As school year comes to a close, community reflects back on Headmistress Wargo’s first year at Hockaday
She lives by a schedule as full as Hicks Meeting Room during a tornado. It is, thus, no wonder the multitude of accomplishments Eugene McDermott Headmistress Kim Wargo has had in her first year at Hockaday. Despite her packed schedule, however, she has made it her priority to get to know the students and teachers this year.
Greeting the students on the first day of school. Expressing pearls of wisdom through her favorite poetry. Sinking a free throw after admirable perseverance. Playing the affable host at a special faculty/staff Christmas party. Wargo’s first year went by in a whirlwind.
“The challenge is not allowing myself to get so caught up in what is coming next on my calendar that I forget to stop and think,” Wargo said. “That is the hardest part about being a head of school, that you can fill every second with some task, some meeting or some activity, but really what you need to do is to remember that you are the only person who has the job of being the Thinker-in-Chief, the person who is supposed to think about what we want Hockaday to be.”
Three days per week, Wargo starts her day by helping Lower School students out of their cars during carpool, talking to them and giving them fist bumps. At least once a day, she said, she walks around campus to “say hi” to girls in all divisions of the school.
“It’s not really substantive conversation, but at least it’s connecting with girls,” she said.
Wargo has especially made an effort to get to know the seniors, or at least try to learn all of their names, by hosting groups of 10 to 12 of them for tea in her office. These gatherings mark a return to a tradition started by Hockaday’s first headmistress, Ela Hockaday.
“She does this name game and really tries to memorize around the table and she sees you in the hall, and tries to guess your name,” senior Nina said. “She’s making an effort.”
In addition to visiting classes at the beginning of the year, Wargo has attended at least one athletic event per sport during the three seasons as well as all concerts, dance performances and plays.
Some of her favorite moments, however, have arisen from the small opportunities “to engage with something normal going on at school.” She cites examples such as witnessing Cross Country win SPC and participating in a hula hoop competition at the seniors’ first Daisy Day.
And as much as Wargo has made an effort to connect with the students, she has also worked to form a camaraderie with and among the faculty and staff.
At the beginning of the year, she coordinated an entire faculty/staff photo with the intention of “say[ing] to everyone in a very visual way that we all have a responsibility to be role models and encouraging people to see each other as colleagues.”
She said she wished to convey that “we are all a part of the same team.”
In that same spirit of connecting and sharing, Wargo opened her home, a residence owned by Hockaday, to the faculty and staff for the annual Christmas party.
“It’s another part of the campus in a way, so [it was like] inviting them to come and share that home,” she said.
The attendance of the faculty at a party at the Headmistress’ home is actually a return to former traditions, Upper School English teacher Janet Bilhartz said. Liza Lee, Eugene McDermott Headmistress from 1990 to 2004, invited the faculty and staff to her home ever year.
“I think when you are in someone’s home there’s an informality, there’s an ease of conversation,” Bilhartz said. “Sometimes you can look at decorations like her fleur-de-lis for the Saints or go to their bookshelves and look at their books and get a sense of the person.”
In addition to returning to previous traditions, Wargo initiated new traditions of her own creation. She allowed the Class of 2012 to guide her in the formation of a tradition surrounding the photo taken of the seniors in their white dresses.
The seniors decided to include Wargo in the final shots of their photo.
Wargo often drew from the numerous novels and anthologies that line her shelves when delivering speeches this year by offering an anecdote or piece of poetry to elucidate her message.
In keeping with her effort to build a connection with the Hockaday community, Wargo focused on making her speeches both engaging and relatable. And, stemming from her roots as a teacher, she connects with her audience by explaining why a certain topic matters to them.
“I try, when I speak to large groups, to always put something in that makes people remember what’s important and why we’re doing this,” Wargo said.
Wargo’s speeches have engaged even the younger Hockadaisies, eighth grader Emily said.
“When she says a speech, Ms. Wargo connects with us and makes us feel like she is really talking to us,” Emily said.
Because poetry, Wargo said, is a way of expressing complex ideas “in a very artistic way that doesn’t require us to spell everything out,” she also aims to give speeches that similarly leave the audience with a topic to ponder.
No doubt, as Hockaday’s centennial draws ever nearer, Wargo will deliver countless speeches to not only honor Hockaday’s past but also to look to the future and plan for the next 100 years of Hockaday girls.
Wargo believes that her experience at four previous schools, three of which were all-girls, has given her increased perspective on Hockaday. “It has helped me to appreciate what Hockaday does exceptionally well and to identify some things I want to do better,” she said.
But, first and foremost, Wargo hopes to impress upon Hockaday the mantra that drives all aspects of her life: “Only in failing do you actually learn.” She hopes that students depart Hockaday with the ability to fail, the mindset of a ‘can do’ spirit and an understanding that “being excellent doesn’t mean being perfect.”
Wargo said that her goals for the school include: promoting more school spirit, integrating the arts and sciences and fostering an understanding of the “whole girl,” a balanced, healthy student both inside and out of the classroom.