Monday May 21, 2007

Meet Anthony Parker
Weston High School’s New Principal

Lisa Driver writer

Anthony Parker is not nervous. He’s careful. Conscientious. Committed. But he’s not nervous. He’s always ready to take on a challenge. And as the new principal of Weston High School, his “bring it on” approach is winning him many supporters.
Although he officially took office on the first of July, Parker started working well before then. As soon as his appointment was announced last winter, he began attending meetings, assemblies, celebrations, graduation, even the prom (no, he didn’t dance). He brought his wife and three sons to some of the events and started getting to know people.
Parker wants to spend his first year developing relationships within the Weston community. “I want folks to understand that I’m willing to listen. I am not going to go in my first year and say, ‘we need to do this, this and this.’ What a way to close off relationships,” he explains. “After a year of talking, listening to each other, thinking about the future together, then we’ll propose changes we feel are in the best interests of the kids.”
After spending the last six years as a housemaster at Newton North High School with responsiblity for one-fourth of the student body, Parker is already quite familiar with issues facing high schools in the affluent Boston suburbs. He taught at Newton South High School for the seven years prior.
Parker, 41, is Weston’s first African-American principal, and he admits that teaching in predominantly white suburban Boston took some getting used to. In fact, he has often called himself a “Jonathon Kozol in reverse,” referring to the white educator and author who grew up in Newton but devoted much of his career to inner-city schools.
Parker grew up in Harlem and Brooklyn, graduated from a small private school in Queens, and received his bachelor’s degree from Earlham, a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. He then launched a career as a journalist, working for the progressive Guardian News Weekly in New York, Sojourners magazine in Washington, D.C. and eventually for Dollars and Sense in Boston, where he moved to marry his wife, Cynthia. He loved writing. But, as he puts it, “something was missing.”
He discovered his true calling almost by accident. On his way home from work one day, he walked into the office of the Education Department at Harvard and never looked back. He did his student teaching in Dorchester and after graduating with his Master’s Degree in Education, planned to work in the Boston Public Schools. However, Newton South High School called first, and he was offered a job teaching history. It was there that he really learned how to teach and how to work with teenagers.
He also learned a valuable lesson from his mentors at the school, who told him that to be truly effective, he had to “lose the class chip on his shoulder.” Parker explains: “When I first went to Newton, I thought, who are these rich white kids? They all have more money than me. What am I going to offer them?”
He learned quickly that even though teenagers may face different distractions depending on their socioeconomic situation, they all need positive role models. Parker adds: “Kids need adults who are a sounding board and who have more experience than they do, to say yes or to say no and to give them an explanation why. Whether you’re rich or poor – everybody needs that.”
Parker says he’s been impressed by the relationship between the Weston community and its Metco program. And Parker has a unique perspective. When he and his family lived in Boston, his oldest son, now 17, was a Metco student in Needham. He says, “We had a great experience. So the concept of Metco, I support. I’m a beneficiary of it.” Today, his three sons attend the public schools in Newton, where Parker and his family now live.
A friend and former colleague encouraged Parker to apply for the principal’s job in Weston. He was initially attracted to the school’s size: “In a small school, I can know people and they can know me. I can encourage you in particular ways that are important for you. There’s more opportunity for a one-on-one relationship.”
Weston is known for its commitment to education and Parker shares that. He is also a lifelong learner, currently pursuing a doctorate at Boston College. But along with those high academic standards come parents who can be very demanding.
Maureen Ecker, a member of the search committee that screened applicants for the principal’s job, explains it this way: “We live in a community that places a very high value on education. We need an administrator who understands the community.”
And Parker is listening carefully to make sure he does. Ecker’s daughter, Abby, was part of a group of seniors who requested a meeting with Parker to pass on some observations and suggestions before they graduated. According to Abby Ecker: “He’s very approachable, very friendly…very engaged and very interested in making a difference. He struck me as someone who will do well here.”
Outgoing Weston High School PTO President Joan Flynn agrees, and likes the fact that Parker is not afraid to face challenges. “I don’t think he’s daunted by the community,” she says. “I’ve heard that he can make decisions that are not the most popular, but he invests the students in the process.”
“I don’t shy away from criticism,” explains Parker, “I don’t shy away from a respectful argument. You have one point of view and I know why you think that way, and I have another point of view and you know why I think that way. Out of that will come a really good discussion and some priorities.”
A big priority for Parker is integrity: “We want smart children who are well prepared for college and graduate school. But we want smart children who know the difference between right and wrong – who can make a moral decision.”
When asked how he wants to leave his mark at Weston High School, Parker reflects for a moment. “If I can lead a community of adults to help educate kids who are successful academically, stretched intellectually, have integrity and character, and use their resources in the service of others, then I’m good.”
Assistant Superintendent Cheryl Maloney sums up the opinions already shared by many Weston High School parents, teachers, and students regarding their new principal: “He’s going to be an even better match than we anticipated.”



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