Person of the Week
The Country School Gets its Fixx
John Fixx officially took over as head of school at The Country School in Madison earlier this month. (Photo courtesy of Liz Lightfoot at The Country School
One morning late last week, John Fixx, the newly minted head of school at The Country School in Madison, was in Maine-sans electricity-enjoying some relaxation before his new duties kicked in.
"My college roommate's family has a place on Moosehead Lake," he says. "It's not quite as rustic as it sounds. You sleep in beds, not tents, but it's nice to kind of get away."
July 3 was John's first official day as head of school, but his face is a familiar one.
"I've been there for the whole year as the assistant head doing fundraising and helping with marketing and enrollment and outreach, and I was there for two years earlier in my career before starting as headmaster of two different schools, so it's fun to be back."
Running On the Road to Success
John is part of a legacy of runners. His father, Jim, who passed away in 1984, wrote the book on running. (Really-it's called The Complete Book of Running and it was a bestseller.) He also published a subsequent book.
John comments, "Those were extraordinary times because that was when the whole running movement and fitness movement in the late '70s and '80s was just taking off, so that was unusual."
His father was the managing editor of McCall's and then left to write his two books. He passed that passion for running on to his son.
"I've been a runner my whole life," John says. "I'd say when I was in elementary school and middle school, it was something I enjoyed doing, but it also kept me fit for soccer and gymnastics and basketball and baseball and all the sports that kids usually play. I would periodically run road races with my father. I was one of four children, and it was something I could do with dad, so if he was going for a three-mile run or a five-mile run, when I was in elementary or middle school I'd jump in with him.
"It was one of the many sports I played," he continues. "I loved staying fit and I've just maintained that my whole life. I exercise every day."
John has inspired students of all ages to take up running. Last fall, several students qualified for states, then regionals, and even nationals. Some were as young as six years old.
He says, "Coaching is just an opportunity to pass my love of running to the next generation and give them something that helps their focus in the classroom. The students and I talk about nutrition and what you eat and how that maintains your brainpower for the classroom and your running power for cross country races and training. You never know how much the children are absorbing, but you can also set an example for them of a healthy lifestyle."
John grew up in Greenwich and captained the cross country teams there, then went to Wesleyan and ran for four years and captained the cross country and track teams there, as well.
Running sets him up for success in the rest of his life, too.
"There are times that I'll be working on a big project-it'll be a time where I'm not sleeping enough because I'm trying to push something through. And there is a transfer. If you know that you can push yourself through a 10-mile race or marathon and continue even though you're fatigued, then you know you can do that when you're on deadline or producing a report for the Board of Trustees or something. So I think there's a quiet confidence that running gives people."
Recreation and Family
When John isn't running schools or trails, he is playing golf, hiking, biking, reading, canoeing, or kayaking, he says.
"I always have a project going at the house. I just put a new roof on the house and a new roof on the shed. I love to putter around on the weekends."
He also works with wood and makes cabinets for fun.
John and his wife, Liza, got married in 1988. Liza works at J. Horton and at R.J. Julia Booksellers for author's receptions. Their son, Nathaniel (Nat), is a rising senior at Boston University majoring in political science and spending his summer working on Martha Coakley's governorship campaign in Massachusetts. Their daughter, Emily, is a rising sophomore at the University of Vermont who dances with the New Haven Ballet and works full-time as a waitress at the Guilford Mooring.
When asked what he's most looking forward to in his new role, John says, "One of the great pleasures of being a head is that you get to care for an entire community in times of absolute triumph. And obviously children and families go through difficult times. I find I enjoy helping bring the community together during mostly good times but occasionally healing a community through something rough."
After heading schools for 15 years, John was eager to return to The Country School.
"I remembered a faculty unparalleled in dedication, talent, cooperation with each other, and in the focus on the student. The Country School faculty is really extraordinary, not only for their years of steady service, but for the way they go well above and beyond the classroom to devote themselves to the students on the playing fields, in the advisor system, on our camping trips, and on stage.
"Our focus on character development and cooperation and creating a community of kindness through the affective education program is really impressive. And our public speaking commitment is part of our even larger signature program that has us teaching young people about leadership, devotion to their communities, how to help others be good leaders by sometimes being good followers and good listeners, and the ability to craft remarks in public both spontaneously and through craftsmanship ahead of time."
The Country School will also celebrate its 60th anniversary during the 2015-2016 school year.
"We have committees pretty vigorously working on how we're going to celebrate our birthday in a way that's going to resonate with students and mean something to the alumni. We're an important part of the shoreline community and we want to have the community as widely involved as we can in our various activities as we look backward with reverence and look forward with great ambition to the next 60 years."
John is also excited about The Country School's signature STEAM program.
He says, "STEAM is science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. You'll see most schools, public and private, are doing STEM, but we incorporate the arts. It's an integrated approach. You might remember in school, maybe your English and your history teacher got together, or your math and science teacher got together, and what we try to do is incorporate as many disciplines into various units for children of all ages because that's the way their brains work. They're not partitioned by subject. They're integrated.
"It's an exciting program for us and it's based on the latest brain research on how people in general, especially young people, acquire understanding and knowledge and skills. Our faculty has been totally impressive at how much they've strengthened the academic program through this collaboration."
The school must be doing something right, because many of its students gladly tore themselves away from summer vacation to represent the school in Madison's Fourth of July parade.
"The kids had a great time," John says. "We had a golf cart that was-the only word to use is 'festooned'-with various Country School regalia and owls, which is our mascot, and the students gave away 1,000 water bottles with our school name on it and contact information and descriptive literature inside. They had a great time representing the school. They're so proud of it. Madison has been important to us, and we hope we'll continue to be important to Madison. The parade was a great demonstration of how deeply embedded we are in the community."
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