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Courtney Jackson Named the New Carolyn McClintock Peter Chair in English

One of 10 endowed chairs at Winsor, the Carolyn McClintock Peter Chair in English was named for Winsor’s sixth head of school, who served from 1988 to 2003. The chair was given by three families who wished to honor Ms. Peter as a head of school who made a profound difference here at Winsor, and whose love of English is unparalleled. 

Established in 2004, the chair was most recently held by longtime English faculty Jennie Skeele ’71, P’98, ’02 who retired after more than 45 years at Winsor. 

With both Ms. Peter (left) and Ms. Skeele (right) in attendance, Courtney Jackson was announced as the new Carolyn McClintock Peter Chair in English on Thursday, January 18 at an all-school assembly. Head of School Sarah Pelmas shared a speech dedicated to Ms. Jackson. 

Ms. Pelmas’ remarks are abbreviated below: 

Today’s recipient is a flexible, calm, smart, creative, supportive, and genuine born leader. Her colleagues call her “kind and encouraging,” “unflappable,” and a thoughtful colleague and a generous collaborator. I am sure it doesn’t hurt that she is also a good baker, and a specific and supportive complimenter, which can help any meeting be better! And she has an amazing operatic singing voice, as well as the willingness to dress up in almost anything for Spirit Week, or the occasional celebratory goofiness, or a very bad pun.

Arriving at Winsor in 1997, she brought wisdom and calm to an English department full of headstrong teachers and intense writing traditions. She has taught in Lower School and Upper School, and has subbed, on a nearly nonstop basis, for every course we offer—in fact, part of what makes her such a skillful teacher is that she is almost always in the classroom! She was one of the co-chairs of our last strategic plan, and has been an active part of all the major planning discussions of the school. She has been the Lamp advisor, and also the advisor for numerous clubs, most recently Ethics. She is a great travel companion, and a wonderful leader on expeditions of all sorts—as near as the Huntington Theater and as far as the continent of Africa. She combines a wonderful ability to listen deeply to whomever is talking with the skill of always keeping the longview in mind, so that people feel genuinely heard and know that their contributions matter very much.
Every time I get to see this teacher in the classroom, I am struck by how much she delights in her students, in what they have to say, and also in the realizations they come to during the class. She clearly loves literature, but she especially loves teaching and that spectacular moment when students see something that they haven’t seen before, and when they have a newfound confidence in themselves as a result.
All of this teacher’s colleagues make similar comments to this one from Ms. Ryan: “I know that [she] is a beloved teacher—not because I have spent a lot of time in her classroom but because I know the way students light up when they hear her name. The sentence I have most often heard, both from my advisees over the years and from students who have been in her class prior to mine, is ‘I love [this teacher].’ That is, I think, because she makes her students feel so cared for— because she takes an interest in knowing them as people and commits herself to supporting their risk-taking and exploration.”

And former Head of the Virginia Wing Library Alice Stern (who is here with us today!) comments, “Students who have been lucky enough to have [her] as a teacher know that she works tirelessly to help them succeed. As comfortable with eighth graders as with seniors, [she] instills a love and understanding of literature. She believes in every one of her students, and teaches them to find their voice as writers and to be able to express themselves beautifully.”
Additionally, though this chair is not about advising, she is a kind, loving, and wise advisor. Her advisees simply adore her, and she has the singular talent of helping them come to a decision so carefully that they don’t even notice that she has been offering advice along the way. One advisee from the class of 2016 comments that “[this advisor is] utterly skillful at helping her students through their more difficult decisions with patience and kindness, both excited and absolutely knowledgeable about her subject area, willing to care about her students’ lives outside of the classroom and even outside of Winsor, and happy to support them in all of their endeavors.”
How does she have all this patience and wisdom? Well, part of what makes it possible is that she reads voraciously, brings the latest research to her colleagues, and helps lead discussions that range from inclusive classrooms to new frontiers in teaching grammar to new takes on Shakespeare and the pedagogy of the traditional canon. She also knows a great deal about the developmental world of adolescents, how they want to be unique and also blend into the crowd; how they want to be independent and also know that their trusted adults love them and approve of them. But how does she manage to have time for everyone and everything, to plan (among other things) a thoughtful class, a structured department meeting, a fun advisory, a great day for a visiting candidate—all while subbing for someone who is out sick?
I think that English teacher Ms. Simpson has figured out our award-winner’s secret: “I don't know if this is the right time to bring this up, but...I'm pretty sure she has a time turner. How else is she able to plan her classes, teach her classes, create an agenda for department meetings, guide the V pod through casual and productive pod meetings, collaborate with the History Department, meet students for conferences, diplomatically handle challenging conversations, bake the department pumpkin muffins, send the most clear and efficient emails, come up with (hilarious) insights about Queen Charlotte and Bridgerton, AND recommend a book that helps a beleaguered new mom (me) get her toddler to go to bed? WITCHCRAFT.” Ms. Simpson concludes, “Or not. I think what she has going on is way better than magic…I love how open minded and flexible she is. She’s calm; she’s practical; she’s understanding…and might have a time-turner.”

Please join me in congratulating our newest holder of the Carolyn McClintock Peter Chair in English, Ms. Courtney Jackson!