Head of School Transition

As we find ourselves at the end of the academic year, our Head of School’s retirement is upon us. Below is a letter from our beloved Terry to our community. His years of service have shaped this institution into the educational pillar that it is, and he will be passing the torch to the equally capable Dr. Yann Lussiez.

Terry Passalacqua, Head of School 2008 – 2017

May 12, 2017

It is time to begin the process of leave-taking, of transition and of looking back for me and looking forward for the school. I have played but a small role in helping create a place where students can thrive and realize their potential; a place where adults are in the background, nurturing, guiding, teaching and being role models, a place where students are primary, prominent and in the center of the “experience.”

I have always thought that the reason Desert Academy exists is to help children grow by valuing their individuality, their uniqueness, and by honoring their destiny — whatever that may mean.

Thankfully, this is the Desert Academy that exists now, in 2017, and my hope for the future is entrusted in people who “get it” — who know the “key” of Desert’s success and who are true servants, who understand that it’s their charge to nurture the next generation. I have had the pleasure of working during this transition with our next Head (Desert’s 7th), Dr. Yann Lussiez. He “gets it.” Together with Leslie Livingston, our Executive Director of Operations and Student Life, who also understands the deep meaning of our mission, he will lead our school to the next level of excellence.

As with any journey, the steps along the way aren’t usually noted until one arrives and looks back: the adoption of the IB, the Diploma Program, then the Middle Years Program, our move to our new campus, doubling of our enrollment, and then doubling again to 170 students this year, growth of our athletic teams, our vibrant arts programs, increasing awards, the highest ACT scores in the city, an ever-increasing pool of teacher talent, and more. Our continuing authorization from the International Baccalaureate Organization and the highest commendation from AdvancED, our accreditation agency, are clear expressions of the quality of academics for which we have become known.

Transition, by its very nature, means change, and change leads to some degree of uncertainty. We should not, in this case, think of uncertainty as problematic or ominous. Change can be transformative, energizing and often has an emergent quality. Ultimately, we can’t remain static anyway, even if we wished it, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus reminds us: “All is flux; nothing stays still.”

What will not change is our steadfast commitment to honoring the individual student and our passionate guidance of our students toward the joy of engagement and curiosity in the learning process.

There is such a solid foundation here, so much to build upon. I am confident in Dr. Yann’s ability to nurture the seeds of learning here in this school I deeply cherish. I leave hoping my small contributions have mattered in the lives of the adults with whom I have collaborated and the students whom I have been fortunate enough to teach and mentor. I hope that each of them takes a bit of what we have created here out into the wide world and makes the most of it.

With warm regards,

Terry Passalacqua


June 21, 2017

Dear Desert Academy Community,

Dr. Yann Lussiez, Head of School 2017 – Present

It is with great enthusiasm and pride that I step into the leadership role at Desert Academy. I have seen firsthand the entire school community’s commitment to Desert’s mission and to growing that beautiful essence we call “Desertness.” I have been inspired by our students’ incredible achievements, brought to tears through their kindness and generosity, and feel eager to share in their vision of a better world. Walking the halls with visitors and friends, I have been proud to show off the high level of expertise, collaboration, and caring of our teachers and leadership team. Desert is a magical place, a school that you can fall in love with and a school that will love you back.

Over the past twelve years in educational leadership, I have discovered that there is great fulfillment in leading a community towards the achievement of a worthy goal. Leadership is service with the goal of inspiring the school community and encouraging all participants to think of themselves as leaders and part of a team. I have learned that, without a culture of care, learning can’t take place. As Head of School, my goal is to lead Desert with mutual trust, purposeful inclusion, and a steadfast commitment to the school’s mission and vision. I will strive to keep excellence and empathy at the center of all I do, through active listening, perspective taking, story telling, humor and compassion.

I am inspired by Kaizen principles: throwing out old fixed ideas about how to do things and how things should work, thinking positively, not waiting for perfection, correcting mistakes as soon as they surface, embracing the question “why,” the wisdom of the collective, and basing decisions on data instead of on opinions. By way of sharing that data, I will send out a “State of the School” update twice a year that will include feedback from a number of surveys we will conduct with our various stakeholders. We will use that feedback to highlight both successes and challenges as well as to inform continuous refinements to our strategic plan. At the end of the day, that information will help insure that every faculty and staff member is supported and nurtured. Optimally, this will mirror the nurturing we, in turn, provide for our students.

I am fortunate, indeed, to lead such a remarkable community to the next chapter of excellence. I look forward to getting to know each and every one of you.

Dr. Yann Lussiez

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