Green Hedges School in Vienna on July 1 welcomed the eighth head of school in its history, Jennifer Bohnen, and she’s excited to get started with the tasks ahead.
“Green Hedges is such a special place, with a robust, rich curriculum and the focus on academics, languages and the arts,” said Bohnen, who spent the last four years as lower-school head at Aspen Country Day in Colorado.
Originally from the San Francisco Bay area, Bohnen got an inkling of her future while pursuing her bachelor’s degree in recreation management at Northern Arizona University. She interned at an environmental-education center in South Carolina and discovered she wanted to work with young students all the time.
“I love being with children and watching the world through their eyes,” she said. “I can shape the future, which is one of the most important jobs.”
Bohnen taught environmental science at the Lamplighter School in Dallas and was a homeroom teacher at Hillbrook School in Los Gatos, Calif. While at the latter institution, she was encouraged to apply for its lower-school head position and realized her future also would be in administration.
“I knew that was my calling, almost over teaching, because I wasn’t in touch only with just my class, but I was impacting the whole school, thinking strategically and meeting with all different types of parents and children,” she said.
Bohnen went back to college and got her master’s and educational-specialist degrees in educational leadership and administration at the George Washington University. She worked at St. Stephens & St. Agnes School in Alexandria, also serving as a trustee at Burgundy Farm Country Day in that city, and also did a stint at St. Anne School in Laguna Niguel, Calif.
Green Hedges School, founded in 1942, will have about 135 students this fall. The school’s board of trustees wants to “right-size” the institution’s enrollment, diversify its student body and focus on sustainability, stewardship and socio-emotional learning, Bohnen said.
That last concept refers to character education, including the way students interact with their friends, respond to situations and resolve conflicts, she said.
“We know if kids are out there and they’re having a tough time on the playground, the learning is not going to happen,” Bohnen said.
Having a diverse range of students teaches them how to work well with others, she said.
“Everyone has different talents, right?” Bohnen said. “Somebody might be really smart in math and someone else might be an excellent leader. It just balances everything out.”
School officials also will be looking at Green Hedges’ approved master plan. Long-term plans call for an underground gymnasium and a second story over one of the school’s buildings.
In addition, Green Hedges officials are working with board members, faculty and parents on a new strategic plan to guide the school for the next three to five years.
The market for private schools is competitive, Bohnen said.
“There’s a lot of school choice out there,” she said. “Parents are really taking the time right now to find what’s right for their child.”
Bohnen succeeded Robert Gregg III, who had helmed the Green Hedges since 2009. Gregg, who now is head of school at St. Michael’s Episcopal School in Richmond, said he went to that city for personal and professional reasons. He called his decade at Green Hedges “wonderful” and said the school accomplished a lot during that period.
During Gregg’s tenure, Green Hedges built the new four-classroom Karen Wiechelt Stable building; bought property to expand its campus and built a native-plant and science garden there; and renovated the school’s Rice Arts Center to improve its instructional spaces.
School leaders also improved learning opportunities for Green Hedges’ middle-school students by expanding off-campus and experiential-learning options, he said.
These include chances to experience the outdoors and explore cities and foreign lands. Green Hedges offers trips to Canada, Costa Rica and Belize, plus skiing in Vermont. Sixth-graders go on class trips to Washington, D.C., seventh-graders visit Philadelphia and eighth-graders get to experience New York City, he said.
Gregg for months this spring regularly briefed Bohnen via telephone about operations at Green Hedges in order to make the leadership transition smooth.
“The school is very fortunate to have found such a distinguished educator and leader,” he said of his successor.
Heidi Everett, who chairs Green Hedges’ board of trustees, in a media release stated Bohnen is “warm, curious, patient, determined, smart, empathetic, action-oriented, strategic and strives for excellence.”
Bohnen and her husband have a 12-year-old son and a pair of yellow Labradors. The family enjoys hiking, running and biking. Bohnen’s husband is a United Airlines pilot, so the family often travels to far-flung locations around the globe.
“I feel lucky that we get to hop on flights when there are empty seats and be a little spontaneous,” she said. They travel “anywhere and everywhere – Europe and Asia definitely are some highlights for us.”