The Woman Behind the Instructorship
For years, longtime Williston Northampton School teacher and administrator Karin O’Neil had a quotation from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu hanging on her office door: “A leader is most effective when people barely know he exists. When his work is done, his aim fulfilled, his troops will feel they did it themselves.”
Karin died last April at her home in Ohio, but her legacy as a leader—as well as a colleague and mentor—continues to influence Williston faculty who worked with her. “Much of what I learned about working with students and faculty, I learned from Karin,” says Academic Dean Greg Tuleja. Karin brought a new professionalism to how Williston supports teachers, introducing classroom observation, an evaluation structure, and a new teacher orientation program, as well as opportunities for summer study. Noted Assistant Head of School Ann Pickrell: “She wanted people who were good teachers to be better teachers.”
Karin’s influence continues to shape Williston through the Karin H. O’Neil Instructorship, established by alumni and friends upon her retirement in 2001. The funds allow teachers to further their enrichment in their subject matter, a benefit that Karin would no doubt support, as it was the thrill of classroom discovery that first drew her to a career in education. “There’s that moment of inner feeling when a student grasps something, and you can see that you had something to do with that,” she recalled in a 2015 Bulletin profile. “Once that happened, I was hooked.”
Karin earned a bachelor’s degree in religion from Mount Holyoke College in 1964, her master’s in history at the University of Massachusetts in 1967, and her Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in education from the University of Massachusetts in 1969. She taught in Palmer before arriving at Northampton Schools for Girls in 1967. After the merger, she taught history at Williston then was made co-director of the Middle School, academic dean of the Upper School, and, finally, associate head of school. After her retirement from Williston, she became executive director of the Ohio Association of Independent Schools, and also served as an independent educational consultant.
Though her success as an administrator took her from the classroom, Karin never lost her ability to connect with students. “Her easy and natural relationship with the students was obvious to me from the beginning of my career here,” recalls Greg Tuleja. “Not many of the faculty saw that side of her, since almost all of her ‘duties’ involved working with or directing adults. But she was great with the students as well.”
Adds math teacher Janine Whipple, the current holder of the Karin O’Neil Instructorship: “She was a role model to everybody.”
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