Q&A with Headmaster Dr. William S. Hawkey Of The Pennington School

Describe The Pennington School’s history and current campus. 

I am lucky to be headmaster of a school with such a long history. The Pennington School was founded by the Methodist Church in 1838, and this year we will graduate our 180th class of seniors. We began accepting international students in 1885, and have always embraced students from all religious, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds. 

The leafy 54-acre campus site was originally chosen by the School’s founders because of its tranquil location, and Pennington is still considered one of the best towns in N.J. for families. Our proximity to Princeton, New York City, and Philadelphia makes it easy for us to take advantage of all the cultural opportunities in these places and provides easy transportation for our boarders.

In what ways does The Pennington School prepare students for college and beyond?

When you walk onto our campus, you quickly feel what our students and families experience every day when they come here: a strong sense of community and acceptance, exceptional school pride and spirit, a warm and truly caring faculty, and an honest appreciation for every individual student.

New programs in global studies and applied science are preparing Pennington students to take part in a world that is very different from the one in which their parents were raised. We believe that empathy, kindness, and appreciation for others is just as important as the creative problem-solving skills students learn in the classroom.

One hundred percent of our students go on to four-year colleges and universities, and although Pennington students attend some of the most selective colleges in the nation, we focus on the right fit for each student.

What are the hallmarks of a Pennington School education?

Our entire campus has undergone a physical transformation over the past two years, and as a result our students enjoy all-new classroom spaces that are filled with light and the latest technology. Our educational model is student-centered learning, which means that teachers guide students through discussion to deeper learning and understanding.

A weekly chapel program, led by the School’s chaplain, is a time when the community gets together for personal reflection, to share ideas with each other, and to create opportunities for self-discovery and moral and ethical development. The Stephen Crane Lecture Series draws an international group of speakers from a variety of backgrounds and experiences to campus each year and represents our long-standing commitment to a diversity of perspectives that challenge our students.

Describe the diversity and recent accomplishments of The Pennington School’s student body. 

Our student body represents over 20 different religions and over 30 different countries and their cultures. Over 30 percent are students of color and over 25 percent receive some level of financial support from Pennington. Recent accomplishments include:

• Pennington’s Computer Science team completed the fourth and final leg of the yearlong American Computer Science League (ACSL) contest on April 21, and Pennington was the NY/NJ Regional Champion team for the third year in a row.

• Two seniors in the class of 2017 earned the highest possible composite score of 36 on the ACT, a leading United States college admissions test.

• Four Pennington students recently ranked among the top eight percent of competitors in the international Math Modeling competition.

• A member of our boys’ State Prep A champions and nationally ranked ( No. 4) soccer team was named by Top Drawer Soccer to their First Team All-America team.

• Our seniors spend the month of May participating in internship programs (The Horizon Program). This year, these accomplishments included a student who completed over 600 hours as a volunteer firefighter and EMT with the Pennington squad, another who earned his certification as a river fly-fishing guide in Idaho, a student who created a charity race to raise money for HomeFront, one who completed a dive training program in Belize, and a student who worked at a wildlife sanctuary in Namibia.

What is the boarding experience like?

Boarding at Pennington gives our students a unique advantage over students at a day school: boarders have 24-hour access to the campus environment and all that it has to offer. In addition to time spent outside the classroom with teachers, coaches, and advisors, our boarding school students participate in many creative and athletic extracurricular programs offered here. Plus, a full itinerary of events is planned for every weekend during the school year.

On Monday nights, boarding students enjoy one of the most cherished traditions at Pennington—formal dinners. Everyone dresses for dinner and eats together with residential faculty members and their families.

What roles do the arts and athletics play in the Middle and Upper Schools?

Both arts and athletics are important components of the program for both Middle and Upper School students. All students at Pennington take courses in the arts and everyone is required to participate in the after-school athletics program.

What are The Pennington School’s plans for the future?

We just concluded a five-year comprehensive campaign, which exceeded all of our goals and expectations. This campaign allowed us to build or renovate every classroom on our campus in addition to completing a brand-new, state-of-the-art academic building devoted to the humanities. We created a center for science, technology, engineering, and math and built a new home for our thriving Middle School. We are in the middle of a large-scale renovation of our library and we are making great progress on a perimeter road that will create a pedestrian-only center core of the campus during the school day. This campaign also allowed us to create new academic programs in applied science and in global studies, and the endowments we received will give us the ability to explore so many new opportunities for our students in the future.