When I arrived at Thacher in 1975, I was one of very few faculty who had no previous independent school background or ties to an "old boy" network. I’m sure that many residential schools had a similar culture—a cadre of long-time faculty (almost all of whom were men) who viewed young, inexperienced newcomers with some suspicion. That, along with the long hours and the fact that only two other new people had been hired that year, made my adaptation to the School difficult.
Divisions were obvious, expected, and accepted. There was a definite class structure that separated support staff from faculty. The maintenance and food service staffs were relegated to a cramped back room in the kitchen to take their meals; they did not eat in the main dining room. The school was an island. I was surprised to find that many people who lived in Ojai had never heard of Thacher and others wondered if we were some sort of commune! Along with the town of Ojai, parents were kept at a distance. They were not invited to be involved in how we educated their children and were summarily rebuffed if they dared question any matter of School policy or practice.
So much of that has changed. New faculty (many more of whom are women than in 1975) now have mentors and there is a much broader sense of collegiality. Food service and maintenance staffs are visible and well-liked members of the School. Because of the Parents Association, contact with advisors, off-campus gatherings and access to a wealth of information on the School’s website, parents are partners in their children's education. For many years after I arrived, faculty residences were of varying degrees of livability, as were the dormitories. Now, after extensive building and renovation campaigns, there may be homes that have different appeal because of their location or size, but not because some are in better condition than others. The same is true of the dorms, or will be when the Casa project is completed.
Last year a student wrote in The Thacher Notes about losing half his friends at his previous school because he is gay. The sense of comfort in community is much broader now, though we still have a ways to go, especially with our students of color. The community service program in Ojai is much more extensive than in previous years. Weekly open houses, the lack of a rigid insistence that classes have only restricted areas in which they can sit during Pergola assemblies, the inclusiveness of the faculty, the inclusion of more faculty in the riding program, the diversity of the student body, the School’s efforts to respond to concerns voiced in the biennial surveys of students and parents—all these things have created a much broader and deeper sense of community than the one I came to 35 years ago.