Dillow Reflects on First Year At KO

Features

by Alyssa Pilecki ’20

Starting out at a new place can be a difficult and stressful process for anyone, but the pressure is even greater if you’re expected to be a leader in that community right off the bat. This past fall, Tom Dillow joined Kingswood Oxford in the summer of 2018 as Head of School, and his sons Aidan and Ronan Dillow also respectively joined as a freshman and sophomore. Although the Dillow family came all the way from Florida and did not know anyone here, each said they had an unexpectedly smooth transition to KO and an excellent first year in our community.

“This first year has been great, just a joy,” Mr. Dillow said. “There’s always something new every day and it’s been so fun to discover that the school is just as amazing as you hoped it would be. The kids here really are that thoughtful and kind, the faculty are that student-centered, the administrative team is that collaborative.” Mr. Dillow said that even though he does not always know what it is exactly that he does not know, he is excited to discover new aspects and characteristics of the school. “I had to experience what this community is like before I tried to implement anything new, and I have really enjoyed doing so this year,” he said. “Overall, it’s just been a wonderful experience: this community is so warm and welcoming, and our family is excited and grateful we made the move.”

The students and teachers of Kingswood Oxford are also excited to have had the Dillows become part of our community. Dean of Students William Gilyard said he met Mr. Dillow in his interview for the open position and could tell he was a smart guy who connected with people, was interested in thinking of leadership, and could brainstorm ideas for how the school can take the next step. “He is a wonderful person who is thoughtful about everyone he meets,” he said. “Even before he was hired he was intrigued by KO, and once he did accept the position, he immediately became fully invested in our school and all the people who are part of it.”

Junior Jacqueline Oullette, who will be Speaker next year, said she looks forward to all the change Mr. Dillow will bring. “I hope he brings in a forum for student concerns that helps bridge the faculty and the students,” she said. Junior Elan Stadelman said he agrees, but that he’d also like to see Mr. Dillow bring more life and funding into the music department. “Specifically, I think that we could use a more diverse music program with a few more specialized band teachers,” he said.

Mr. Gilyard said that he believes Mr. Dillow truly has taken the time to understand what KO is like as a community and what our needs are, and remains confident that Mr. Dillow will take the school in a new and innovative direction. “He is a visionary and he is decisive, so I know he will push us out of our comfort zone, which I think is important for the kids and adults at KO,” Mr. Gilyard said. “I hope he does it in a way where everyone’s voices are heard in the decisions that need to be made, that he listens before he changes anything, and that once something does change, people’s suggestions can be seen in those changes.”

Most of the changes Mr. Dillow said he hopes to bring tend to be extensive projects that will require a lot of work and time, with approval from the Board of Trustees of course, but he said they will be worth it. “I want KO to be the leader in engaging students in learning,” he said. “Yes, there are schools with more buildings and more playing fields, but more more more does not make a better education. KO already does such a wonderful job with motivating our students and cultivating their talents, but in order to grow as a community, we need to figure out what the next step that we can take should be.”

Mr. Dillow gave some more details, explaining what exactly he’d like to accomplish. “It might be that we start teaching interdisciplinary courses. It could be we develop a capstone project where it takes students into the city of Hartford,” he said. “That project can connect them with experts in fields, where assessments are not something where students simply type onto a computer but are real-world tasks. The research is really clear that using creativity to collaborate and problem solve truly helps students to learn deeply, and whatever they learn sticks with them for a much longer time.” He also said he’d like to rework the issues he has heard many teachers and students, including Aidan and Ronan, talking about.

Aidan said he’d want to see improvement and renovation with the infrastructure of the school. “In the future, I hope he’s gonna improve the library, locker rooms, and squash courts. The future’s the future, though, so we’ll see,” he said. As for what he thinks works for KO, Aidan said that his new friends, classmates and, teachers are really what makes the school so great. “My first year at KO was amazing and welcoming,” he said. “Everyone was very friendly right from the beginning and the teachers here are just great, it’s just so nice being here!”

Ronan said that he saw a key difference between KO and Shorecrest Preparatory School in Florida, which he and his brothers previously attended. “Overall the kids here are nicer and the teachers are more encouraging,” he said. “Shoutout to Ms. Baker, she’s my advisor, and she has really helped me this past year. I’ve also noticed there are more opportunities to explore our interests like with clubs and classes.”

Overall, the Dillows seemed to have had an exceptional year and have enjoyed getting to know the school and the people in it. As Mr. Dillow said, though, growth comes from changing and advancing, not from only staying with what already works, so he hopes to take what he’s learned about KO in order to successfully but gradually introduce new ideas and innovations.