Originally published in the Manchester Journal Dec. 27, 2017.
MANCHESTER — Though Burr and Burton Headmaster Mark Tashjian has spent the last six months in the green mountains, he was far away from his Vermont home.
This week, Tashjian and his family returned from a sabbatical in the Costa Rican town of Monteverde, translating to “green mountains” in spanish. Now, he’s energized for the coming spring at Burr and Burton Academy (BBA), and ready to reaffirm his focus on the school’s future.
“Part of what I want to accomplish this spring is simply to take my time getting to know where the school is today, as opposed to where the school was when I left in June,” Tashjian said. “I almost want to approach this as if I’m a new head getting to know a new school.”
While in Monteverde, Tashjian and his family were able to immerse themselves in the Costa Rican community, culture, and language. All four children attended a spanish-language school, he said, while he and his wife Erin immersed themselves in the spanish language for four hours each day.
“My kids were really surrounded by spanish, and initially they couldn’t speak a word,” Tashjian said. “They got thrown in, and learned like crazy. All four kids had just an amazing, positive experience.”
While Tashjian often encourages his students at BBA to pursue the “transformative” experience of living abroad, it was an adventure that he hadn’t personally undertaken. During his time in Costa Rica, he says, savoring that experience was a top priority.
“The list of tourist things we didn’t do was very long; what we did was we lived,” he said. “I’ve traveled to a lot of countries, I’ve even traveled long term, but I’ve never just lived somewhere. This felt like living.”
Having spent their days in school and playing soccer with neighbors, Tashjian hopes that the experience will make an impact on the lives of his children as well.
“My hope is that this period away with my family will have a lasting impact on my kid’s view of the world,” he said. “I’m grateful beyond description for this once in a lifetime opportunity I shared with my family.”
While the headmaster says he “puts his heart and soul” into both his work and home lives, he views the last six months with his family as a gift.
“Sometimes having my heart and soul in the school does take me away from my family,” he said. “This was a gift, and I’m just unimaginably grateful to have had this time.”
Having led the BBA community for ten years, Tashjian notes that his position does pose a “high risk of burnout.” While he’s remained steadily energized over the years, he says that his sabbatical provides a solid foundation for the next decade.
“I think one thing I’m bringing back unquestionably is a longer horizon,” he said. “In going on this sabbatical, it made crystal clear my long-term commitment to this school. I don’t think this sabbatical was a reward for my first ten years; it was an investment in my next ten years.”
In his absence, Tashjian feels that other administrators in the Burr and Burton community were able to strengthen their leadership abilities as well.
“This fall, by any and all accounts, went really well. I think that Meg Kenny did a phenomenal job as acting head, and we have a very strong faculty and staff,” Tashjian said.
“The school continued to grow, and I think that people’s capabilities grew in my absence.”
Upon his return, Tashjian is tasked with effectively utilizing the growth that occurred in his absence and directing that energy into the long-term future of Burr and Burton Academy.
“I think the responsibility as headmaster is to think long-term about the growth and development of this school,” he said.
“Where do we want to grow, how are we going to keep reshaping our academic program or educational program, what facilities do we need in order to support the kind of education we envision as we move not just into 2018, but into 2028 and beyond?”
With a rapidly changing world, Tashjian says that preparing students for any reality they may face is a challenging necessity.
“We’re here to serve the kids in these communities, and we want to prepare them for a very complex, very technological, and rapidly changing world. How we do that is the challenge,” he said. “Our education has to keep evolving, and our thinking has to keep evolving, because the world is not keeping still at all.”
With a reaffirmed commitment, and a long-term vision, Tashjian is ready to lead the Bulldog’s charge into the future.
“I can happily say that I have that kind of time horizon, and that’s where I want to put a lot of my energy,” he said. “I feel incredibly lucky, and I’m so very happy to be back at Burr and Burton and thinking about the future.”
Reach Cherise Madigan at email@example.com, or by phone at 802-490-6471.