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The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Bourke Effect: How Teachers and Students Have Adjusted to Their New Roles

Interim Grades 11/12 Assistant Principal Elke Gannon (left) conversing with juniors at the IB Cafe. Gannon took on this position after the sudden departure of Bourke in the fall. She will become both Grades 11/12 Assistant Principal and IB Diploma Coordinator in July 2023. (Martina Tognato Guáqueta/International Dateline).

Former Upper School Associate Principal James Bourke announced his resignation on Monday, Sept. 19 and left WIS at the end of the week, according to an email sent by Upper School Principal Sarah Polland to the upper school community.

Bourke’s resignation came as a shock to most students and teachers at WIS, given the short notice and the large role Bourke played for the upper school. 

Eight days later, Polland sent a follow-up email announcing who would take on Bourke’s old responsibilities. IB Economics teacher Elke Gannon assumed the role of interim Grades 11/12 Assistant Principal, IB Math teacher Neil MacDonald became IB Diploma Coordinator and IB History teacher Don Boehm took on the role of the Extended Essay (EE) Coordinator. Additionally, Associate Head of School Natasha Bhalla assumed the Upper School Principal position for two days each week, since Polland is working part-time during the 2022-2023 school year.

These replacements will fulfill Bourke’s former responsibilities until the end of this school year. On Jan. 25, Polland announced that Gannon will take on the role of Grades 11/12 Assistant Principal and IB Diploma Coordinator in July 2023.

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For the 2022-2023 school year, however, the roles were distributed among current members of the faculty to ease the transition for everyone, according to Polland. They were approached for the various roles within the week after Bourke’s resignation announcement. 

Chemistry teacher and CAS Coordinator Cathy Noon giving a presentation at a junior Seminar class. Noon took on the position of CAS Coordinator when former CAS Coordinator Gannon stepped up to become Interim Grades 11/12 Assistant Principal in the fall after the sudden departure of Bourke. (Martina Tognato Guáqueta/International Dateline)

MacDonald has held the role of IB Diploma Coordinator before at another school, but he had little time to prepare for the sudden added responsibilities, which made him very busy initially. 

“There was a lot happening,” he said. “I kept being invited to meetings about… the Diploma Program, and I didn’t even always know what was happening straightaway. So it’s just been a lot of work trying to get caught up and understand what’s happening.”

In order to take on this role, MacDonald had to stop teaching his Grade 12 Higher Level (HL) Math Analysis and Approaches class. Polland sent an email to his class to announce that IB Math teacher Gary Piligian would be taking over on Oct. 3. 

Senior Alessandro Ricci and his classmates were upset at first by this news. “We felt a little blindsided by the fact that [the administration] made this decision without asking for permission,” he said. “But their argument, which makes sense, was that it’s teacher matters and teacher salaries, which shouldn’t be up to students.”

MacDonald and Polland decided it would be best for him to give up this class since Piligian, who teaches the same course to another Grade 12 section, was an obvious replacement. MacDonald is still teaching three classes, while WIS teachers usually teach five. 

“I’m still two-thirds a teacher and doing half a job [as IB Coordinator],” MacDonald said. “So I’m already doing a little bit more, but it helped to get rid of one class and have somebody take that over.”

Now that MacDonald has adjusted more to his role, things have settled down for him, though his day-to-day work is more than what it used to be.  

“Before [Bourke left, MacDonald’s schedule] was planning for classes, being in classes and grading,” he said. “Now it’s that, plus going from place to place and meeting with other people around the school, so getting to know the upper school from a different view… It’s long days, but it’s really interesting as well.”

Gannon is still teaching her three IB Economics classes. She believes that her past teaching experience and familiarity with the IB Economics curriculum has given her enough time to focus on the classroom while also handling her added responsibilities. 

“I feel like I still have enough time for my students,” she said. “And I do enjoy the classroom, so that was really something that was attractive to me as well; being able to stay in touch in the classroom and also take on this role.”

Furthermore, Gannon feels that her relationship with her students has remained strong. 

“Even more so now, I think my students might feel that they also have an advocate in admin,” she said. 

Gannon had to stop teaching her freshmen geography class and advisory in order to make time for her new role. The decision on which class to give up was based on replacement teacher availability and schedules. IB Geography teacher Sushmita Vargo, who was already teaching the other section, took over the class. 

Freshman Leo Naftulin, who was in Gannon’s geography class, found the sudden change strange, especially given that he was only in his first few weeks of upper school.

“Given that [Bourke] just dipped three weeks into school, I was not super impressed,” he said. “I was like, ‘could anything else have been done?’” 

Naftulin wishes that more thought had gone into the change because of flaws, such as the fact that Vargo now has fewer free periods, and the way the news was communicated to students. He received Polland’s schoolwide email announcing the new roles, and afterwards a separate email explaining the situation to his class. The next day, Gannon broke the same news to the class in person.

“I wish the email had been sent a little further in advance for us to process, and then have the teacher tell us,” he said. 

Though it was a shock at first, Naftulin adapted quickly to Vargo’s style and was happy to have her. Though the content shifted slightly, the class circled back to what they began covering with Gannon. 

To take on her new role, Gannon had to give up her old roles of Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) Coordinator and Grade Level Coordinator (GLC) for the Class of 2024. Chemistry teacher Cathy Noon became CAS Coordinator, and Chemistry teacher Natalie Denney took on the GLC position.

Polland approached Denney about the GLC role shortly after the announcement of Bourke’s resignation. Though Denney had some struggles adjusting to her new leadership role, she is very excited by her new position. 

“I love getting people to do fun [activities, and] being like, ‘okay, where are we going to be? And what’s next?’” Denney said. “I love being part of the party planning committee, as I think of it.”

Gannon believes the school has done a great job in efficiently and effectively dealing with Bourke’s sudden departure, partly because of the teachers’ extensive experience with various roles.

“There were [faculty members] ready to come in and take on leadership, and I think that really speaks to the depth of the professionalism and qualifications that we have here,” she said.

By Naomi Breuer

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About the Contributor
Naomi Breuer, Editor-in-Chief
I am Editor-in-Chief of Dateline this year. As a junior last year, I was a Publications Editor and Middle School News Advisor. As a sophomore, I was WIS News Editor, and Arts Editor as a freshman. Other than Dateline, I enjoy baking, playing guitar, biking and participating in Model UN.

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