April 25, 2022
Dean, Teacher, and More
In the book, I’m Still Trying to Figure It All Out Myself, author Larry Cohen writes about the importance of selflessness. Some individuals inspire others and brighten the environment around them. Some are selfless, caring deeply about those around them. With this in mind, one name in the Middle School bubbles to the surface: Brita Stewart.
Stewart, dean of students, is exceptional for not only how she approaches her duties, but that she does so with humility and without seeking recognition. Kevin Boland Sr., head of the Middle School, notes that Stewart truly cares about every person in the division. “Whether student, parent, or coworker, Stewart attends fully to each and responds with warmth, humor, and excellent advice.”
It’s this quality that ensures every person in the building feels heard and valued. “Her empathy and flexibility as a mentor and teacher have facilitated an environment within the Middle School that allows students and teachers to feel welcome, supported, and comfortable even when the only connection was a Microsoft Teams meeting with ‘Brady Bunch’-style boxes,” says Boland. He notes that Stewart’s empathy is evident in her words and actions. “Brita’s constant calm and even-keeled nature has helped maintain a safe and positive environment every day.”
Without a doubt, Stewart is dedicated and works hard. Teachers may receive emails and occasional texts at unusual hours, but Stewart will respond regardless of the time. “Why is she checking email at 5:17 am?” chuckles Boland.
Stewart’s priority is providing the best experience for students, and she is deliberate and thoughtful in her decision-making. She will bounce ideas off coworkers and solicit feedback. Stewart can be counted on to solve problems and find solutions. Her knack for combining logic and practicality with creativity delivers solutions that work best for students and teachers alike. Stewart will spend an extra hour talking out an idea with colleagues. She follows up.
Balancing tradition with innovation is another quality she exhibits. Because Stewart attended Glenelg Country School through the eighth grade and has been at the school for so long, she understands and holds to the school’s traditions important to the institution. At the same time, she is driven in her profession, constantly seeking out new and innovative strategies to bring into her classroom.
“Whenever Brita and I discussed a problem that involved teaching remotely or in the hybrid format during the pandemic, there was never an absence of ideas or solutions. She never once said that something could not be done or that it was impossible to overcome a challenge,” Boland says.
“Whether it was coming up with an academic schedule with 75-minute block periods or restructuring classes so a classroom had no more than 10 students, Brita always found a way to innovate and compromise so that it worked.” For Stewart, improvement is always possible, and new ideas—which lead to solutions—never stop flowing.
Ultimately, the most important stakeholders in the division are the students. And Stewart is student-centric. She encourages student involvement and ownership of their learning. She invests in the success and well-being of every student, discovers what is unique about every student, and tells them. Students’ concerns are her concerns. She fosters their excitement about the school experience.
Alumni still remember how important their experiences in eighth grade English were, not just as they grew as students but how they are as human beings.
Samantha Weinstein ’11, now a full-time substitute teacher in the Middle School herself, credits Stewart for taking her writing skills to the next level. “I remember getting my first high school writing assignment. I pulled out my eighth grade English folder and reread all of Mrs. Stewart’s feedback on my work.”
“Rereading her feedback, I realized I was overthinking the Upper School assignment,” says Weinstein. “She made me feel confident and prepared, even months after sitting in her classroom. Mrs. Stewart helped me find the self-assurance I lacked, which I still remind myself of in moments of doubt.”
Described by colleagues as a genuine and generous leader, Stewart’s perseverance is seen as a comfort. Says Boland, “Brita has a way of drawing you in, encouraging you to engage, and making you believe. She does this with purpose and humility. While many of us remain in the ‘I’m still trying to figure it all out myself’ stage, one of us seems to have already figured it out.”