High School Principal Yom Fox has spent the first few months in her role getting a feel for GDS and its community before implementing new policies.
“The first hundred days are really about observing, getting to know people and asking questions,” Fox said in an interview with the Bit in late September. (One hundred days after the first day of school falls a day before the fall semester ends, though Fox assumed her job in July.) “It’s probably been a little bit boring for everyone else because they thought I would come in and change everything,” she added.
Rumors about Fox taking drastic action to change GDS’ customs began to circulate among seniors during the class’s trip in late August, after she posed skeptical questions about planning for the senior run-in. Many seniors feared that Fox would take away the run-in or impose rules that would detract from its spirit. “Things got off to a little bit of a rocky start,” senior Asha Adiga-Biro said, in the grade’s relationship with Fox.
But Fox told the Bit that students might have misinterpreted questions that she asked to learn more about the run-in tradition and ensure it would be inclusive. “Just because the questions come from me, it shouldn’t be like, ‘Yom is trying to change GDS culture, or Yom is the enemy of fun,’” Fox said. She added that she had asked many questions to community members about GDS and its traditions in order to inform her later decisions.
Since the run-in controversy, Fox has made a special effort to get to know the seniors, whose input she said she values particularly due to their longer experiences at GDS. When the school year began, she spoke at one of their class meetings and praised them for the success of the run-in, according to senior Jacob Getlan. And Fox invited seniors to sign up to have breakfast in small groups with her before school.
Student Staff Council President and senior Jacqueline Metzger told the Bit that Fox has asked her to meet multiple times. “She’s encouraged us to work together,” Metzger said. “She values my input and acknowledges that I have things that I can talk to her about regarding the student body and seniors because that’s my role as an SCC rep.”
Fox said that her schedule since the school year began has primarily been filled with administrative meetings, but, as of Oct. 20, she has visited 14 classes to see students and teachers in action. Fox said that a physics class that she observed was particularly memorable because she saw juniors and seniors collaborating in an experiment. Fox has also met with teachers, especially department chairs.
During the summer, Fox said, she got to know other administrators, including Head of School Russell Shaw. Fox added that the high school’s administrative team went on a summer retreat, where she spent time bonding with her colleagues.
Fox, who succeeded former principal Katie Gibson, said that she was still getting used to some aspects of GDS, particularly the Forum. “It is at the top of my mind that I’m going to somehow embarrass myself by tripping while going up and down the stairs,” she said. “The Forum is definitely a welcoming space, as it should be, but for me, being new, it’s also an intimidating space.”
For Students, Varying Amounts of Interaction
Fox has gotten to know some students, while others remain uninterested in and unacquainted with the new principal.
One of the ways Fox has met students, though by chance, was by talking with those who added and dropped classes. These students were required to meet with Assistant Principal for Academics Khalid Bashir, and Fox said that she was able to have good conversations with them as they waited in the space outside her office. In addition, the new principal often spends her mornings greeting people at the front door before school, which she said has made her familiar with a number of students.
Senior Pierson Cooper told the Bit that he attended one of Fox’s breakfast sessions and thought that it was a helpful way for her and the seniors to become acquainted. “We sat in her conference room and ate some scrambled eggs and food from the LMS cafeteria,” Cooper said.
During the meal, Cooper said, Fox asked the students to share what they thought about GDS and their senior year. She spoke with the group about her prior work at the Dalton School, where she interacted with younger students, and her experiences adapting to GDS and a new city. Cooper said she described how quiet D.C. has felt compared to New York City.
Getlan said in an interview that these breakfasts could help Fox learn what issues matter most to the seniors and help her build a personal connection with students. “She’s the principal of the school, and we’re the seniors of the school,” Getlan said. “In two very different ways, we run the school, so I think it was good of Yom to help us get to know each other.” Fox said that she has had breakfast with 46 seniors, slightly over a third of the grade.
But six of the 14 students interviewed by the Bit for this article said that they had not spoken to her beyond a simple greeting. Seniors have generally talked with Fox more than younger students, in part due to the breakfasts she has held.
Sophomore Ben Hellman told the Bit that he was not aware of any initiatives Fox is undertaking. “I bet she’s probably working very hard even though I don’t see anything she’s doing,” Hellman said.
Freshman Noah Kolker said in an interview that he had not interacted with Fox and that, in his experience, she and her work have not been discussed often among freshmen. Kolker said that because the freshmen were not in high school when Gibson was principal, the transition between her and Fox has not been relevant.
Nine of the 14 students interviewed, nine of whom were upperclassmen, said that they heard rumors concerning Fox circulating since the start of the school year.
One rumor about her, Fox said, suggested that she was planning to make changes to the rules of the annual game formerly known as Highlighter Assassin in which students are given a target to mark with a highlighter—which Fox said was not true. According to Fox, when she heard about the game, she asked senior Alex Gerson, who is running it this year, if he would be willing to change its name to something more welcoming that did not refer to killing. Gerson (who is the Bit’s sports editor) decided to change the name to “Highlighter Elimination.”
‘No Nipples, No Navels, No Buttcheeks’
Many rumors spread on the senior trip, which lasted from Aug. 27 to 31. They started with gossip about Fox changing or canceling the senior run-in, a GDS tradition in which seniors interrupt the first assembly of the year, Asha Adiga-Biro said.
In a conversation on the trip with senior SSC representatives and Twelfth Grade Dean Anna Howe, Fox said, she sought to ensure that the run-in would make everyone feel included. “I heard that people had been pelted with candy, which was not fun,” she said, referring to prior years’ run-ins. Fox added that she did not intend to be accusatory and mainly wanted to learn about the tradition.
Metzger told the Bit that, once the discussion with Fox ended, she and her fellow SCC representatives were “swarmed” by classmates, who were curious about what Fox had said. “The way I posed it to my peers was that Yom was open to the run-in, but she had heard that some past run-ins were very intense, which she didn’t want to happen again,” Metzger said.
But seniors’ uncertainty about Fox’s approach to the run-in spiraled into more rumors, Adiga-Biro said, including that she would end the open-campus policy or institute a dress code.
“One phrase that Yom had said about the run-in was, ‘No nipples, no navels, no buttcheeks,’” Metzger said, “which I thought was fine. But once it made its way to other seniors from the SSC reps, it began to be misconstrued.” Seniors who had not heard from Fox directly began to say she would institute a dress code for the whole school year. However, Metzger said, the innacurate hearsay “wasn’t malicious, in my opinion.”
Senior Sophie Bronner told the Bit that Fox’s seeming skepticism about the run-in and her comment about nipples, navels and buttcheeks caused commotion among the seniors. “That was the first impression she gave the senior class,” Bronner said. “It made us think that she was going to bring the hammer down on us.”
When asked about her attire comment, Fox said, “Should I have said it in that way? Probably not.” But she had concerns that “something inappropriate would happen during the run-in.”
Before her discussion with the SSC representatives, Fox said that she heard groups of seniors talking about doing the run-in in revealing clothing. “Did I hear something that suggested that the seniors would come into the Forum partly naked? Yes,” Fox said. “Was that concerning to me? 100 percent. What I didn’t want to happen was an Augur Bit article that said on the second day that Yom is principal, she’s having to talk to kids about a lack of clothing.”
Howe met with the class later during the senior trip to clarify that Fox was not trying to alter the run-in or upend the school, according to Getlan.
“I think we could’ve treated Yom with more grace as she transitioned to GDS,” he said. “It was a little immature of us.”
Fox, Adiga-Biro and Metzger described the run-in, which took place on Sept. 6, as a success. “I heard great feedback from everyone,” Fox said. “It was very celebratory.”
During the same assembly, Fox addressed the whole high school for the first time. She expressed her excitement about joining the GDS community and shared a presentation including 23 fun facts about herself in reference to the graduation year of the senior class. “I live a 23-minute walk from school,” Fox said, prompting an enthusiastic “2023” chant from the seniors.
“At the end of the day, all I can do is be myself and give people a chance to get to know me,” Fox told the Bit. “There may be rumors, but I want people to come and ask me. I try to be really approachable.”