Jennifer Chassman

A New Person for a New Job

The Idyllwild Arts Summer Program had ended. The Idyllwild Arts Academy year wouldn’t begin for another two or three weeks. Besides Jennifer Chassman, there didn’t seem to be another soul in Krone Library.

Jennifer is the Academy’s new Director of Innovative Curriculum and Instruction: born in Boston, raised in Claremont, California, and employed most recently as Associate Head of Upper School for Academics by Francis Parker School, in San Diego. Despite its solitude, the library didn’t appear to make her feel lonely.

“I started on July 1, and I’ve had plenty of meetings that have taken me out of the library to meet with other administrators and with teachers.”

There would be many more to come throughout the rest of August—and then the Academy year would begin and all hell would break loose.

Jennifer knew when she took the job that it would demand a lot from her. Director of Innovative Curriculum and Instruction is a brand-new position at the Academy. Therefore one of her responsibilities will be to shape the position: to discover how much of what falls within its scope is actually doable, and how much must be left to the day when the Academy can hire Superwoman or Superman for the job.

Undaunted by the Responsibilities

She doesn’t advertise herself as Superwoman. Yet as she sits in her library office and goes through the long list of things she hopes to accomplish, she seems undaunted. Jennifer had earned an M.A. in Philosophy at the University of Tennessee and then done doctoral work in philosophy before getting sidetracked—”happily!”—into high school education. It’s a chicken-or-egg question: did philosophy teach her a quiet calm or had her quiet, calm nature drawn her to philosophy? Either way, she’s ideally suited to analyze the many tasks facing her and to attack them methodically.

“We teach the arts, yes, but we’re also a college preparatory institution. So we need to look carefully at how arts and academics can be integrated and how they can support each other. For example, art history courses could confer credit in both art and history. You can probably appreciate Mozart more if you know what was going on in the world around him and what he was responding to with his music.”

Mentioning a stalwart of the Western artistic canon like Mozart reminds her of the enduring Idyllwild Arts commitment to Native Americans. The campus sits on historically Native land, and the ongoing preparations for the 2019 Southwestern Tribal Climate Change Summit, to be hosted by Idyllwild Arts during the next few days, were serving as powerful reminders of place: of how a place can thrive but also be destroyed, whether overnight by violence or over the course of centuries or decades by neglect.

“It’s very important to carve out a bigger place for Native American history and culture in our curriculum, so I’ll devote a lot of time to that.”

More to Life

Jennifer pauses. She’s thought so much about what she wants to achieve that the words pour out fluidly. She sees her interviewer scrambling to catch them.

“I’ll also be working with faculty on professional development, in part by helping them see how new technology offers opportunities to teach differently.”

Pause. Her interviewer makes notes.

“I’ll be looking at grading and at giving feedback. How can that be most helpful?”

Pause.

“I’ll be collaborating with Advisors and life-skills teachers on ways to impart self-reliance to our students.”

Pause. Notes taken. Jennifer smiles broadly.

“And at some point soon I’ll be getting married to a wonderful man,” she says. “His name is Kevin.”

“But that’s not part of your job.”

Jennifer laughs.

Even for someone who has devoted her life to education, there’s much more to life.

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