Germantown Friends names first female Head of School since 1869

Germantown Friends School’s search for a new leader came to an end this week as the Coulter Street institution announced the appointment of Dana J. Okeson, who will be GFS’s first female Head of School since 1869.

Okeson, who will come from Saint Ann’s School in Brooklyn, NY on July 15, 2013, grew up in Philadelphia’s Overbrook section and attended Merion Mercy Academy.

She also holds degrees from the University of Scranton (a B.S. with a double major in chemistry management and philosophy) and Villanova University (an M.A. in philosophy).

Her appointment was confirmed at the Nov. 3 GFS school committee meeting.

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The announcement

In an open letter to the GFS community, the search committee noted that Okeson’s current non-sectarian day school, attended by 1,088 students from pre-K to 12th grade, is “one of the nation’s leading independent schools, noted for progressive educational practices and high academic standards.”

Okeson has been a teacher and administrator at Saint Ann’s for 22 years, according to the GFS announcement, which stated she taught biology, served as chair of the Science Department and is currently Head of the High School.

“She has reorganized advising, shared in the responsibility of hiring outstanding teachers and strengthened the school’s communication and connection to parents and families,” the announcement stated. “While at Saint Ann’s, she was also, for four years, an adjunct lecturer in Human Anatomy and Physiology and the Philosophy of Science at New York University.

“Dana brings a philosophy of education appropriate to our academic traditions and mission. Her broad teaching experience at Saint Ann’s — a school community that values the intellect, individuality and informality — is a striking match with GFS. Her deep commitment to an educational program that combines academic rigor with each student’s capacity for growth, interests and achievements is congruent with GFS’s respect for each child.”

In her application for the job, Okeson noted that, “Education begins as a celebration and exploration of the human condition and emerges as an awareness of the greater moral imperative to others. There is movement from thought to action.”

Current Head of School Dick Wade announced last year that he would be retiring from the post, an announcement which prompted the search for his replacement.

Okeson, her partner William Weeks and her daughter expect to move to Philadelphia next summer. Weeks, the founding partner of a health-care management consulting firm in Chadds Ford, is currently the executive director of a non-profit organization serving at-risk high school students in the Bronx.

NewsWorks hopes to interview the new GFS head either Friday or Monday and will post a follow-up story afterwards.

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