By Pilar Kesser
When the Assistant Head of School position became available last year, Dr. Leathers knew it was a special opportunity. Despite some doubts, she applied and she is now the fifth St. Mary's Assistant Head of School. Read more about Dr. Leather’s journey from the classroom to the administration here.
She is a teacher, mother of three children, a long-distance runner (recently placing third overall female in the Stanky Creek 50K!), and now, the new Assistant Head of School. Some might say, Dr. Leathers is the ultimate superwoman.
As Assistant Head of School, Dr. Leathers is in charge of overseeing the curriculum and personnel for girls at St. Mary’s. On top of this, she is also currently the Science Department Chair and teaches a section of Upper School chemistry.
While you cannot say that Dr. Leathers has a “normal work schedule” she responds to questions about her workload saying, "Everyone is busy. We take the time for what is important to us." For her, what is important is the St. Mary's student body.
As the new Assistant Head of School, one of Dr. Leather's goals is to strengthen her relationship with all St. Mary’s students and to take the time to get to know as many students as she can. This is one of the reasons why she was so excited to return to the classroom and teach a section of chemistry in the Upper School this year.
“Being in the classroom with students is the greatest way to get to know a group of students quickly," she says. Whether in a classroom or in a boardroom, Dr. Leathers is determined to keep the St. Mary's environment a friendly and positive place to be by fostering strong relationships.
Looking back, Dr. Leathers says she never imagined herself as the Assistant Head of St. Mary’s. In fact, she always envisioned that she would end up teaching at the university level. Over time, however, Dr. Leathers realized that most university positions involved large amounts of research, which is not necessarily what she loves to do.
Before deciding to come to St. Mary's in 2007, she was a postdoctoral associate at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. She worked in the pharmacology department doing research on the mechanisms that control cell division. Even though Dr. Leathers was thriving in her scientific field, she knew she was meant to take a different path.
After deciding that being a university level researcher was not her calling, Dr. Leathers discovered a new passion: helping to provide girls the opportunity of a quality science education. And at St. Mary’s, Dr. Leather’s achieved just that as she proved successful in “unifying a school-wide cohesive curriculum that includes tinker and maker fairs, upper level robotics, engineering, computer science, and coding,” she explains.
To Dr. Leathers, “education is all about creating independent and passionate learners. St. Mary’s is all about teaching young girls how to think critically and creatively and how to help each other develop into confident problem solvers ready to tackle future challenges” - and this excited her.
In a recent chapel talk, Dr. Leathers talked about setting goals and how she has achieved a few of her own big life goals, such as running long races and staying focused on the present.
“If we allow ourselves a moment to dream, we get really excited,” she says. “As we develop goals, we start to live with that goal in mind. In turn, this causes our mindset to change, as we don’t think about ‘what could have been’ because we are busy and excited to be chasing what we believe might be possible.”
And for Dr. Leathers, becoming the fifth Assistant Head of School was worth all the hard work and dreaming. She knew it was a special opportunity that could not be taken for granted. Though, she also admits that she was initially hesitant, saying “applying for the job seemed like a big goal. Should I apply? Could I do it? Was I qualified? Would I be able to get through the interview process with the Board of Trustees? With the faculty, the parents, the students? It was all scary.”
Still, Dr. Leather’s confronted those fears and pushed past her biggest concerns and worries, and in April 2017, Mr. Throckmorton announced that she was the new Assistant Head.
As she shared in chapel, “You need to be honest with yourself and consider the challenges you will face on your journey. ... Is this goal important enough to you so that you will make the sacrifices necessary and do what is required of you every day to achieve your goal?”
For Dr. Leathers, the answer was “yes.” Becoming the new Assistant Head of School was worth all the hard work and discipline because, as she says, “achieving big goals causes us to confront reality. They make us look at where we are today.”
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