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Jenny Rao Named Next Brearley Head of School

Modupe Akinola '92, President of the Board of Trustees, and Lauren Wasson, P '30 and P'32, Chair of the Head of School Search Committee, announced that Jenny Rao has been appointed by the Board of Trustees as Brearley’s sixteenth Head of School and will join the Brearley community on July 1, 2025. Her appointment follows an enthusiastic recommendation from the Head of School Search Committee and a unanimous vote of the Board of Trustees. Ms. Rao comes to Brearley after an in-depth and thorough search that attracted hundreds of candidates. 

Ms. Rao currently serves as Head of Emma Willard School, an all-girls day and boarding school in Troy, New York for grades 9 through 12. During her seven years in this role, she has collaborated with the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff to develop a strategic plan that grounds innovation, excellence, DEIA and well-being into all aspects of the school. She has empowered the faculty to enrich the curriculum with new advanced studies offerings and independent study opportunities. She is in the final stages of a record-breaking $175 million capital campaign that will expand the school campus to include a performing arts center and additional faculty housing, along with increased resources to support student well-being, programmatic initiatives and faculty innovation.

She has also served on the board of the New York Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS), including two years as vice president and two years as president. In 2021, she chaired the NYSAIS accreditation team for Brearley.

Ms. Rao earned a master's degree in private school leadership from Columbia Teachers College. She is a graduate of Bates College, where she earned a degree in economics, minoring in French. Born and raised in Mexico City, she is fluent in Spanish and studied classical ballet for 15 years and is now an avid cook. She and her husband, Arjun Rao, have two school-aged boys.

Throughout the search process, Ms. Rao’s commitment to the power and promise of girls’ education has been palpable. She speaks passionately and dynamically about the importance of honoring the traditions of a school like Brearley, while at the same time valuing innovation. Her steadfast focus on students has been evident in our conversations and her application materials, where she wrote, “I love the work of a Head of School because at its core it is about bringing a vast community together under a singular purpose—to serve its students and deliver its mission in the most excellent way possible.” In all interactions, she exudes warmth, energy and joy while projecting calm and resolve. Her commitment to excellence clearly mirrors that of our own school, and her ability to both build community and take action creates impressive momentum. We are thrilled that she will be joining Brearley.

Ms. Rao has shared, “I am honored and humbled to be named the next Head of Brearley, long known to be the standard bearer of excellence for girls’ education. Everyone I met during my interview process—trustees, faculty, staff, administrators, parents and alumnae—represented Brearley so beautifully: You are a highly curious and creative community, eager to think boldly and collaboratively about the mission and evolution of girls’ education. I’m especially thrilled at the prospect of meeting and getting to know Brearley students, who are the reason we are all in this challenging and inspiring work.”  

Drs. Akinola and Wasson said, "This wonderful outcome would not have been possible without the support of our entire community. We want to thank everyone—faculty, staff, students, parents, alumnae and trustees—for their input, guidance and patience throughout this process. We have once again come together for the good of our school and our students. For this, we are most grateful."

They both expressed their gratitude for the extraordinary work done by the search committee: Mr. Gideon Berger, P ’24, Trustee; Ms. Gail Marcus, History Teacher; Ms. Sue Meng ’99, P ’31 and P’35, Trustee; Dr. Ahmed Najm, Director of Faculty and Program Development; Ms. Coco Yang, Assistant Head of the Lower School; and the two of us in collaboration with our search consultants from Carney Sandoe and Associates—Devereaux McClatchey, Marsha Little and Heather Flewelling. Countless hours were spent connecting with hundreds of potential candidates and then selecting eight semifinalists from a list of fifty-two applicants for interviews. The semifinal group included eight women, four people of color, five with Head of School experience, three with senior administration experience and seven with experience at girls’ schools. Three finalists were then selected to meet with the Board of Trustees including alumnae, senior administrators, representatives of the faculty and staff and officers of the Parents’ Association. The visit was designed for the finalists to be evaluated by these key constituent groups in a variety of settings and formats such as structured interviews, a prepared presentation with Q&A and in-depth case studies for which the finalists did not prepare. The search process was extensive, equitable and rigorous.

Those within our community who participated in the search process were effusive in their praise of Ms. Rao. Here is a brief sampling: 

Jenny's passion and enthusiasm for everything she does was palpable… Her energy is infectious and inspiring…She has already thought deeply about how to maintain a balance between excellence and wellness, how to uphold DEI values while reassuring those concerned about deviation from tradition and ways to rebuild community after Covid. The solutions she described were both wise and compassionate, two obvious strengths in Jenny's character. 

One of the privileges of working at Brearley is that our voice matters and I believe this candidate will listen and hear our concerns. 

Her international background and professional experiences enable her to see things from multiple perspectives which I believe informs her solutions-driven,positive outlook. 

I thought Jenny was very well prepared and very engaging…I was particularly impressed by her thoughtfulness, extraordinary skills of engagement and her proven track record on strategic leadership and fundraising prowess. She is elegant but has a sense of humor.  

Jenny has real clarity about ways to actionably move forward in bringing rigor and wellness together as strategic priorities.  She is relatable and vivacious, warm and strong.

Jenny is a doer with impressive stamina and she understands how to leverage the strengths of a team.

She’s got the analytical brain AND the generous spirit to accomplish great things.

We look forward to introducing Ms. Rao to the rest of our community on June 6 and the morning of June 7 when she will meet with faculty, staff, students, parents, alumnae and trustees. We will send a detailed schedule once it is finalized. 

Ms. Rao comes to Brearley at a pivotal point in our school. We have emerged from the pandemic a stronger, tighter-knit community, bound by our mission to challenge girls of adventurous intellect and diverse backgrounds to think critically and creatively and to act with courage and integrity. During the past twelve years, Ms. Fried has built a strong foundation for this work: a new strategic vision aligned with the School’s core values; new facilities that help us fulfill our mission; a strong endowment that will support the financial needs of our school into the future; and a reimagined curriculum that changes and grows to meet the ever-evolving needs of our students as they contribute to the greater good. We are confident that Ms. Rao will continue to build on this foundation and be a catalyst for positive and productive change.

Over the next year, Ms. Rao will visit our community several times to ensure a smooth transition. We will also have many opportunities to celebrate Ms. Fried’s enduring legacy and impact on our school.

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