ development from a mental and physical perspective, and that includes a multicultural view of education. I’m a believer in constantly enhancing and improving the curriculum and student experience to stay ahead of the times and provide a learning environment that fits the changing global demographics of the community.