The Green Vale School, A Community of Learners

Jesse Dougherty knows that the most important relationship in a school is the bond between a student and a teacher. “As the head of school at Green Vale,” he says, “it’s my job to give everything I can to the teachers because they are the ones who create remarkable experiences for the students.” This is Dougherty’s second year at Green Vale, a private co-educational school with a curriculum for Pre-Nursery through Eighth Grade located on the North Shore of Long Island. Green Vale, a short distance from New York City, is nearly 100 years old, and Dougherty is its 10th head of school. He describes Green Vale as an institution “that balances tradition and innovation well.” A school, he notes, “with a strong community of learners.”

When he first stepped on the campus as a potential candidate for head of school, several students approached him with questions. “This was their school,” he explains with a laugh. “They were invested in knowing that the head was going to be the right person.”

Dougherty, now with three of his own children enrolled at Green Vale, has impressed both the students and the faculty. Interestingly, his doctorate degree was in faculty engagement, and at Green Vale he’s suggested that the teachers spend time focusing on the student experience—that is, on learning rather than teaching. “I ask our faculty to really imagine the experience of a student as they prepare for the day: What are the ways to have a peak learning experience as opposed to a great teaching day.”

As the head of school, Dougherty has many other roles as well—for instance, developing long-term strategic planning; talking to parents about their children; going over financial policies with board members; forging partnerships with organizations such as the Cold Spring Harbor Lab and environmental programs like the North Shore Alliance; organizing social activities to bring together families. It’s a lot of work, but it’s an expectation he enjoys. “I have a very open door,” he expresses, “and I like that we are a school of about 450.” He’s proud that he knows all the students. “That,” he adds, “actually allows us to push them further.”

One student, for example, wanted to create a drone. Not an easy task. But with his teachers, he figured out how to get started. He set goals. Asked questions. Worked through the hurdles. When it was time, the student printed the majority of the materials on a 3D printer. Then, he and his teachers took it outside to test it out. It flew.

Green Vale is all about inspiring its students to be their best. And creating a community of learners—that’s important, too. These virtues are all part of what makes the Green Vale School unique, and why its students excel, and why, with the help of a remarkable faculty, they continually develop into leaders who care deeply about their education and world around them.