Courtesy of Hervé Ernest

A Few Reasons why Anne Travis Brownley Is Not Your Everyday Head of School

October 2, 2018

She understands that students typecast headmasters as strict and aloof.  

Travis is not a fan of this stereotype and does what she can to disparage it. She will leave the door open to her office for most of the day. While she reads valuable manuscripts that discuss the progress MA has made thus far on its 10-year strategic plan, she also takes notice of the discussions that go on outside in the hallways. Whether it is fantasy football talk, sports arguments, or complaints about homework, she enjoys hearing the abundance of loud and often distracting voices just outside her door, as she hopes to keep up with what is going on in every student’s life at Marin Academy.

She once had dreams of being a basketball star.

Travis started at forward for her high school basketball team her Junior year. Here, she is pictured during a team practice.

Sadly, after she tore ligaments in both of her knees her sophomore and senior years of high school, these dreams faded away. However, Travis still loved the time she did get to play at St. Agnes as a starting forward on her varsity team. While she humbly admits she was never the best player, she was at one point in time especially fond of potentially playing basketball in college, something that one of her high school teammates did successfully end up doing. Yet unfortunately for Travis, she ended up at a very small, unknown, and depleted school in the south known as the University of Virginia. Despite some of these setbacks, Travis still possesses the same passion today for basketball that she had back then.

“Every once in a while, whenever I have some free time, I’ll talk with Kacie, (MA’s Athletic Director and Girls’ Varsity Basketball Head Coach), about presses, offensive plays, and other stuff.” While Travis definitely misses being able to sit on the sidelines with the rest of the basketball team, she enjoys being a spectator almost as much. When asked about the Virginia men’s basketball team’s result in the previous March Madness, she let out an angry sigh, validating that she will never depart from her love for Cavalier basketball.

She has unique opinions on the subject of English.

Travis has read The Odyssey over 16 times, something that may seem unholy to many of the students who are forced to read it their freshman year. Yet, she took great pleasure in getting to teach it once a year throughout her 15 years as an English teacher on the East coast: “The reunion between Odysseus and Argos (his dog) is one of the most moving scenes in all of literature.” In addition to The Odyssey, Travis has a special attachment to poetry. The majority of English teachers believe poetry is completely subjective and can be viewed in a nearly infinite number of ways. In contrast, Travis promotes the idea that the poet writes a piece in a specific way that is meant to be interpreted in a specific manner. Once, she did not hesitate to fail a student who wrote that Robert Frost’s Dust of Snow was secretly about Frost’s love for cocaine. “No, just…no,” she said shaking her head.

She has her priorities set straight.

Travis does not pride herself on being only the second female head of school at Marin Academy, nor does she feel the need to self-praise over the fact that she is one of only a handful of gay women in America who is the head of a school Travis remains modest about how diligently she worked throughout high school in addition to helping her mother with work while her father was away for months at a time in the Navy. She does not seek any accolades from others for the courage it took to come out to her parents, whose views on her true feelings took quite a long time to change. Instead, Travis takes pride in being the best mother she can be to her two boys, Jack and Henry, as well as being the best head of school she can be to the vast community of students, faculty, and alumni at Marin Academy.

She is somewhat of a parallel to Michael Scott of The Office.

While Travis and Michael Scott are both leaders in their respective communities and employ very different leadership styles, they do share one common belief. Although Travis strongly emphasizes being the head at a school like Marin Academy is a “blessing”, she also believes that being head of school can oftentimes make her feel a bit lonely: “You can be very alone at times as head of school, even though you’re surrounded by literally hundreds of people a day, because nobody knows quite what you do, and nobody can know fully what you do because of the nature of things that you do.”

Travis, age 21, in her first year of teaching at Groton School in Massachusetts.

During her time at both the Groton and Wheeler Schools as an English teacher, Travis loved having the opportunity to sit with the rest of the English Department during lunch. As the Dean of Students at some dull and inferior high school referred to as University, Travis would spend time working and making decisions with the other deans. As a head of school though, Travis stresses that everything is different: “You’ll know you’re head of school when you have to make your first decision that’s really hard, and you’ll turn around to see who is there to back you up and there is no one there. The buck entirely stops with you.” Whether it is parting ways with a beloved teacher or being forced to make cuts during a financial crisis, carrying the weight of responsibility in making decisions that will shape the direction of the school has never been easy for Travis. One wish Travis yearns for is to reconnect seamlessly with the rest of the faculty, but as the leader of the school, she acknowledges the challenges that come with this. Yet, despite all of this, Travis sees little change in her future. While she would love to teach English again or return to her passion for coaching basketball, she is perfectly happy with where she is now.

With 5,785,441 minutes down, Travis needs just 4,200,560 more to surpass her Scranton regional manager counterpart, and there is nowhere else she would be happier to do this than here at Marin Academy, the school she sincerely believes is “the best school in the Bay Area.”

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