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Get to Know Jed Lippard

Posted by Bank Street on March 22, 2016

After an extensive search spanning several months, Bank Street recently selected Jed Lippard as its new Dean of Children's Programs. Lippard's impressive portfolio as an innovative educational leader was outlined in a letter to the Bank Street community this winter. Recently, I had the opportunity to learn more about him as we prepare for his arrival in July. Here is an excerpt from our conversation.

What drew you to Bank Street? What did you like most about Children’s Programs?

I am attracted to Bank Street for its unapologetic devotion to the principles of progressive education: child-centered instruction, teaching to the whole child, interdisciplinary and multigenerational learning, a fierce commitment to equity and social justice, and placing a premium on joy, reflection, and community. As a values-driven individual, the Bank Street values are nearly a direct map to my own. I am eager to understand and build upon the proud traditions of the Children’s Programs and to explore ways that Bank Street can serve as a proof point for what is possible for all children, beyond the walls of 610 W. 112th Street.

Who was your favorite teacher growing up in school and why?

If I had to choose one, I’d go with Mr. DeTillo, my sixth grade English teacher, a lifelong friend and mentor who passed away just last year. Mr. DeTillo had the extraordinary ability to make each student feel like he —I went to an all boys school—was the most important student in his class. During a period of my own reticence and self-doubt, he also encouraged me to try out for the middle school play, which I did and ultimately landed the part of Tom Sawyer in Tom Sawyer. In the process, I overcame several fears and uncovered an important part of myself. By knowing his students well and taking the time to invest in each of us as individuals, Mr. DeTillo struck the perfect balance between support and challenge—precisely what we all need to learn and to grow.

Which living person would you want to spend a day with?

I think I would choose Ruth Bader Ginsburg, as I am inspired by her strength as a woman and her deep commitment to justice for all. Mostly, I would like to engage in dialogue, ask questions, understand her thought processes, and hear her stories about her journey from lawyer to professor to civil rights activist to Supreme Court Justice.

What is your motto?

I’m going to cheat here and share two. The first is by Mark Twain, who prophetically proclaimed, “Make your vocation your vacation.” This is a motto that has guided and sustained me throughout my professional journey. As mentioned previously, I love kids, I love learning, and I love the complex work of adult development; as an educational leader, these passions converge through my daily actions and interactions. The second is more a mindset than a motto, but in recent years, I have worked hard to shift my language from “have to” to “get to.” Think about it. How often in our daily lives do we say, “I have to…”? I have to go to the doctor. I have to pay my taxes. I have to write this letter. I have to clean the kitchen. These notions take on a whole new meaning when we replace “have to” with “get to.” Doing so forces us to uncover our assumptions and expose our privileges. Give it a try!

What was your favorite subject in school and why? 

I loved my philosophy class that I took during my junior year in high school, as it was one of the first times I remember being compelled more by questions than by answers. Our teacher, Dr. Sutula, refused to tell us what he believed and instead forced us to reconcile and substantiate our own opinions. Once a month, in lieu of traditional assessments, he scheduled “walking conferences,” where we strolled around the school and engaged in deep, grown-up dialogue about complex philosophical issues and dilemmas. Throughout the course, I was intellectually stimulated to the point where my brain often hurt, and in the process, I developed a richer awareness of and accountability for the complexity of my ideas.

Who are your favorite writers?

For many years, I have had a deep appreciation for the Harlem Renaissance and have immersed myself in the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, and many more. I never imagined that I would one day live in the very community where these luminaries shared their truths with the world, and I am eager to visit their haunts and experience aspects of their history firsthand. In addition, as a family, we are currently working our way through the Harry Potter series and having a blast. J.K. Rowling is a literary genius.

Which historical figure do you most admire? 

Another challenging question, but given that I recently read John Carlin’s Invictus, I can’t help but think of Nelson Mandela. Through a marriage of deep personal sacrifice alongside extraordinary empathy, Mandela realized that the ultimate liberation of South Africa was dependent upon both the liberation of black people from bondage and the liberation of white people from fear. Wow.

What is your favorite TV series and why do you like it?

I don’t watch too much TV, but I must admit that I occasionally binge on reality TV shows like The Amazing Race and The Voice. Todd and I also like to wind down sometimes to the mindlessness of HGTV, with a particular affinity for the House Hunters empire.

What music do you most like to listen to?

I grew up listening to classic rock artists such as Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, James Taylor, and the like. These sounds are imprinted on my soul, and I still find great comfort in hearkening back to the music of my childhood.

What is your favorite thing to do for fun? 

Above all, we love to spend time with close family and friends and are known to bust out a board game on any occasion. As a product of Pittsburgh and the 1970s, I am also an avid, die-hard Pittsburgh sports fan—my blood runs black and gold. [Don’t worry; despite living in Boston for 21 years, I have zero allegiance to the Red Sox or Patriots.]

What lessons did you learn from growing up in your family?

I am fortunate to come from an extremely close-knit family, having had long and meaningful relationships with all four of my grandparents and a great-grandmother who passed away at the age of 103. From a young age, I was told and shown that family comes first and that a rich and meaningful life involves ongoing service to others. 

What do you hope your children will learn from growing up in your family?

I hope that Abraham and Owen grow up to be kind, happy, and moral people; that they discover and pursue their own passions, interests, and strengths; that they honor and nurture the gifts and differences of other people; and that they are never afraid or ashamed to reach out for help.

What is one thing most people would be surprised to know about you?  

When I was in college, my family (mom, dad, and two older brothers) auditioned for and was selected to appear on an episode of The Family Feud. Unfortunately for us, the show was canceled before we had the chance to hit the airwaves.

Where would you like to travel to on your dream vacation?  

I would love to visit Cuba, as I am fascinated by the culture, the history, the music, and the architecture of the Cuban people. Now that the embargo is lifted and before the country becomes overrun by tourism, I am hoping that someday soon this dream will become a reality. Maybe Bank Street can even play a role in the reform of the Cuban educational system!

If you could speak a language that you don't currently know, what would it be and why? 

I would probably choose Arabic. Not only do I find it to be a beautiful tongue, but I also believe that language is a gateway to understanding—something our world desperately needs in this day and age.

What is one talent or skill you don't posses that you wish you did?

I wish I had inherited my mother’s and my grandmother’s knack for cooking. I love good food, and we certainly make good use of the many outstanding restaurants in Boston, but no one would dial me up in pursuit of a gourmet, home-cooked meal. 

What are you most looking forward to about living in New York? 

Truly, we are coming to New York for the extraordinary opportunity to join the Bank Street community. That said, we are looking forward to exploring and experiencing the vast cultural, culinary, and historical attractions of the city and to establishing new roots in a place we will soon call home.

Interview by Kate Marcus, Director of Communications for the School for Children

tagged: bank street children's programs, jed lippard