Reflections from Former Head, Billy Handmaker

Zoe ConnerUncategorized

I was blessed to be the head of Crossroads School/Crossroads College Prep for 15 years, then head of a school in New Mexico for seven years, and I’m now finishing my 6th year as head of a school in San Antonio, Texas. My wife and I were also fortunate to have our older son attend Crossroads for two years. What I saw at Crossroads was something that over my career, I’ve seen very few schools do. Crossroads brings together four distinct commitments that in the process create an extraordinary approach to teaching and learning.  

Those elements begin with a devotion to strong academics. Crossroads is a school that challenges and supports students so they can excel in the classroom, whether that’s in an AP Calculus class or in the 5th Day program. This comes through a desire to both challenge and nurture students. If all we do is challenge students, they burn out. But if all we do is nurture them, they never really find out what they’re capable of accomplishing. And one of the things that I saw happening at Crossroads is the exceptionally strong relationships among students and between students and faculty and staff.

Challenging academics and close relationships are present in many schools. But two other qualities, in combination, differentiate Crossroads from most schools; these are the emphasis on diversity and the dedication to the community. As we know, St. Louis has a tortured history of racial polarization. I remember when we lived there, my family and I would see places that might be diverse, but were not inclusive, and we would see places that were inclusive, but were homogeneous. It’s easy to be inclusive when everyone’s the same. And very often you can find places that are diverse, but people don’t really connect on an individual, human level. One of the things that separates Crossroads from many other schools is a profound commitment to diversity within an inclusive atmosphere, so each individual feels like they are valued just as much as the next person. 

Lastly, a commitment to the greater whole makes Crossroads different from other schools. Many independent schools, like many colleges, can exist unto themselves and be bubbles that don’t  bridge the gap between the schoolhouse and the community. One of the things that Crossroads does exceptionally well is teach students that they exist in a greater context. Yes, they are students at Crossroads, but they also have a commitment to the world beyond DeBaliviere. Displaying the flags of the countries that Crossroads students come from is one way to visually represent the school’s commitment to teaching children that they share this planet with others. Students take what they learn in the classroom and apply it towards improving the world, whether that’s in Forest Park, Jeff City, or someplace overseas. 

When these four elements are combined, it produces a unique climate and setting that allows young adults to be their best selves in and out of the classroom.  And I think that’s why Crossroads. That’s why students should want to attend, why parents should send their children there, or why people should want to work there.  I hope that having been in independent schools since 1989 has given me, if nothing else, a sense of perspective;  I’ve seen that what Crossroads does is rare. It’s easy sometimes when you’re inside to not realize how unusual it is. But I can tell you after having been in this field for a while, it is exceptional and it is beautiful.