Katie Gibson to Leave GDS After Five-Year Tenure as Principal

Katie Gibson addresses the high school community on the first day of school. Photo by Kaiden J. Yu.

Katie Gibson will step down from her role as high school principal at the end of the school year, after a five-year tenure in which she has overseen academic changes, a new disciplinary system, inclusion initiatives and a trying year of virtual school.

Head of School Russell Shaw announced the news in an all-school email on Dec. 1, surprising many students and parents, as well as teachers, most of whom were only informed of Gibson’s planned departure in a meeting earlier that day.

“After the intensity of the last 18 months,” Gibson wrote in a letter attached to the all-school email, “I am choosing to slow down the pace of my life to focus on my family, my passions, and my professional future.” The email did not disclose any plans for her future employment. She declined to elaborate on her reasons for leaving in an interview with the Bit.

Shaw wrote in the email that the school would “be launching a national search for our next High School Principal immediately.” According to Shaw’s note, GDS is enlisting the help of Educators’ Collaborative, a company specializing in private school administrator searches, and plans to seek input from students, parents and teachers next semester.

English teacher Michael Manson said Gibson has led the high school in a kind, thoughtful way, considering various community members’ perspectives when making decisions. “She’d been carrying a lot on her shoulders,” Manson said, “and a change of scene is good.”

Gibson arrived at GDS in 2017 to succeed C.A. Pilling, who continues to teach environmental science, as principal. Gibson managed the school’s replacement of Advanced Placement courses with GDS’ Upper Level designation, helped introduce minimester, abolished midterm exams, launched the now-defunct Open Spaces conversation series, put in place the current odd/even rotation schedule and established the Disciplinary Consultation Committee, giving students a voice in recommending disciplinary actions.

Perhaps most notably, Gibson in the past two years has shepherded the high school’s transitions to and from virtual learning and its responses to a turbulent period of insurrection, national and internal racial reckoning and vehement political discourse.

“While there is and always will be work to do to flesh out our aspirations of becoming an anti-racist institution and respond to student needs,” Gibson wrote in the announcement email, “together, we managed to get to the other side of the pandemic—whole and eager to rebuild our community.”

Sophomore Student Staff Council representative Julian Montes-Sharp recalls hearing about Gibson’s arrival from his older sister. “As a principal, action-wise, she did some strong things,” he said, citing minimester and the DCC. 

However, Montes-Sharp said, “There’s a disconnect between the administration, especially the principal, and the students.” He added that “the new principal can really emphasize daily interactions with students and put themselves out there in social spaces.” Montes-Sharp also hopes the school will consult with students throughout the process of selecting Gibson’s successor and plans to push in SSC for a student committee for that purpose.

Some students harbor the impression that Gibson has done little in her time as principal.

The anonymously run Instagram account @gdsmemes posted a pair of memes about Gibson’s departure on Dec. 3. The first depicts a caped figure representing Gibson saying, “My job here is done,” to which a princess labeled “everyone” responds, “But you didn’t do anything.” The second shows Gibson’s GDS profile photo with the all-caps text “Just a girlboss / building her empire.” The post has received over 220 likes.

Senior Miles Huh, a member of Gibson’s advisory, commented on the post in Gibson’s defense. He explained in an interview with the Bit that he thought the memes were “unfair” and that the pandemic was difficult for administrators, including Gibson.

Long before Gibson was a principal at GDS, she studied dance education in college at New York University and taught dance classes at underserved public schools in Harlem, New York. Gibson told the Bit that her passion for pedagogy originated when she was as young as five or six, when she would play the role of teacher while playing with friends. 

“Independent schools and being a school leader came later and in a more circuitous way,” she said, “but being a teacher was always what I wanted to do.” Now, she misses “being in the classroom,” acknowledging that she lacks the same interactions with students as principal.

By the time Gibson arrived at GDS, she had accumulated administrative experience as a community engagement coordinator; diversity, equity and inclusion director; grade dean and principal at various schools—and earned a master’s degree in educational leadership from Columbia University. Gibson said she grew “fascinated and intrigued by the bigger creation of culture in a community.”

Gibson said she has appreciated the “sense of team” among administrators and faculty as they have tackled the challenges of the past two years. And she said the same aspect of GDS that attracted her to the school—its students—continues to impress her. 

In the email, Gibson assured the community, “I plan to be fully present this year, leading the High School with the same level of commitment that you have come to expect from me.”