Austin Prep: Journey of the Heart


January 23, 2023

There is Light at the End of the Tunnel: The Illuminating Journey of Female Leadership 

By Mrs. Michelle Connor, Ms. Alicia Varraso, and Mrs. Marla Pascucci-Byrne

Editor's Note: Last fall, three women from the Austin Prep community were selected to attend the Women in Leadership Conference offered by the Heads Network. Mrs. Michelle Connor, Interim Assistant Head of School and Head of Upper School; Ms. Alicia Varraso, Assistant Dean of Students; and Mrs. Marla Pascucci-Byrne, Art and Design Department Chair, traveled to the Penn Charter School in Philadelphia for a weekend of learning and leadership. What they discovered was beneficial, reciprocal, and inspiring.

Mrs. Connor, Ms. Varraso, and Mrs. Pascucci-Byrne were able to attend the conference to advance their professional development as a result of gifts to the Austin Prep Fund by the Austin Prep community. Though other women on journeys in leadership roles may have forged difficult paths, Mrs. Connor, Ms. Varraso, and Mrs. Pascucci-Byrne felt illuminated when  reflecting on their own experiences while with the Heads Network. This professional development opportunity provided them with the chance to experience the light that St. Augustine describes as such, “All truth and understanding is the result of the Divine light which is God Himself.” 

Their individual experiences are highlighted below, accompanied by the quotes from our patron, St. Augustine.

“Pay special attention to those who, 
by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, 
are brought into closer connection with you.” 

- St. Augustine

I was blessed to have Dr. Margaret “Sissy” Wade, Executive Director of the Heads Network, as my mentor.  As illustrated in the quote above, I firmly believe that Sissy came into my life for a reason; it wasn’t by chance that she has and will remain a confidante. Through our discussions, I came to learn about her own path to leadership, which blended her love of teaching and her love for her family. Her own children attended the schools where she held leadership positions, which is the case for me and for many of our faculty members. Though it may be challenging, she balanced her commitments with grace. Sissy is a warm, thoughtful, patient and kind leader. Our interactions were so positive, as she encouraged me to take risks and embrace new directions and paths to leadership. Her voice still echoes in my head, “You will be amazing,” and her wisdom and insight will continue to guide me through my interim journey as Assistant Head of School | Head of Upper School.  ~ Michelle Connor


“Each of us had something to learn from the others 
and something to teach in return.”
- St. Augustine

As the Assistant Dean of Students, teacher, and coach, I believe in the power of teamwork. Whether in the classroom or on the playing field, working with others always yields strong results. My mentor, Tekawitha Pernambuco-Wise, Head of the Wyndcroft School, was an energetic person, like I am, and encouraged me to bring that energy into my interactions with students, parents, and teachers, including my colleagues present at the conference. Over the weekend, in addition to meeting new colleagues from across the nation, we forged deeper and more meaningful relationships with each other. We collaborated on projects, discussed contemporary issues, and created proposals for future Austin Prep initiatives. I look forward to sharing our experiences with the Austin Prep community. ~ Alicia Varraso

“Patience is the companion of wisdom.” 
- St. Augustine
My mentor was Tara Christie Kinsey, Head of the Hewitt School in Manhattan. Tara was a dynamic, insightful, charismatic, and accomplished mentor; her successes are many. Yet it was through her stories of struggle and difficult decision making processes that I found the most connection. Her ability to balance complex schedules and the diverse needs of students was inspiring. Over the last decade as a Department Chair, I have been happy to guide the growth and development of the Art & Design faculty. Now, when I look to the future, I see new areas for extension and elevation. The road isn’t always easy, but the journey can yield great successes. After our weekend at the Heads Network, I was inspired to pursue my own path to leadership, one that will hopefully unite the Humanities and the Arts. I am happy to announce that I have been accepted to Boston College, where I will pursue a second Masters Degree in Educational Leadership at the Lynch School of Education and Human Development. ~ Marla Pascucci-Byrne 


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