Interview with Julia Breen Wall, Stuart Country Day School’s Eighth Head of School
By Taylor Smith
Discuss your own background and beliefs in the benefits of an all-girls education. How has this impacted your personal and professional career?
I have lived and breathed students, schools, and school leadership my whole life. As the daughter of two school principals, our family’s social life was going to school games, plays, and community events. I have always felt at home in the adaptive rhythm and joyful energy of a school; there is so much magic that is created within its walls. It is a breathing organism in every sense of the word.
I came to first understand the mission of girls’ education through the lens of my teaching experience. Teaching English to a classroom of girls in a community intentionally designed with their empowerment at the center articulated so clearly the benefits of that affinity space — where all doors remain open, where girls fill all leadership seats, and where girls are the center of the story. I was hooked! My mission as an educator was clear: to build and support schools that lift up high-achieving girls and young women who will fulfill their potential and lead our world into the future. And I have never looked back.
In what ways does faculty excellence play a role in creating a positive environment for young women to learn and grow?
The faculty of a school are its heart center. The research is clear: students who feel connected to their teachers are more likely to be engaged. Now, this requires a teacher to know each student, and to identify her own personal gifts and talents. One of the things that most excites me about leading Stuart’s faculty is that our small size allows time and space to know every girl and to support her journey. In getting to know our faculty, this aspect is one of their favorite qualities of working here.
In my mind, a true mark of faculty excellence is a deep and demonstrated commitment to professional development. We live in a rapidly changing world, and our investment in curricular and program innovation is fueled by significant investment in our faculty’s continued education. This ensures that the entire school community is continuously learning. I can’t think of a better way to model learning and leadership for our students than a teacher learning and adapting alongside their students, even (and especially!) when it feels risky, uncharted, and difficult.
When you think of the pillars of a Stuart education, what terms or ideas come to mind?
Our school is part of the broader Sacred Heart international school network, which includes hundreds of schools all over the world. Sacred Heart schools were founded by Madeleine Sophie Barat in the late 1700s after the French Revolution who believed that educating women, in particular, would be the key to rebuilding, renewing, and transforming society. A bold concept back then and one that remains a pillar in our mission to prepare young women for lives of exceptional leadership and service. As I learn more about the rich history of Stuart and its founders, I am drawn to the common language of “genuine, intellectual virtue” and “a dedicated heart.” I was moved by a parent who said that in Stuart, she found “a place where [her] children would be loved and would love in return.” It is those pillars — of intellectual pursuit, of passionate purpose, and of love — that seem to have imprinted most deeply with our alumnae over our 60 years.
How does an all-girls education translate into meaningful alumnae connections and relationships?
Girls’ schools have an incredible opportunity to create a more robust and interconnected network of support for their fellow women. Females are typically natural community builders and connectors and understand their call to serve and support the women who are coming up behind them. As our graduates find themselves in positions of influence in their careers and communities, it is part of the girls’ school sensibility to find ways to mentor and support the next generation of female leadership.
I have learned from Stuart alumnae that it is an unwritten code that you always interview a Stuart grad when given the opportunity, and I love that! But more importantly, I have also learned that Stuart alumnae show up for each other in all areas as they navigate life. Lifelong friendships are built during their years at school.
Explain how an all-female, faith-based education can also be extremely diverse and inclusive in terms of culture, beliefs, and personalities.
Though it might surprise many who are not familiar with Stuart, its community represents a diverse population of students (racially, ethnically, geographically, and religiously). The Sacred Heart Goal of “educating students to personal growth in an atmosphere of wise freedom” requires our community to seek diverse perspectives within a diverse community so we can challenge our assumptions and stretch our thinking. We are, by design, dedicated to girls; we are also dedicated to walking alongside each of our students in their journey of intellectual, spiritual, and personal discovery and reflection. By doing so, we strive to create a culture where every student feels eager to bring their full self to school every day, and feels equally as eager to celebrate the full selves of each of her classmates.