Meet the New Head of School
Tony Jaccaci’s respect for Tabor began long before he was appointed as the tenth Head of School, decades before, in fact. He and his wife Lucia started their careers––and their family––at St. George’s School in Middletown, Rhode Island. They were classic boarding school triple threats: teachers, dorm parents, and coaches. In this last capacity, they made the short trip from Middletown to Marion many times.
“All the schools in the ISL have a different feel,” Tony says, “and every time you visit, you get to know them better. You see the campus and, of course, Tabor has a gorgeous campus, but it was the people that really intrigued me. Lucia and I came to admire the spirit of the Tabor athletes that our kids would play against and the coaches whom we would coach against. The parents were so gracious and supportive. I always remember thinking very highly of Tabor and the community.”
The move to Marion is somewhat of a homecoming for the Jaccacis. Tony and Lucia are both New England natives. Their three sons, Nick, Sam, and Ben, grew up romping around St. George’s campus as faculty kids. More recently, the family has lived in Shanghai, China and Cincinnati, Ohio. Nick and Sam now attend Middlebury College and Washington University, respectively, and Ben will join Tabor’s class of 2023 this fall.
“We’re really excited to get back to the ocean,” Tony says. “And we’re really excited to be able to cheer for our New England teams and not have to pretend the Reds or the Bengals are our favorites - although they are great teams too! And finally, we just have good and strong relationships with family and friends here. When we were in China, we were half the world away.”
They moved to Shanghai in 2010 when Tony became the executive principal of YK Pao, a prestigious international school. Tony, who majored in East Asian Studies at Harvard before earning an MALD from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, is fluent in Mandarin. After a five-year tenure in which he helped develop one of the first residential boarding programs in Mainland China, he accepted the position as Head of School at Cincinnati Country Day School. For the past six years, he has guided that institution through an extensive strategic planning process. When it comes to school leadership, Tabor’s new leader brings a seasoned hand to the tiller. This experience, however, has not dulled his sense of humility.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” he says. “That’s something I’ve learned the hard way. Somebody shared this quote with me the other day. ‘Although my island of knowledge is getting bigger, my coastline of ignorance is also getting longer.’”
This sentiment captures why, when addressing Tabor’s faculty this spring, Tony said he expects to move both fast and slow during his first year.
“Having been a head of school, I’m very familiar with operations. I feel like I can step right in and help and support the senior leadership team from day one. The part where I’m going to take it slow,” he says, “is spending enough time to form good and strong relationships. I know how to run a school, but I don’t fully know Tabor.”
His Seawolf orientation, however, is well underway. Since his appointment in January, he’s met regularly with Tabor’s trustees and administrators. He aims to speak with every faculty and staff member over the summer in order to deepen his sense of the school’s culture and identity. To learn about Tabor’s history, he’s been reading Joseph Smart’s The School and the Sea.
Smart’s 1964 book has shown Tony that he has something in common with Walter Lillard, Tabor’s fifth Head of School. Their worldviews are both anchored in the belief that international relations and empathy are critical for addressing the problems of a complex and interconnected world. Like Lillard, Tony believes Tabor can play an important role in preparing students to make a global impact.
“The challenges facing the current Tabor graduate of this year, and for years to come, are only going to increase in scale and scope. We’re set up as nation states and when we think of some of the work that we do, country versus country, sometimes the thinking is a kind of zero-sum game. But the challenges we face––such as COVID- 19, such as global warming, such as issues of systemic inequity–– these are challenges at the human scale. I’ve been a little discouraged at times when we’ve looked at some of these challenges through an ‘us versus them’ lens.”
The key, he maintains, is having the cultural fluency to empathize with people who possess different backgrounds, values, and priorities. “I know that sounds a bit idealistic, especially in a country that’s as polarized as ours is right now. But I think that’s a reason to double-down on creating individuals who can be leaders in seeking consensus with people who have very different points of view.”
Tony sees two broad paths to nurture this sense of global citizenship. The first is to bring Tabor students into the world. Once the pandemic ends, he hopes to build on the school’s rich tradition of international travel. Not only does this provide an opportunity for students to directly engage and learn about other cultures, but it offers a fresh perspective to consider their own. This is something Tony has experienced firsthand.
“Living in China for five years, I probably learned more about the United States than I did about China. Looking back at my own country through the eyes of others really helped me understand where I was from.”
Recognizing that travel is an expensive and privileged endeavor, Tony says there are also ways to bring the world to Tabor. “One of the silver linings of the pandemic, as tragic as it has been, is the use of technology. We can bring global voices and individuals onto campus whether it’s virtual or, hopefully, in-person.”
As he looks to the start of his Tabor career, Tony is humbled and excited. Education is his life’s calling and passion. It’s imprinted in his DNA. Having grown up at Lawrence Academy, where his father taught art, and then attending Phillips Academy Andover, he has a deep appreciation for the value of a boarding school experience. He is a devout practitioner of “servant leadership,” a philosophy that will guide his approach to the work ahead.
“My first service is to the students,” he says, “In so doing, I want to be able to create a senior leadership team and a faculty that will do the same, but then I need to be able to serve those two groups as well.”
The most impactful way he can serve his colleagues, he believes, is through facilitating their interactions with students. “My job is to take as many obstacles out of the way as possible so they can focus on developing relationships with kids in the classrooms, on the fields, and in the dormitories. That’s what this is all about. It’s all about the students and their Tabor experience. That’s how I’m going to lead. That’s my North Star.”