The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School

The Polygon

Two New Deans Join the Upper School

VIA Sophia Chamorro

This year, the Upper School welcomed two new deans: Cherkira Lashley and Everett Nelor, who are taking over for former deans Douglas Wong and Alexis Perez. Lashley and Nelor face the challenge of building new connections with their cohorts and guiding seniors already halfway through their college processes. However, in their first two months as deans, Lashley and Nelor have already adapted to their new roles and dedicated themselves to supporting students in any way they can. 

Lashley and Nelor joined deans Alex Carter, Perri Meeks, and Francesca Walker, all of whom were new to the role last year, making Upper School Dean Chair Emily Gardiner, a dean since 2015, the only one with more than one year of experience in the role. Gardiner acknowledged that this rapid turnover is not ideal for the school, given that the dean model is based on four-year relationships between students and their deans. However, she noted that while the nature of the position does provide Poly deans with the experience to make them candidates for leadership roles at other schools, the turnover is largely due to factors outside of Poly’s control — former deans have moved states, wanted to return to teaching in the classroom, or become freelance college consultants. “My goal is that we have longevity in the group,” said Gardiner. But since every dean has had individual reasons for leaving, Gardiner said, “all I can do is hire people that I think are awesome and clearly love us.” She said that with Lashley and Nelor, “I think we’ve got that.”

According to Gardiner, Lashley and Nelor were selected after “a very democratic and extensive hiring process” that involved students, faculty, and administration, noting that since this process was implemented in the last two years, every current dean except herself has gone through it. She continued, “I just would want those who might see this [process] as haphazard to know the extensiveness of our thinking” about the selection of new deans. Gardiner also pointed out that both Lashley and Nelor have a wealth of relevant experiences, which she called “head starts,” that make them natural fits for the job. 

“Ms. Lashley’s head start is that she knows the institution,” said Gardiner. Lashley is a Poly alumna of the class of 2011, making her start at Poly this year a homecoming as well as a new beginning. Between her stints at Poly, Lashley taught English at Advanced Math and Science Charter School and Friends Academy, where she also served as a dean, college advisor, and basketball coach. At Friends Academy, “kids would just be in my room all the time, confiding in me, talking to me about themselves,” Lashley said. “I found myself gravitating toward all the touchpoints I had with students outside of teaching English, and it made me feel like perhaps I want to be in the school as an educator but supporting kids in a way that is not exclusively academic.” When Michael Junsch, her former Poly basketball coach, reached out and told her about the dean position at Poly, it was the perfect opportunity for her to provide this kind of support. “It felt like I was coming full circle,” she said. 

I feel like I understand how sensitive a process college application is, from personal experience, and I understand how competitive this environment can be, and so the opportunity to come back here feels super personal to me and like an alignment with vocation.

— Cherkira Lashley

Nelor also has extensive experience in independent schools, having been a dorm parent, college counselor, track coach, and club advisor at The Peddie School and, most recently, a dean at Avenues (The World School). Prior to that, he worked as an admissions counselor at Occidental College, an experience that has already proven valuable as he advises seniors through their college applications. Senior Marisa Triola, a member of Nelor’s cohort, said, “I miss my old dean, but transitioning to my new dean has been pretty seamless because of all the support I’ve gotten. My new dean has been really nice and helped me a lot through my college process, so I found it to have gone really smoothly.”

Both Lashley and Nelor started at Poly on July 1. In the months before the start of school, they took part in a dean team “retreat,” where they began their onboarding process and worked with the other deans to develop an agenda and group projects for the year. Throughout the summer, they were trained in different aspects of the deans’ job, including academic advising, college counseling, and addressing challenging student situations. Lashley and Nelor also began meeting with their students, getting to know them, and, in the case of seniors, getting to know their college plans. As a result of these summer meetings, “by the first day, I was recognizing faces,” said Nelor. His students were also grateful for the opportunity to talk over the summer. Sophomore Sylvie Dorsch said, “I was originally very sad to hear Ms. Perez was leaving, but once I got to know Mr. Nelor, I was so excited for my new dean. He reached out over the summer to get to know us and has been so helpful and supportive ever since.” This summer transition period allowed the new deans to familiarize themselves with Poly and their roles, ensuring that by the time school started, they were ready to go. As Lashley said, “I got to bump my head a little bit in the summertime before it became high-stakes, and now that I’m physically here, I’ve worked out the kinks.” 

When school started in September, the deans were immediately flooded with add/drop requests and college questions from seniors, necessitating an adjustment to the pace of the school year. Lashley said, “I’m certainly still adjusting. I think I’ll be adjusting all year.” Gardiner thinks that this adjustment has been a positive one, as she said “even one month in, I feel like they’re bringing so much to us that we didn’t have before.” Lashley and Nelor’s students agree. Senior Khari Freeman said, “it seems like it would be a bit hectic at first, getting a new dean senior year. But after working with and getting to know Ms. Lashley, it’s been much better than I thought it would be.”

Lashley said, “coming back into this role, for me, felt like an opportunity to reconcile some gaps I felt as a student,” in the guidance she received. “I feel like I understand how sensitive a process college application is, from personal experience, and I understand how competitive this environment can be, and so the opportunity to come back here feels super personal to me and like an alignment with vocation.” As a dean, Lashley hopes to bring integrity, humanity, positivity, and a focus on student voice to the college application process, and to all of her work. 

Her students have already felt her compassionate approach firsthand. Junior Lena Shamos said, “it’s been great to get a new perspective on my school experience and my future, and I’m looking forward to the year ahead.” Lashley’s new perspective also includes a different way of thinking about failure: she believes that it is “the most normal part of education.” She encourages her students to be comfortable with failure and admitting what they do not know, and leads by example, promising that “I will never pretend to know more than I do.” So, to her students wondering if they have a less experienced dean, she says, “yeah, you do. But you have a dean who’s committed to learning. A dean who’s never going to steer you [wrong] because she feels like she has to pretend.”

Looking ahead, Nelor said that he wants to make social-emotional learning a priority, and to pay special attention to the start of the Upper School experience. “I really want to focus on my ninth graders,” he said. “I feel like that’s such a pivotal part of transitioning to high school, so [with] my ninth graders now, we’re all learning Poly together as newbies.” He continued, “I know it’s hard to balance all four grades, but that’s one of my goals, to really make sure I have solid connections with my ninth graders, because it’s going to pay dividends.” After a conversation with a current senior, he realized that deans can seem inaccessible to ninth graders who do not yet feel comfortable with them, and set out to change that. So, to ninth graders wondering “am I only supposed to go [to my dean] when I’m in trouble?” Nelor wants them to know that “no, you can just come hang out and do a puzzle!” Nelor also hopes to get involved in the “fun” side of the Poly community-“it seems like y’all have a lot of fun already,” he observed. He plans on immersing himself in arts events, and “is looking to start a knitting circle” as well. 

As one of the steps in selecting Lashley and Nelor, Gardiner called their former colleagues as references to learn more about them. “What sticks in my mind” from those calls “is how much the emphasis was on how students just couldn’t get out of their offices,” she said. “I thought about the way Mr. Wong’s office was, I thought about the way Ms. Walker’s office is. I thought about how important it is for us to be welcoming, and create a feeling of belonging and happiness and support and ‘there for you.’ It was so clear what they would bring to the kids.” 

Already, the feeling of “there for you” in both Lashley and Nelor’s offices is palpable. Students are constantly coming in and out: seeking Lashley’s advice among the colorful posters on her walls, or sitting on Nelor’s couch and chatting with him while working on a puzzle. As Gardiner said, “students just want to be with them.” 

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
About the Contributor
William Ling-Regan, Opinions Editor
Throughout his time at the Polygon, William has served as the Photography Editor, the Features Editor, and, this year, as the Opinions Editor. He has enjoyed writing articles about everything from changes to Poly’s motto to the quails raised at the Lower School, but his favorite is the advice column he co-writes, the Devil’s Advocate. In addition to being a Polygon editor, William co-leads History Club, Student Service Board, Asia Society, the Crew Team, and Blue Key, and is a Vice President of Model UN and a peer tutor. Outside of school, William enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time with his friends and family.

Comments (0)

All The Polygon: The Student Newspaper of Poly Prep Country Day School Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *