The student news site of Wilmington Friends School

The Whittier Miscellany

The student news site of Wilmington Friends School

The Whittier Miscellany

The student news site of Wilmington Friends School

The Whittier Miscellany

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The Mysterious J.R.

J and R are about the two most mysterious letters of the alphabet right now. After all, they represent the most mystifying man in the Wilmington Friends community: our future head of upper school. If you have any curiosity about what next year will look like, read this article closely. As always, when there is a school mystery, the Whittier has your back. This article features quotes from an exclusive interview with the man him- self: J.R. Neiswender.

The interview began by asking Mr. Neiswender about his past. “I grew up in Texas, went to high school in Houston, Texas. I did my undergraduate degree at Princeton University,” said Mr. Neiswender. He proceed- ed to describe the timeline of his career in education, adding, “I’ve done a little bit of everything…I taught at about five or six different independent schools through- out thirty years. When I teach, I teach history. That’s been a subject that I loved and that’s what I majored in in college. I’m currently at a place called The New School in Arkansas as their divi- sion head.” Mr. Neiswender said the proudest moment of his career has been at his current school. “We’ve only had four graduating classes. When I got here [at The New School] they were really still developing the upper school kind of from scratch. I think one of the things I’m proudest of is the opportunity over the last four years here to develop programs and to create a culture of an upper school community that essentially didn’t exist before we got here.”

When asked how he became so dedicated to education, Mr. Neiswender explained it simply. “I like school. It sounds like a silly thing to say but I joke with people at times that I started school when I was five and I’ve actually never left.”

The heart of Wilmington Friends is Quaker- ism, which Mr. Neiswender knows well. He stated, “I’ve worked at two other Quaker schools. I love the SPICES. I love the concepts of Quaker Education. I think it’s a wonderful way to learn. I’m really excited to see, having had two different Quaker experiences already, how Wilmington Friends will be a unique third one.”

Now that Mr. Neiswender’s past has been re- vealed, you might be wondering about his plans for the future. From artificial intelligence to climate change, the world is always changing, and schools need to change too if they want to keep up. When asked about this Mr. Neiswender said, “Keeping those kinds of conversations active and in the forefront of people’s minds is really important. I think it’s important for schools like ours to teach students how to think and how to utilize the tools available to them, not what to think.” He continued by adding, “We know and have heard for many years that students now are going to be embarking upon careers and futures in fields that don’t even exist yet.”

An important aspect of adapting to changes in the world is supporting students, something Mr. Neis- wender desires to do as head of upper school. He said, “I want to be able to be in classes. I want my door to be open. I can’t wait to be able to see art shows and drama productions and athletic contests and all the things that students find meaningful in their lives.” Another large part of supporting students is being inclusive to everyone regardless of race, sexuality, religion, class and more. On the topic of diversity, Mr. Neiswender said, “I think you learn the most from people who might have very different perspectives or different backgrounds or different histories than you do. We want people to feel like this is their home and they can bring their whole authentic selves.”

Another crucial part of supporting students is promoting their emotional wellbeing. Mr. Neiswender said, “It’s hard to bring your true authentic learning self into classrooms if you are not well in other ways. We want to make sure that if there are ways in which the school can play a role in maintaining health and wellbeing for all members of our community…[that] we tap into those resources as well as possible to support everybody.”

The next question that Mr. Neiswender was asked is perhaps the most controversial of them all. Revealing his favorite sports team could make or break the students’ opinion of Mr. Neiswender. Nevertheless, he obliged, saying, “My favorite sports team is the Dallas Stars. My son was a very serious ice hockey player for many many years. He played with some folks who are now in the NHL. I actually played basketball so you’d think it would be a basketball team.”

If you aren’t a fan of the Dallas Stars, maybe Mr. Neiswender’s final message for the students at Friends can make up for it. When asked if he could send one message to students right now he said, “The reality is I can’t wait to get there. Now I’m still very involved in wrapping up the school year down here. I’m very excited about the opportunity to get to Friends, to meet all the folks who are there. I can’t wait to really be fully immersed in the community. To get to sit in classes, to get to watch students do what they do both in and out of the classroom and to be part of that community.”

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