Chrissy shares with us why she became an independent school consultant, why you may consider getting one, and also what has changed in the admissions process in recent years.
Scroll down to learn more about Chrissy, why she trusts her “mom instincts”, and everything you need to start thinking about for independent school admissions.
Can you please tell us a bit about yourself personally? Names/ages of kids, etc.?
Hi! I am a mom to three boys – ages 12, 11, and 7 – and our rescue pup. I love to plan adventures (big and small) for our family, am a lifelong runner, and am always in search of the next great book to dive into. I knew at a young age that I wanted to build a career around working with children and families, and I remain grateful for the opportunity to have a role in empowering parents and caregivers to advocate for their child[ren] and family.
Where do you live and what do you love about your neighborhood?
Our family recently moved to New Canaan, CT. I fell in love with the sense of community in New Canaan quickly, as it reminds me of the town I grew up in outside of Boston. I love the small-town feel of downtown, the incredible offerings for community activities for all ages (young kids to adults), and the sense of culture that exists through special places like Silvermine.
Please tell us about the Gowan Placement.
The Gowan Group is an Independent School consulting firm based in Fairfield County but with consultants nation-wide. Chris Pryor is a Westport resident, former Head of School, and the founder and president of the company. Gowan is comprised of a group of former Independent School Heads and leaders. Up until this year, Gowan primarily consulted with and supported private/independent schools and Boards with their enrollment management, strategic planning, executive search, and professional development. Throughout the years, however, families called asking for guidance and support in the private and boarding school admissions processes. This year, we launched Gowan Placement. There are four Placement Partners who work directly with families, helping them navigate the kindergarten through twelfth grade private and boarding school admissions’ process. One interesting aspect about Gowan is that it’s the namesake of an iconic Independent School teacher named Don Gowan. He was a teacher at Kent School in Connecticut that changed many students’ lives for the better. He stood for integrity and believed that each student had the ability to achieve more than they ever believed by being true to themselves and finding that thing inside them that helped them shine. He helped instill this fire in students by developing trusting relationships with them and helping them find the best within themselves.
How did you get involved with Gowan Placement? What is your professional background?
I have spent over twenty years working in the field of education and began my career as a dual-certified regular education (k-6) and special education (k-12) teacher before transitioning into independent schools as a reading specialist. I have developed learning support programming at several independent schools before taking on leadership positions at independent schools along the East Coast. I have supported public and private schools as a consultant – focusing on curriculum development, student support planning, and admissions for over fifteen years. Outside of my work in education, I was fortunate recently to support the team at a New Haven-based nonprofit that focuses on raising awareness and combating online child sex abuse and exploitation as a board member and COO. In addition to my undergraduate degree, I hold two master’s degrees – one in literacy and the other in clinical psychology.
Earlier in my career, Gowan’s founder, Chris Pryor, and I overlapped while working at the Hackley School (Tarrytown, NY) and have kept in touch since. We had conversations over a decade ago when Chris was just forming The Gowan Group, and it has been amazing to see the impact the Gowan team has had in supporting independent schools. As Chris began building out the placement team last spring, I couldn’t resist the chance to join the team with the opportunity to connect with families in a way that supports matching students with a place to grow and thrive.
How do you know if you need to hire an independent school consultant?
Families seek guidance and support from an independent consultant for a variety of reasons. In my experience with families of young children, I have seen families find a consultant helpful in breaking down the admissions process, particularly when it comes to knowing what questions to ask as they determine the best match for their family. Likewise, families with young children are still understanding the type of learner their child is growing into and appreciate the guidance a consultant can offer when it comes to knowing the type of school setting their child can thrive in. I also spend a lot of time with families discussing topics like retention and learning styles in the process of considering school placement.
What are some of the biggest changes you have seen in the past 5-10 years in the high school admissions process?
While I have worked at K-12 independent schools, I have spent the bulk of my career focusing on grades PreK-8. My experience with trends over the last twenty years centers around the need for independent schools to evolve in a way that supports a growing population of divergent learners, especially when it comes to school readiness and how children grow in the early years. During this time, there has been groundbreaking research in brain development and brain-based learning, which has allowed reimagining and reshaping of how schools construct learning opportunities for students. Technology and the role it should or should not play in the classroom remains a big topic for families with young children. Finally, more and more families are contemplating school placement as they weigh the value of an investment in having their child in smaller class sizes and in an educational setting that offers strong co-curricular opportunities.
What do you find the most challenging and most rewarding parts of being an independent school consultant?
The entire Gowan Team takes great pride in our work, and with that comes a commitment to having honest conversations with families when recommending schools for their children. Families can easily fall in love with a particular school, and given the complexities of the admissions process, helping parents remain process-oriented and focused on exploring all of their options is important to the work we do and can be challenging at times.
It is rewarding to hear from families and students as they transition into and thrive in their new school community. I’ve had families share how much the process has helped them reshape other elements of their parenting practices, which is the ultimate compliment in my mind.
Gowan Placement has a deep knowledge and expertise, if you could give someone applying one piece of advice, what would it be?
Families often come into the process having a specific school (or two) in mind based on what they have heard from friends or have from a personal experience in their childhood. I always encourage families to start the process with an open mind, even if they feel well-informed already. I remind every family that our children will grow and evolve throughout their academic journey. With this, it is important to focus on the information available now and have a plan to reflect on your child’s growth (academically and social-emotionally) on an ongoing basis. Know that it is healthy to give yourself permission to reassess in the future and make adjustments if needed.
How do you balance work and being a Mom?
For starters, I banned the word “balance” from my vocabulary several years ago. For me, balance implied that everything could be juggled equally at all times, and I quickly learned that was an unfair expectation for any parent. Once I became a mom and continued working, I learned the importance of giving myself permission to make mistakes or drop the ball occasionally at home or work and to understand that the days I felt more successful at home or work were not a direct reflection of my ability in other areas of my life.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve gotten from another Mom?
The best advice I received was from a specialist I saw for one of my boys when they were very young. He was an experienced physician who told me that he consistently found that “the mother always knows what is really going on with their child.” From that moment, I have never doubted my “mom instincts.”
What do you like to do to relax/have fun for yourself and as a family?
As I have gotten older, I have discovered how much being in nature refuels and recharges me. Going for a walk or run with our rescue pup (another great part of New Canaan is the amazing trails and parks throughout town) makes a huge difference in all aspects of my life. We do the same as a family, spending time outdoors together and disconnecting from the chaos of day-to-day life. Our favorites include packing breakfast early on a Sunday morning and heading to the beach, exploring hiking trails in Connecticut (from Sleeping Giant to Kent Falls), skiing as a family, or getting away to the Catskills for hiking and a stay at AutoCamp.