Jane Shipp has overseen the growth and progress of Renbrook School. Now,
after 47 years as a professional educator, it’s time to hand the reins
to someone else.
When June 2010
rolls around, she will have served as headmistress at Renbrook for 20
years. She has worked in the independent school field since 1970.
is "pretty long for an independent school. I loved it. I have lots
of good memories," she said.
Shipp is not
sure what path she will take after leaving her current post. Right now
her focus is on continuing to do the job to the best of her ability.
year is going to be busy," she said.
chairman of the board of trustees, has high praise for Shipp. He has
known her since she first stepped onto the campus.
chaired the search committee which brought her to Renbrook. I’ve known
Jane and worked with her throughout the past 20 years," Tracy said.
an excellent leader. She’s a great communicator. She’s very well
respected by the (school) community."
He noted that
she has a whimsical side and enjoys positive relations with the faculty.
Tracy also praised her ability to raise funds. She’s a sound leader
from a business perspective, too.
a very good manager. She understands the financial side of the
school," he said.
The board of
trustees is already moving forward with a search to find her successor.
reflected upon what it was like when she first came to interview for the
job at the private school atop Talcott Mountain.
struck me was the tone of respect you could see between students and
teachers," she said.
She noticed a
sense of purpose as well as a sense of humor, two ingredients she
believes are vital to any school. It left her with the impression that
she could make good things happen and that she was the right person for
all about the fit," Shipp said.
years, "we’ve added a lot of buildings" to the campus. That
includes creation of 14 new teaching spaces, a new gymnasium and a
Ten years ago
additions were made to the Beginning, Lower and Upper Schools. More
recent additions are a math center, information technology center and
the piece de resistance, a 14,000-square-foot "green" library
with a geothermal heating and cooling system.
network was installed throughout the campus. Of less note but extra
effort was repairing the roof of the main building. The roof is covered
with 1930s-era clay tiles that are no longer manufactured and must be
attached one at a time.
serves children from age three through the middle teens, offering a
program that runs up to grade 9. It draws students from more than 40
cities and towns all over central Connecticut, and even a few from
Massachusetts. Enrollment is just under 500.
from $5,000 to $28,300 depending upon the level. The higher end, which
applies to grades 1-9, is less than what is charged by other area
independent schools such as Kingswood-Oxford, Watkinson and Ethel
In her two
decades as head of school, Shipp has witnessed changes in technology,
culture, student and parent behaviors. She said she is particularly
proud of the new 14,000-square-foot geothermal library, a statement in
green technology, as well as the mathematics center, the addition of
interscholastic sports in sixth grade, the introduction of foreign
languages in junior kindergarten and kindergarten and various outreach
of change has increased and technology is just one example of
that," she said. "The teachers have laptops now" for
years ago, we had just built a state-of-the-art computer lab. Now we
have four," said Shipp.
staff has increased from one person to six.
innovation was the installation of Smartboards in the Lower and Upper
school classrooms. That was made possible through funding provided by
the school’s Grandparents Association.
also at the same time doing an endowment campaign" which seeks to
raise $12 million. She said they are halfway to the target and the
campaign deadline has been extended to take into account the sluggish
started teaching in the ‘60s teaching was an art form. Now it’s a
science," she said.
coordination is required to teach and develop an appropriate curriculum,
she added. The goal is not just for children to learn, but for them to
understand how to use that knowledge.
curriculum is pretty traditional, but the way we deliver it is unique
and creative and hands on," Shipp said.
when studying such topics as the Civil War, American Revolution or
immigration, students dress in costume and portray characters from those
headmistress said curriculum and teaching techniques have become more
sophisticated with the passage of time. Part of that is because of the
high expectations of the parents who send their children to Renbrook.
more anxiety around achievement now" on the part of students, too,
said Shipp. "We have high-achieving parents and high-achieving
parents are worried about the physical safety of their children, swine
flu, terrorism and access to the best secondary schools. They also don’t
want their children to fail or feel pain but Shipp believes those
unpleasant experiences are vital to becoming a well-balanced and
learn to be resilient … you must learn to regard failure as an
opportunity to learn something," she said. "We have a
responsibility to parents to help them understand (child) developmental
She noted that
independent schools have the luxury of being able to work on character
development with their students, something that is much harder to do in
public school settings. Positive risk taking is encouraged.
There is also
an emphasis on teaching children to give back to their community.
what you learn here is how to deal with other people. Everybody is doing
service projects," she said.
important in her mind that Renbrook be not just a physically safe place,
but an emotionally safe one as well. Another benefit the school offers
is small class sizes, with an average of 14-16 in the Lower School and
12 in the Upper School.
haven’t changed at all over her two decades here. Among those
constants are lots of reading, plenty of discussion and lessons in
basics we’re trying to teach, they last forever," Shipp said.
founded in 1935 and has been at its present hilltop location for more
than 50 years. The curriculum is designed not just for short-term
teaching, but with the thought of what will matter to these students 10
and 20 years from now.
One thing that
visitors can’t help but notice when they enter Shipp’s office is the
vast collection of stuffed, porcelain and other forms of pigs. She
credits her husband with starting the collection when he was a professor
at Brown University and her students have added to the menagerie over
Two of the
more popular pigs are known to frequent campus events, including dances,
graduation and other gatherings. They always dress for the occasion and
one of them has an ongoing column in the school magazine.
earned her bachelor of arts degree in 1962 with distinction in English
and Latin from Rhodes College in Memphis and her master’s degree in
English in 1970 from Brown University in Providence. She began her
career as a first grade teacher in Markham, Ill.
to teach different grades at various locations before becoming an
administrative assistant at Lincoln School in Providence. In her 11
years at Lincoln she held several positions, including teacher, acting
director of admission, head of lower school and assistant headmistress.
Shipp has also
been involved in various volunteer activities over the years. Her
current commitments are as a corporator of Hartford Hospital, elector of
the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art and trustee of Jaffna College Funds
in the island nation of Sri Lanka.