You could say that Liza Lee is a professional interim educator. After all, she has helped schools transition to new leadership in Austin, Charleston, S.C., and Columbus, Ohio. Now she’s the interim headmistress at Hockaday, where she previously held the same post full-time from 1990 to 2004.
“When you’re an interim, you generally go to a school that has had very short notice that its head is leaving, so there’s a certain amount of turmoil,” she said. “One of your jobs is to bring a sense of calm to the school. And then another of your jobs is to make the community as strong as possible and as cohesive as possible.”
But with her past experience at Hockaday, she knows the community’s existing strengths well.
“It’s a community that is full of energy, sort of like Dallas,” she said. “It honors its traditions but it’s never afraid to look forward. And that’s a very appealing place to be.”
Then & Now
Liza Lee’s first stint as headmistress at Hockaday was from 1990 to 2004. Some things have certainly changed, but the student-to-faculty ratio remains about the same at around 10:1.
Yet even with those evergreen values, Lee, 72, acknowledges that campuses across the country are changing, from technology to student life. For example, two seniors, Anesu Nyatanga and Ascencion Lilia Ramirez, challenged Hockaday’s traditional graduation attire last spring.
“A transition year is never the time to do something different,” Lee said. “I am going to continue to have the dress and hat. Miss Hockaday intended for it to be far more than just a dress and hat — it’s sort of a cultural marker.”
Her decision not to rock the boat, so to speak, goes along with her overall view of an interim’s role.
“It enables you to step back and look at the school with fresh eyes,” she said.
As evidenced by her career trajectory, Lee has found that turnover is becoming more common on academic campuses — both public and private. She believes shifts in culture are responsible for this, including how education is valued in the U.S. and general attitudes about the workforce.
“Now, there’s a feeling that you need to leave to get more experience,” she said.
Hockaday’s previous headmistress, Kim Wargo, joined the school in July 2011, and her resignation was announced on June 18, 2015. She was the eleventh head of the school in its 100-year history.
Attempts to contact Wargo for comment about her departure were unsuccessful.
“The uniform dress thing came right around the time it was announced she was leaving, so people who don’t know assume that she was let go, but I can tell you that she handled that so beautifully,” Lee said.
Although Wargo resigned of her own volition, Lee intentionally stayed out of the loop regarding her predecessor’s motives.
“If part of your job is to help the school move on, if you know too much, your vision is going to be colored,” she said.
And moving on is just what the broader Hockaday community is anxious to do.
“We are excited that Ms. Lee is returning to Hockaday,” said board of trustees chair Maryann Mihalopoulos in a statement. “Ms. Lee values the traditions of the school and I am confident that her expertise will provide strength, structure, and a vision for Hockaday’s future.”
This article originally appeared in the September 2015 issue of Park Cities People.