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Tory Parlin

My first introduction to Seven Hills was through my mother, who had attended Hillsdale in the 1930s and had a wonderful experience. She grew up in Middletown, Ohio, and came to the school as a boarder. Her father and an uncle and several other families raised the money to build Hill Manor, where my mother and her older sister lived with about 12 other girls. She loved the freedom of Hillsdale, the intellectual challenge, and the chance to make new friends.

One of her stories that is most memorable concerns Mademoiselle Mauduit, the French teacher. She was a very tall and imposing French woman, who always seemed to be skeptical about how hard the students were working. My mother didn’t do very well with French. When Mademoiselle was particularly annoyed with my mother’s homework, she sometimes tossed the copy book at her. On one of those occasions, mother ducked, and it went out the window.

I arrived at Hillsdale from Dayton, Ohio in the ninth grade and stayed through the 10th grade. What I remember most is the teachers, most of whom were bright and often a bit eccentric. Much to my surprise, Mademoiselle Mauduit was still teaching French. Although she was very intimidating, she was a great teacher, and once I got over being terrified that I might be called on, she taught me the subjunctive, which no one had ever been able to do. Although I had a good experience at Hillsdale, I left after 10th grade to attend boarding school. When I left Hillsdale, I thought, Well, I’ll never be going back there again.

Thirteen years later, in 1974, when our son Andrew was four and we were looking for a preschool program, I toured Lotspeich. I distinctly remember Lilamae Mueller and the other preschool teachers, who couldn’t have been nicer or more welcoming. They were supportive and helpful and, without my noticing, through thoughtful and quiet conversations, taught me a lot about parenting.

I joined the Seven Hills Board in 1994, after our children had graduated. As a Board member, my perspective on the school changed. As a parent, my view of the school had been heavily influenced by our children’s daily experiences. The opportunity to be involved in the school and contribute to its success without that emotional overlay was very interesting and satisfying.

Debbie Reed’s tenure was a transformational period for Seven Hills. She appreciated the strengths of the school and had the vision and energy to try to address those things that needed improving. One challenge was the need for a new Upper School. The initial project for a new Upper School turned into a building program that included reworking both campuses and building a new early childhood center on the Doherty Campus. As chair of the building program, I had the fun of working closely with Debbie and the school administration to bring the plans to completion. In particular, I remember that tearing down the old Upper School building took just one bulldozer about 30 minutes, so I thought, Well, I guess we made the right decision!

In the spring of Debbie Reed’s seventh year, she broke the news to me as Board chair that an opportunity for the position of Head of School had opened up at a school in Southern California, where she had previously lived, and she intended to apply. I said, “I wish you wouldn’t.” She replied, “It’s an opportunity for me to return to my home in California. Seven Hills will need an interim head, and I think it should be you.” I said, “You’ve got to be kidding me. I can’t do that. And what would the school say to that idea?” I had no teaching or administrative experience. She took the proposal to the board, and they agreed that I would serve as interim Head of School for a year while the board searched for a new head. I was flattered, excited, and terrified and had a wonderful year, which both the school and I survived.

Seven Hills has an incredibly strong culture that has endured throughout lots of changes in leadership — both principals and heads of school. Not everybody has been the perfect person at the perfect time, but the culture and the sense of trust and caring that pervades the school has been quite remarkable. What better example than the fact that the school community did not go running and screaming from the room when the Board said that I, as someone who had no classroom experience and no experience leading a school, was going to be the head for a year. I don’t think culture is self-perpetuating — you can lose it very easily. You have to first appreciate what the culture is and then you have to do your part to sustain it.

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