Printable version: Position Description
North Branch School
North Branch School fosters respect, non-violence, environmental responsibility,
and the involvement of students, teachers and families in our community.
We value the uniqueness of each child.
Our curriculum promotes the desire to learn
and to develop abilities to the fullest.
We are dedicated to providing a diverse environment
that stimulates curiosity, creativity, and cooperation.
Our most important goal is to lead children to a love of learning. When students graduate from NBS and move on to high school, we hear again and again how delighted their high school teachers are with their enthusiasm, critical thinking, and initiative. With our emphasis on personal achievement and cooperation rather than competition, North Branch’s experienced, creative teachers and low student-teacher ratios allow us to provide every student with personal attention and individual challenge. We call this
“stretch without stress”
— we meet each student where he or she is and engage and inspire them to want to achieve more, giving them both the desire to do so and the tools with which to do so.
North Branch’s curriculum provides students with a solid background in reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies, as well as music, art, drama, handworks, Spanish, and physical education. The NBS experience continues outside the classroom, as well. Our 11-acre campus in Afton, Virginia, in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, gives students opportunities for outdoor play, nature walks, and garden work. The theme of service runs throughout our year, at every age level. Through all-school celebrations of days like Martin Luther King Jr. Day and Earth Day, students learn at different ages and in different ways about working for change, being stewards of the Earth, and making a difference with their actions. NBS teachers strive to empower students to know that they matter, and that their words and actions make a difference in the world.
NBS is preparing to say goodbye to our founder and Head of School, who is retiring to devote more time to her grandchildren. While we are of course sad to see her go, the Board and community support her decision and wish her the very best.
NBS seeks a Head of School who will continue the school’s mission of nurturing and developing the whole child and fostering a love of learning, independent thinking, and both the desire and ability to participate in and change the world.
Ages of students enrolled: 3 – 14
Number of students enrolled: 110
Student-to-faculty ratio: 6:1
Average age-group size: 12
Students and teachers come from Augusta, Albemarle, and Nelson Counties, as well as the cities of Charlottesville, Waynesboro, and Staunton.
The faculty has very low turnover: approximately half of the teachers and staff have worked at NBS for ten years or more, and about another quarter have worked here five years or more.
Percentage of families who receive tuition assistance: Over 30%
Current faculty/staff whose children have gone to NBS: 15
Current faculty/staff who are alumni of NBS: 2
Current students who are children of alumni: 9
The North Branch Board, made up of former parents, current parents, and community members, maintains fiduciary oversight and oversees long-range interests of the school, and advises as needed on hiring and major disciplinary issues, while entrusting the daily workings of the school to the Head of School and staff. The Head of School acts as a conduit between the faculty/staff, students, parents, and Board, although members of the school community are encouraged to communicate directly with Board members if they feel the need. There is a close and dynamic relationship between the Head of School and the Board, who work together to provide the best possible learning experience for the entire school community. Reflecting the mission statement, the Board operates by consensus.
NBS was founded in 1983 by a group of parents desiring an alternative to the educational options available in Nelson County and the surrounding area. The first student body was comprised of 10 preschoolers and 12 school-age children with one half-time and two full-time teachers. We were given the land where we now sit in the late 1980s, and parents and community members built our first building, which opened in September 1990. Today, the NBS community includes 110 students, 19 teachers and staff, and three buildings on our 11 acres, but the mission and intention of the school have never changed. We offer children a place where they can be curious, take risks, explore new ideas, and work with a community to think critically and solve problems, without the obstacles of traditional grades and report cards or standardized test scores.
Our School Culture
North Branch School does not have an easy, one-word descriptor. It is our intention that every aspect of the school is anchored in the values enumerated in our Mission Statement, and that these values drive all our practices.
Respect is expressed in manner of address, tone of voice, facial expression and body language, as well as by the words used. Adults are expected to express themselves respectfully, as are students. We model respectful disagreement and respect for widely differing opinions and world views. Students at NBS call their teachers by their first names, just one of the many ways we reinforce the idea that we are partners in learning and indicating a respect born of common purpose, rather than imposed by a title. Students are given a voice to solve problems in class meetings, and student input is solicited and listened to in planning plays and other class projects.
Non-violence is a condition of our behavior with each other at North Branch, but is also examined as a courageous approach to making the world a better place by many people in many places. We think students benefit from learning about non-violent role models and from practicing inclusive decision-making in the classroom. From Preschool through Middle School, students are encouraged to let a classmate know when an action bothers them, and teachers support students in talking through disagreements in a way that allows everyone to be heard. Throughout the year, students and staff model and engage in making the world a better place through nonviolent practices and ways of communicating.
Environmental Responsibility begins in the Preschool, as three- and four-year-olds learn to care for plants and animals at school and to recycle whenever possible. Compost containers are found in every room and are emptied daily into compost bins next to the gardens in which vegetables are grown for sale or donation to the county’s Food Pantry. By the time students graduate from our Middle School, they have been exposed to a breadth of environmental issues, and have partnered with teachers, parents, and professionals to consider the impact of actions on our school grounds, our local community, our Chesapeake Bay watershed, and our globe. NBS is one of only three schools in Virginia to have won the Virginia Naturally award for all 18 years of the award’s existence, honoring the school’s commitment to environmental stewardship.
Involvement in Community begins with our parents, who are welcome at school, invited to present areas of expertise to classes, and commit to attend workdays to care for the school buildings and grounds. That work provides students with a powerful message about their parents’ values. We invite members of the larger community beyond our past and present families to school to present areas of expertise or read with children. We actively seek opportunities to make community connections, including offering summer camps and afterschool programs open to all. Students also quickly learn their own importance to the NBS community by sharing their work in weekly Assembly and doing community jobs every afternoon to care for the campus.
We value the uniqueness of each child. The staff does not seek to impose or extract a single type of reaction, not even a “North Branch-y” one. Each teacher looks for ways to support each child as well as the group, creating a welcoming culture throughout the school. We look for each child’s strengths and nurture them, as well as the areas in need of growth. Each student’s social development is as important to the NBS community as his or her academic development. We know each child not just as a student, but as a person.
Promoting the desire to learn is our primary goal. We are a community devoted to inspiring students. We think that providing multiple opportunities for children to enjoy being engaged is our job, not grading them or administering machine-scored tests. Teachers and students reflect on the student’s work, all their work, interpersonally as well as academically and artistically. While we do teach test-taking as a skill, we do not see people as a sum of their scores and grades. We aim to present work rigorous enough to inspire a student’s growth and relevant enough to inspire connections and continuation beyond the classroom walls. Visitors often remark on how happy our students seem; a quick listen in the classrooms or a look at the work on the walls shows that we’re not sacrificing rigor in order to achieve that happiness. Teachers in other schools often ask, “Without grades, how do you get kids to do their homework?” NBS teachers pride themselves on making learning relevant, interesting, and fun, so that students often take an idea beyond the assigned work, thinking and working on it outside of the classroom and coming in with new questions and ideas.
Developing abilities to the fullest means helping children ask more of themselves in every arena, but without extrinsic rewards such as grades. Students experience the intrinsic value of expanded social skills and relationships throughout their time at NBS, in every classroom and on every playground, in a far more powerful way than citizenship medals or awards. The intrinsic value of academic skills is often experienced within a meaningful context; younger children look forward to activities they see older children enjoying and are powerfully motivated by the capabilities those older students exhibit in their presentations. Students grow in response to reasonable expectations and the (differing) support they need to reach them. Students stretch themselves in response to people who are passionate about sharing their passions. Teachers pursue units of study for age-appropriate depth, shortening or extending the timetable to meet the interests of their students, as they are not limited by test dates.
Commitment to a diverse environment is expressed in the admission process, the classroom, and in Board meetings. Books and posters, field trips, and speakers are all chosen to expose the students to diversity in many forms; photographs and illustrations show different faces, picture books, novels and historical accounts present different voices and perspectives. Since the very first day, the tuition has been held to as low a level as possible in order that the school be accessible to an economically diverse population. Families who qualify can work a portion of tuition, providing cleaning and maintenance services. In addition, those who qualify may apply for further assistance from the school’s needs-based scholarship program. The Board and Head of School manage together the juxtaposition of the school’s commitment to maintaining accessibility and diversity and to paying teachers.
Curiosity, Creativity, and Cooperation are innate in every child. We look to provide opportunities to develop all these elements throughout the school day. We are committed to maintaining a wonderful playground, daily school-wide recess, leadership and support for conflict resolution, student agency choosing topics/projects within the framework teachers build, a choice-based art room, vocal and instrumental music instruction, and the inclusion of all students in class and school plays. During recess, students organize soccer games in the field or basketball games on the blacktop, climb trees, dig in the sandbox, and create entire “cities” and trading centers with their forts, built from natural materials, in the woods.
NBS offers academic challenge in a nurturing environment, striving to stretch our students without stressing them and/or their families. We emphasize hands-on learning and cooperation, while giving our students a solid foundation in academics, the arts, and life skills.The Toddler Program is a community service for toddlers and parents/caregivers one morning a week. North Branch’s Preschool offers parents of 3- and 4-year-olds a half-day program including lunch either two or four mornings a week. Children turning 5 come four mornings each week and have the option of attending any or all afternoons. Children 6, 7, and 8 in the Primary groups and children turning 9 and 10 in the Junior group attend four full days with the option to parents of enrolling in our Wednesday program. The Senior program (students turning 11 and 12) and Middle School (turning 13 and 14) are both five-day programs.
Teachers have the flexibility to extend units or change their plans in response to students’ interests or needs, as well as to current events. Teachers have the opportunity to work together so that two age groups who might be exploring a similar subject–from explorers to probability–can deepen each others’ understanding. Teachers of different subjects work to coordinate their curricula, so that students can read and write about what they’re studying in Science, let their work in Art class deepen their history study, or combine a unit in Spanish class with a Humanities or Current Events unit.
While specific skills may be introduced and developed in small ability-based groups, theme units provide opportunities for a whole class to work together, for cooperative teamwork and for individuals to research independently. This fluidity allows children to succeed in a variety of settings and to experience the give-and-take needed to work productively with others. Class groupings reflect our desire to respond to children’s changing needs and abilities, providing an environment which is both stable and flexible enough to help children learn how to learn and enjoy the process.
Parents are an integral part of the learning team, along with the student and teacher. Teachers communicate to parents informally in conversations at drop-off and pick-up and in weekly notes in our “Friday Folder,” and more formally in conferences in November and written evaluations in February and June.
Students engage weekly in music, art, and outdoor activities, and classes prepare large and small drama presentations throughout the year. Spanish is a part of every age group’s experience, such that many graduates enter Spanish 2 in high school.
Students graduate from NBS prepared for the most rigorous high school expectations. North Branch alumni attend both public and private high schools in the area and are recognized as valuable contributors to their schools’ academic, social, athletic, and service communities.
For more specific information about curriculum and activities at each level, please see the Curriculum tab on the North Branch School website (https://north-branch-school.org/about/curriculum/).
Those of us who have the good fortune to live in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains know this experience: a friend comes to visit, and after taking a drive to a local winery, hiking trail, or theater, says, “You get to live here? This is like a place people come for vacation!” Nelson County, with its lush green mountain backdrop, abundant orchards and vineyards, and winding Rockfish River, feels like a serene oasis just 30 minutes from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Nelson County is located in the geographic center of Virginia, approximately two hours from Richmond and three hours from Washington, D.C.
North Branch School sits in the beautiful Rockfish Valley, at the foot of Afton Mountain, part of the Blue Ridge Chain. The Rockfish Valley is a longtime mecca for cyclists (Bike Route 76 runs through the small town of Afton), hikers (home to part of the Appalachian Trail and numerous hikes), and bird-watchers (hawks migrate through the Rockfish Gap each year). Crabtree Falls, the highest waterfall in the Eastern U.S., is less than an hour from the school. The Blue Ridge Parkway also passes through Nelson County, and a large portion of the western section of the county is in the George Washington National Forest. Just six miles to the northwest, at the top of Afton Mountain, lies the southern entrance to the historic 105-mile Skyline Drive, a National Scenic Byway, and the beautiful views, hikes, and waterfalls of the surrounding Shenandoah National Park.
In the early days of the US, the climate of Afton Mountain proved perfect for orchards, and the Albemarle Pippin proved to be Queen Victoria’s favorite. The apple industry has experienced a resurgence in recent decades, and locals can enjoy an apple-picking trip, freshly made cider (or hard cider), as well as picking their own strawberries, peaches, and pumpkins at various times of the year. More recently, oenologists (wine-makers) have discovered that the “thermal belt” that is so good for apples is also excellent for grapes, and a new industry has taken root. Nelson County hosts over 13 wineries and 19 breweries and distilleries, each with beautiful views and outdoor space for gathering with friends. The area hosts several music festivals, including LockN’, Festy, and Hoopla.
Nelson County is home to Wintergreen Resort, which hosts ski slopes in the winter, a nationally-known music festival in the summer, and two golf courses almost year-round. Wintergreen is home to the Wintergreen Nature Foundation, which works with NBS teachers and students on science and environmental projects.
These beautiful foothills host many historical and artistic venues. The University of Virginia, only 30 minutes away, offers numerous cultural, athletic, and academic opportunities, and Charlottesville is home to the Kluge-Ruhe Museum of Aboriginal Art, the Paramount Theater, and John Paul Jones arena. Thomas Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and James Madison’s home, Montpelier, are easy field trips, and Appomattox, Yorktown, Jamestown, and Williamsburg are all within a few hours’ drive. Over the mountain, only 25 minutes away, is the American Shakespeare Center, the world’s only recreation of Shakespeare’s indoor Blackfriars theater. Even closer is the newly renovated Wayne Theater, which originally opened in 1926 as a silent movie and vaudeville theater, and is now an area center for entertainment and conferences.
Afton and its environs offer friendly communities, peaceful settings, and plenty of entertainment.
Responsibilities, Opportunities, and Challenges for the Head of School
NBS seeks a dynamic, committed, enthusiastic Head of School to continue and build upon our legacy and traditions. The Head of our unique school must be able to:
- Be the public face of the school, as well as the bridge between students, staff, parents, the community, donors, and the Board. The Head of School must be appropriately transparent with all constituencies, collaborating when possible, decisive when necessary, always keeping the school’s mission statement in mind.
- Understand and articulate the three-way intersection between accessibility, tuition, and salaries. The Head of School must value the accessibility that low tuition creates and be able to articulate that value, while at the same time maintaining commitment to improving compensation for teachers.
- Carefully manage the admissions process. The Head of School will know each child and family personally and understand the contributions a family and student can make to the school as a whole. The Head of School must have an experienced eye for the developmental and educational needs of children ages 3 – 14. As the chief admissions officer, the Head of School makes sure that each student is a good fit for NBS and that NBS can serve each student. After the admissions process, the Head of School collaborates with teaching staff when thinking about groupings and curricula at each level.
- Lead and support teaching staff in NBS’s mission-driven program. The Head of School supervises curriculum to be sure it is developmentally appropriate, engaging, and holds to our mission. The Head of School must be able to articulate the meaning behind what we do, especially when it differs from other schools, by understanding the skills each activity seeks to develop and how each activity supports our mission. The Head will partner with lead faculty in supervising the 5-day program, the Junior program, the Primary program, and the Preschool program.
- Partner with the Development Director to lead fundraising activities and with the Administrator in the Admissions Process and the handling of the day-to-day logistics of school life. Every staff member wears several “hats”; the exact configuration and delegation of responsibilities is unique to each year. We realize many candidates will not have experience in all of these areas, and we are open to learning from the experience an applicant brings.
Desired Qualities and Qualifications
The next Head of School for North Branch School must:
- Value and support the mission of the school
- Comfortably and confidently interact with all constituencies (students, parents, teachers, community, donors, Board), communicate clearly and transparently (when appropriate), and create a welcoming environment
- Be able to make connections and recognize interdependent needs by being present in the life of the school
- Maintain a balanced demeanor while juggling a number of duties and wearing several hats
- Model resourcefulness and budget-driven decision-making
- Be willing to collaborate with both children and adults when appropriate; be decisive when appropriate
- Bring his or her own talents and add them to the school community.
Interested and qualified candidates should submit electronically the following materials to
Katrien Vance and Ellen Bouton
NBS Search Committee
- A cover letter expressing your interest in this particular position
- A current resume
- A one-page statement of educational philosophy and practice
- A list of five (5) professional references with name, phone number, and email address of each (references will not be contacted without the candidate’s permission). We would like references to include a parent of a former student, a colleague with whom you have taught, and a former supervisor.