Up Top!

Students and families connect with the colorful, caring new Upper School Director


Photo: Laura Beard

Ms. McCarthy high-fives a mom on High-Five Friday. Ms. McCarthy started the tradition with the intent to give students and families a boost of confidence to start the day.

Every Friday, new Upper School Director Ms. Pam McCarthy is at the high school entrance greeting students with a high-five and a smile. This is a small gesture that Junior Katie Royalty says can really brighten up her day.

“One morning I was getting out of my dad’s truck, and I was having a bad day,” Royalty said. “I had a lot of homework due, hadn’t done some of it. It was just a rough morning. But Ms. McCarthy was there at the door all excited and gleaming and was like ‘high five!’ It was a really nice start to my day.”

Some might find it ironic that Ms. McCarthy is the one welcoming students to St. George’s when she is still so new, only having worked here for four months, but she said that creating a supportive and enjoyable environment for the students is one of her top priorities.

“I want it to feel like a space where you all feel super comfortable being here,” Ms. McCarthy said.

St. George’s officially announced the hiring of Ms. McCarthy as the new upper school director in a statement by Mr. Ross Peters on Jan. 9 of last year. She replaced Mr. Tom Morris who left to become the dean of the upper school at Wyoming Seminary. She left St. John’s Preparatory School in Minnesota to join the St. George’s community.

Ms. McCarthy began this year emphasizing that she wants to build meaningful relationships with the students and faculty of St. George’s.

“Making sure that people in our school –whether they’re faculty, parents or students –know that they can come to me to have conversations, that’s important,” Ms. McCarthy said.

Her focus on listening to students was present before she started her career at St. George’s. When three freshman girls at St. John’s Preparatory School approached Ms. McCarthy about organizing a walkout to protest gun violence after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting that took place in Parkland, Fla., she couldn’t think of any answer but yes.

Though the subject was controversial in St. Cloud, Minn., Ms. McCarthy was impressed by the three young women who had come to her to ask for approval, which she gave them. She said it was all about encouraging the students to stand up and speak out, no matter what the issue was.

“I was wanting to empower them so that when they continue to grow. They get to figure out what they believe,” Ms. McCarthy said. “And perhaps the things that they believed last year might even be different this year, or they might be different when they graduate from high school. I liked that it was a student-driven idea. I really just gave them, I don’t even know if permission is the right word, but the opportunity to explore it.”

History Department Chair Dr. Marianne Leung said that she appreciates the new enthusiasm that Ms. McCarthy brings to the job.

“I’ve been through a few shifts in the past, and it’s always exciting when you have new blood,” Dr. Leung said. “Where there’s teachers or administrators who have chosen to come here, it gives a new energy. It’s not so much one-person vs. another. It’s that there’s a new person who’s excited in a different way.”

Her emphasis on relationships was something else that Dr. Leung noticed.

“She’s very communicative,” Dr. Leung said, “and she cares about other people’s relationships.”

Upper school theater teacher Mrs. Karen Dean agreed.

“What attracted me to Ms. McCarthy was her enthusiasm and energy,” Mrs. Dean said. “She is student-minded yet teacher- and parent-supportive. That makes for an excellent administrator.”

Sophomore Ummu Bah thinks Ms. McCarthy’s upbeat attitude and focus on relationships is already benefiting the school.

“I think it’s become a lot more enthusiastic and more positive,” Bah said. “I think because whenever I see her, especially when she’s giving high fives in the morning, I think it brings a happy morning for all of us. And I think her here is just a new refreshing start for us especially since Mr. Morris has left. Having a new person coming in there is just a sense of renewal.”

Ms. McCarthy carries her emphasis on building relationships over to her disciplinary philosophy, which is centered around personal connections with each student.

“[I’m] trying to make sure that I have those relationships in place early,” Ms. McCarthy said, “so that when something potentially goes awry, people understand, I’m doing it from a place of care and compassion and concern.”

Ms. Kalyn Underwood, upper school dean of students, often has to have tough conversations with students said she appreciates Ms. McCarthy’s deliberate approach to decision making.

“It was clear she wanted to observe how things operate, figure out why they operate that way, and then figure out a better solution,” Ms. Underwood said.

Ms. Underwood was also impressed by the amount of engagement in the St. George’s community she’s seen from Ms. McCarthy so far.

“She’s super involved,” Ms. Underwood said. “She’s immediately introducing herself to students. To my knowledge the first thing she wanted to do was have a half-hour conversation with every faculty member, just to get to know them. She’s very focused on relationships and efficiency.”

As for what’s on the horizon for Ms. McCarthy, she says she’s looking forward to the unique opportunities that being new in a position brings about.

“Being a division director can be challenging,” Ms. McCarthy said, “because you’re having to make difficult decisions, but for me, the reward is so much greater than all of the challenges.”