Words of Wisdom With Gabriella Rowe, Head of School at The Village School
I had the pleasure of interviewing Gabriella Rowe, Head of School at The Village School in Houston. Gabriella was actively recruited for the position and, after one year, she grew student enrollment by 20 percent. Gabriella has spearheaded major school expansions, such as the Finna Early Learning Center, a new athletic complex, and a four-story dormitory, as well as innovative curriculum updates, such as required coding classes for middle-school students, an entrepreneurship diploma with Bridges to Wealth at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and a partnership with MIT to enhance Village’s STEAM program. Gabriella was recently named to the Houston Business Journal’s 2017 Women Who Mean Business list.
What is your backstory?
I am a third-generation educator. Knowing this, you’d think that background would guide me down a path of education from the beginning, but I decided growing up that I wanted to blaze a new trail for myself. I chose a profession as far from education as possible: investment banking. At the time, I’m not sure I entirely understood how broad the difference between the two career paths could be. But, I now Know that entering the education field as an investment banker gave me a perspective I wouldn’t trade for the world.
Can you share one of the funniest or most interesting stories that has happened to you since you’ve been Head of School?
When you’re in a leadership position at a school, much of what comes across your desk is serious or deeply personal about a family or child. But, when I was working in New York, I walked away with some amazing, remarkable, and hilarious stories. The funniest for me involved a family who submitted an application for their three-year-old to our nursery program.
One day, I opened a package that arrived at school. It was a shoe box. Inside was a single child’s sneaker and a notecard. It read, “Dear Gabriella, now that we have one shoe in the door, hopefully we’ll get the other one in soon.” I remember just being astonished at their creativity — it gave us all a good laugh. But I remarked then, “I bet if we don’t accept their child, they’ll ask for the shoe back.” And sure enough, about a month later when we sent them news that we would not have a place for their child, they sent a message saying, “Please send us back our shoe so that our child can have both of their sneakers.” Goes to show how far parents with huge aspirations, passion and love for their child will go, which is something I see day in and day out.
Does your school have a particular academic emphasis?
We are unquestionably a STEAM school — our students are focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics. This really means that students learn by working with their hands. They do a lot of experiments and solve problems that may be presented to them in the real world. This learning process ensures that students are prepared to chase their dreams and become engineers, doctors, data programmers, coders, scientists, researchers, artists, and design technicians — people who are going to engage in collaborative problem solving in the 21st century. That’s really what our curriculum and our entire school building is designed to give students the tools to accomplish.
Has the role of private school education changed in the past 30 years?
If you look at what private education stood for 30 years ago, in some markets it was just an alternative to public schools that didn’t or couldn’t provide a nurturing and safe academic environment for families. But in other markets, private education was about status and elitism.
What I think has changed over the last three decades is that private education is uniquely suited to offer a global perspective, particulary in a private school with an international population of students and families. The smaller class sizes, differentiated instruction, high-caliber teachers, university-level education in high school — all lend themselves to giving students a global perspective. That, for me, is the biggest difference you’re going to find in private school education today. Internationally-minded private schools are providing a better environment for our children to learn, work and problem solve in prepration for a global working world of tomorrow.
Are there alumni in your school that you’re most proud of?
What I’m most proud of in our alumni base is their motivation and their passion to go deep and go far in whatever they pursue. Sure, they may not become famous for it — though we do have a past student who plays for the Houston Rockets and a current one who is nationally ranked in chemistry and mathematics. Whatever our students do, they’re going to pursue it with 150 percent of what they have to give. And they are going to do it with the motive, desire, and drive to change the future. That, for me, is the essence of what it means to (as we at Village say) be a Viking, and that is what I hope to see every student accomplish.
How have you used your success to bring good to the world?
For me, making the world a better place is the essence of great education. I was a banker for 14 years before I went back into education. The main reason I entered the education field was to help improve our global future, even when I’m no longer here. The faculty and staff who I support give everything they have to ensure that the next generation has more knowledge, information and resources than we do today. This planet is going to be better off because of that. Education hands this to us in the best possible way. I’m not sure there’s any other career that does more.
If you could have breakfast/lunch with anyone in the entire world, who and why?
Eleanor Roosevelt — who I also wrote my college application about. In an era where being a strong woman was challenging, she was able to leverage her intelligence to make the world a better place. She didn’t always get it right. She had almost everything imaginable running against her, and she overcame some incredible obstacles. Take, for example: the challenges of her relationship with her husband, the ridicule she received because of her look and demeanor. Those things fell aside in light of what she accomplished in her life. I would love to talk with her about where she found that strength, how she was able to dig deep and maintain it through so much and over so many years. I think the conversation would be less about her accomplishments, and more about her inner struggles and how she won in spite of them. The older I get, the more admiration I have for her.