This summer has been a time of transition for one of Rappahannock County’s most well-known institutions, Wakefield Country Day School (WCDS). In early June the Wakefield board of directors appointed Jessica Lindstrom as the new head of school. Lindstrom, who has more than 30 years of experience in the education field, replaced Kathleen Grove, who retired after eight years.
With degrees from Indiana University and Smith College, Lindstrom has taught at schools all over the world, so one could be forgiven for thinking Rappahannock County might initially be a culture shock. “Not at all,” she says with a laugh. In fact, the idyllic little county was intentionally chosen by Lindstrom and her husband, C. Timothy Lindstrom.
“My husband loves Virginia,” said Lindstrom, who has spent the past several years in a small town in Wyoming. “We were looking for a place that combined the security of our little Wyoming town with rural seclusion and a strong sense of community. We made sure to look at the graduation rates of all the local counties, and Rappahannock rose to the top because of Wakefield.”
Lindstrom’s intuition proved to be spot-on when her first official day on the job coincided with the aftermath of the recent derecho that blew through the county. For the first week they were here, Lindstrom and her family didn’t have power.
“I spent my first day assessing damage to the school, cleaning up puddles where water had leaked under the carpet and being thankful no trees had fallen on the school,” she said.
But the community rallied together around its newest arrivals, Lindstrom said, with many of her future students’ parents providing her family with food, water and even bedding. “Our moving truck hadn’t even arrived yet,” Lindstrom said. “Yet the community immediately came together and helped us out.”
After regaining power Lindstrom set about focusing on her plans for the school. She began at what seemed the most natural point: by asking the faculty for their input. Surveys were sent out to each of Wakefield’s 40 faculty members, who were asked to record their opinions on ways they believed the school could improve. And while she won’t reveal all her plans just yet – “I want the faculty to hear it from me first before reading it somewhere else” – she said she wants to focus on deepening the connections with the school’s community.
To that end, Lindstrom said she wants to strengthen the bonds with the school’s alumni by initiating a Facebook group and appointing “class leaders,” alumni whose job will be stay in touch with their graduating class and update the school (and its soon-to-be-revamped website) on their professional lives.
“I want to bring the Wakefield community even closer together,” she said. “I want to focus on the vibrancy of our community so that everyone can see Wakefield the way we do.”
Lindstrom praised the school’s directors for being very supportive in her efforts thus far, but says she does realize there are some inherent challenges associated with small schools. She taught previously at Journeys School of Teton Science Schools in Jackson Hole, Wyo., a small, independent preschool-through-12th-grade facility not unlike Wakefield.
“Part of the challenge with small schools is with offering variety to students. It can be hard to balance all the things you want to offer with a small staff.”
Lindstrom isn’t letting the logistics stand in the way, though. She already has several curricular and extracurricular activities in mind, and recently restarted the school newspaper with the help of Wakefield senior Marc Cugnon. Cugnon approached her shortly after she started and petitioned her to allow him to run the newspaper.
Her response? The same she gave when she and her family moved to Rappahannock County in the first place: “Let’s go for it!”