Executive Director's Corner
Welcome to PVS: Dr Jennifer Stackhouse
(This article appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of PVS's Woven newsletter)
by Medessa Cheney
If one is inclined to believe in destiny, one could certainly find signs of it at work in Dr. Jenni Stackhouse’s fortuitous arrival at Portland Village School last spring. The school was in need of leadership following the mid-year departure of its previous principal, and Dr. J, as she is commonly known, was in need of an administrative role that utilized her richly varied personal and professional background. What resulted is a mutually beneficial situation, one that allows Dr. J to apply her considerable skills and array of experiences to a school as multi-faceted and dynamic as she is. Dr. J herself describes it as a perfect fit and says, “This is where I am supposed to be.”
Among the life experiences that Dr. J brings to PVS are years spent in a log cabin in Alaska without running water, and a childhood in Wisconsin in which nature was embraced and handmade gifts were the norm. “We had a very big loom for making cloaks,” she said, summing up her family’s passion for creating things. Dr. J has also long been involved in the performing arts, including dance, singing, and theater, and spent time as a studio manager at The Portland Ballet. This love of the arts and nature made it easy for her to adapt to the culture at PVS, although her previous teaching and administrative roles were in more traditional public school settings. Reflecting on her teaching methods and philosophy during those years, she notes a number of ways they aligned with PVS approaches. “I was my own flower fairy,” she said, explaining that she always brought fresh flowers to her classrooms for the impact they had on the space and the students. She incorporated storytelling, theater strategies, and circle times because she found those techniques effective and believed in creating a “space for experience” in her classes. Meanwhile, Dr. J’s academic credentials, including a doctorate in education, along with her experience in traditional public schools proves helpful in her interactions with the Portland School District, which oversees PVS.
Another valuable attribute that Dr. J brings to PVS is her understanding of neurodiversity. On her website, she states that “the neurodiversity paradigm compels us to view autism and other neurological differences as an element of the infinite variation of human wiring, rather than a disease needing a ‘cure.’” She speaks candidly about her own experience with Dyslexia and about her sister who is a professional writer and on the Autism Spectrum, hoping that they can serve as success stories for children in similar situations. She believes that a major goal of education is to help children learn how they learn. According to Dr. J, the daily rhythm at PVS, combined with the close bonds that form between students and teachers, offers an excellent environment for teachers to help students identify their strengths and individual learning needs, as well as to provide the essential patience and hope that all learners need to thrive.
Dr. J has become so invested in PVS that she moved both her daughters from their neighborhood school to join the fifth and third grades. Describing an experience that many PVS parents can relate to, she commented on the calming environment created in each classroom. “My first time here, I walked in and my shoulders relaxed… Each classroom is unique and beautiful.” Asked what else she values about a PVS education, she emphasized reverence, which she sees nourished here, and the way that childhood is cherished and protected. “The eighth graders here still act like the kids they are, and that is special and beautiful.” Although still relatively new to PVS, Dr. J clearly has a deep understanding and appreciation for the school’s mission. Summing up her thoughts about the school she leads, she stated, “This is a school where we are making the world a better place.”