EASTON — Jean Waller Brune has come out of retirement with energy and five decades of experience to lead the Country School during a time of transition.
Brune is serving as interim head of school for the Country School on Goldsborough Street after resignation of Bill Ennist in July.
Brune has more 50 years of experience and brings her chocolate lab with her to school. She insists that she is just an interim solution and will only be at the helm of the Easton private school for two years until they can find another head to take over.
She liked being retired she said with a laugh.
“I will be here two years. That is the interim position. That has been determined by the board and that is what I have agreed to. I am thrilled to be here. I have a ton of energy, but I came out of retirement to do this and I will happy to go back into retirement. The kids energize me. They are good and eager to learn.” she said.
Brune is affable, humble, smart and motivated by her students, she is definitely a roll up your sleeves type of person. Already she is on a first name basis with all of the students who she fist bumps with in the morning.
Bill Ennist resigned in late July. He had been head of the Country School for one year.
COVID still takes up a lot of her concern. How to run a school and keep everyone safe takes up more than half her bandwidth. She was on the board of the Country School for six years as the voice of an educator. Once they offered her the interim position of head of school, she resigned from the board.
She went to Middlebury College and studied English. Her thesis was on an obscure Elizabethan playwright, Ben Johnson, who was a contemporary of William Shakespeare in the 1600s. She juxtaposed a comedy and a tragedy. But all along she knew she wanted to teach so she went on and got a Master’s in Literary Arts at Johns Hopkins. She taught in Baltimore at two prestigious private schools that happened to be in the same neighborhood. Gilman and Roland Park Country School. She taught or was in administration for 51 years.
“Going first from Gilman to Roland Park taught me that every independent school has its own culture. So I came to Country School wanting to know, first of all, its culture, because that has a lot do with decision making and how you go about doing it,” said Brune. She knows Neil Mufson the former head of school.
“I already knew this was a good place but between Neil’s retiring, COVID and somebody who was just here for a year, the school didn’t need another transition right now. I let the board know that I would be one of the ones considered to be the interim. So that is what I am doing and it feels right to me.
We were able to be open and not have everyone be virtual. I thought that was great. This year’s challenge is to make sure we can remain open. Our school nurse is in touch with the Talbot County Health Department every week to be advised and get the statistics. COVID is tricky and we don’t want to be caught off guard. We are universally masked,” she said.
She says that although COVID demands a lot of her focus, most of her consciousness is taken up with “fostering and continuing and facilitating the teaching and learning that takes place here. And how to support the faculty to deliver a great education. That takes up most of my thinking. The nine key words that are in the classrooms. That they are integrated into the students’ being is absolutely what makes this school amazing,” she said.
The nine values are honesty, respect, responsibility, compassion, generosity, commitment, cooperation, fairness, and moral courage. A phrase that is often repeated at Country School is “Do my best always.”
“If you stretch yourself, you might fail at first. How to get up and try again. I think that is so important in life. We do a lot of that. Part of what helps is we are not a big school. We know all of our kids really well. So when they are applying to schools, we are able to be good advocates for them,” she said.
Stop Together And Read (STAR) is a school wide moment where everybody stops and takes 20 minutes to read. Any book that the student wants to read.
“I have never seen a school as consistently committed to that concept of STAR as this school is. It happens every day. They are focused on the book and I love it because in today’s world there isn’t that same consistent emphasis on reading. Love of books, love of reading,” she said.
Brune also made a point that not every student learns the same way.
“Some are auditory learners which is the way teachers used to do it in the old day. They stood at the front of the room and they talked. We have improved the curriculum to be able to teach many different modalities,” she said.
She says the word for the year is community. She refers specifically to parents and teachers working together for what is best for the student.
“You have to be an advocate for your child. You know your daughter better than we do, but we know children and how they learn. For example, we might think this is normal development, this is not unexpected. It is not an aberration, so don’t get too nervous. Or this is unusual and we need to figure out something different because this is isn’t a normal learning pattern that we are seeing. That is the best partnership when you tell us all about your child and we tell you all we know about children,” she said.
With all the competing pressures of being head of school, she manages to make it fun.
“A sense of humor is the most important thing, because you have to be able to put it in perspective. You have got to let things go and you have to learn how to laugh at yourself.”
In two years she will be walking down a wintery back road in Vermont with her chocolate lab, knowing that she worked with school’s culture to the best of her ability. Retired at last.