For the past five years, Sally Zimmerli has held the position of Dean of Students here at Concord Academy. Loved and respected by her colleagues and students, Zimmerli is known as optimistic, supportive, collaborative, and compassionate. Through the years, she has worked tirelessly to make improvements to better the community and those in it.
After recently announcing that she will be stepping down from her role as Dean and returning to the classroom, the community has shown nothing but gratefulness and gratitude for all of her dedication and hard work as our fearless leader in the Student Life Office. Whether it has been working with Council or creating initiatives, Zimmerli has enhanced every aspect of student life and the overall community at CA. Let’s take a look at some of Zimmerli’s accomplishments over the past five years.
In 2016, immediately after stepping into her administrative role as Dean of Students, Zimmerli decided she wanted to focus on supporting the students, increasing transparency in the discipline process, and ensuring that students felt comfortable and heard when engaging in conversations.
“My main focus was making sure the community environment or culture was one of collaboration and communication between students and faculty, and students and the Dean’s office,” Zimmerli remarked. Her goal was to make sure all student voices were heard and considered, and that they felt like they could reach out to adults and speak their mind.
One of the first changes Zimmerli made was creating transparency in the discipline process. She worked closely with the discipline committee to ensure that there was clarity on the procedure and process of how rule infractions were handled.
“We spent some time working with the discipline committee in drafting book guidelines for expected consequences for rule violations and then we published them,” she stated. Zimmerli posted these changes right outside her office to establish the expectations among students and staff.
She also works extensively with Council to help promote student initiatives and help them accomplish their goals throughout the year. Zimmerli shared, “I meet with the all-school council head and vice head every week and we plan and organize the council agenda and the meetings for the week as to really establish an expectation that they have control over that [Council], and I am just guiding them and fulfilling their agenda for the year.”
Zimmerli spent two and a half years working closely with the C&E office to create the gender equity initiative, a group to assess how CA handles all aspects of gender identity. Zimmerli remarks, “We established a task force and we looked at how we help students who are changing their gender identity or changing their names and working through all of the policies to change someone’s name in the system.” “A lot of time has been spent really thinking about students and how our school policies impact student health and well being in regards to gender identity and changes.”
She also worked with C&E to reevaluate boarding life and houses and had lots of conversations with students, colleagues, and other schools to see if there was a need for all-gender dorms. Zimmerli created a process whereupon each year the dorm situation would be assessed independently to ensure that all boarders feel comfortable in their living space.
Zimmerli also remarked on the changes that have had the biggest impact on the community. In her view, students have become more engaged in leadership opportunities as well as more willing to have more open conversations with adults about how their needs can be best supported. For example, after frustration arose about students, particularly students of color, having their name mispronounced or being called the wrong name, Zimmerli created a system where all students would record how their name is pronounced, which is now accessible to all faculty and staff members. Zimmerli says, “Those are actually big processes to make happen, but it’s a really important thing that we’re saying our student’s names correctly and we’re calling them by the right name.”
Currently, Zimmerli is working on creating a task force to examine the discipline committee for any racially biased policies or punishments. Zimmerli said, “I am working on creating a task force that will examine the discipline committee in regards to all of our rules and policies ensuring there is no systemic racism somehow embedded in our policies and consequences. We are making sure everything is explicitly stated and clear.”
She is also planning on working with Health and Wellness to ensure that the students are supported during these times of crisis. Zimmerli elaborated, “I want to try to devote a little bit more attention to the health and wellness curriculum that will need to be adjusted in a pretty significant way based on the trauma that we are going through right now with COVID.” She wants to make sure regardless of whether or not students are on campus this year, they still feel connected and like an integral part of the community. Zimmerli shared, “One of my central focuses this year will be making sure that everybody feels like this is their place.”
Zimmerli’s tremendous contributions and leadership during her past five years at CA have greatly enhanced the community and student life. Not enough can be said about her charisma, dedication, and passion for the students. We know there will be more great work from her throughout this school year, and we look forward to seeing what new perspectives and ideas she will bring as she shifts out of her administrative role and into the classroom.