The Principal’s Office: Aimeclaire Roche of The Bishop’s School values life-long learning in La Jolla [VIDEO & STORY]
• VIDEO: Watch part of the interview with Aimeclaire Roche, head of school at The Bishop’s School, by clicking on the image above, or go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OeQHUCFQZiU
Editor’s Note: This is the 11th and final installment of our series, The Principal’s Office, in which we brought you interviews with the leaders of La Jolla’s elementary, middle and high schools. Two area principals declined our requests for interviews: Margaret Gale Baer, director of The Evans School; and Sally Viavada, principal of Bird Rock Elementary. To see the previous stories and videos of all other principals, visit www.bit.ly/lajollaprincipals
By Catherine Ivey Lee
As a child growing up in Pittsburgh, Bishop’s Head of School Aimeclaire Roche knew where education ranked on her family’s priority list: at the top.
“My parents prized education in all that they did. That was what we talked about: investing in school,” Roche said. Her father, an obstetrician and gynecologist; and her mother, who earned a law degree and Master’s in social work after raising her own children, were part of the first generation of their families to attend college. As parents, they sacrificed to give Roche and her four siblings an independent high school education.
“The idea of going to school and gaining knowledge to contribute to the world was a part of our lives,” Roche recalled. “Education was always seen as the great ideal and the thing that no one could take away from you. It was the thing beyond financial success and other measures of success that would always hold you in good stead. It was always the thing we sought.”
It still is. Roche has spent her life as a scholar, teacher or administrator at some of the most prestigious independent schools on the East Coast, including Harvard, Wellesley, Columbia and Phillips Exeter Academy. Four years ago, she shifted coasts to become head of The Bishop’s School, a grades 6-12 independent school in La Jolla’s Village, where her dedication to education continues.
“It has been phenomenal. I’m the luckiest person in the world,” she said. “Bishop’s is as it was advertised. It is a place where being authentic matters. It isn’t just academic rigor. It is about curiosity and being a life-long learner. If you live to learn, this is the school for you.”
An enthusiastic and warm person who is equally quick to laugh or to become philosophical, Roche (who goes by the nickname “A.C.”) has been immersed in school culture since she began at Exeter in the tenth-grade. A focused and motivated student, Roche studied Greek and Latin and thrived in the atmosphere of learning at the New Hampshire boarding school. “I loved that you could go to a school that was all about going to school. As much as you missed your family, it was all about investing in that experience,” she said.
Roche attended Wellesley College for two years before transferring to Harvard University to pursue Greek and Latin at a larger department.
“For me, it was similar to math,” Roche said of her interest in Latin and Ancient Greek. “The details of the text really spoke to me. I loved that one letter alters meaning.” She also relished being able to access traditions, values and theories from 2,000 years ago through the “dead” languages.
Roche decided to become a teacher to help other students to make similar connections. After graduating from college, she took a position teaching Latin to kids in grades 7-12 at The Williams School in Connecticut and knew she’d made the right career choice.
“It was intellectually stimulating, and what you can’t anticipate is how much fun it is to hang out with teenagers, which is why my career has always been in middle and high school. There is something just endearing, fabulously mysterious and hysterical about the way teens function and live out their lives,” she said.
Roche taught Latin and Ancient Greek at Exeter for a year, then spent 10 years teaching at St. Andrew’s School, a boarding school in Delaware. Over time, Roche took on administrative roles and obtained a master’s degree at Columbia University’s Teachers College. She was the assistant head of Groton School, a Massachusetts boarding school, for five years before coming to Bishop’s in 2009. Roche loved the intimacy of the school communities in which she worked, places where students shared meals together and discussed issues of humanity, spirituality and purpose, she said. Two of the schools were affiliated with the Episcopalian church, as is The Bishop’s School.
Roche’s transition to the west coast and to Bishop’s (which was once a boarding school) has been seamless, she said.
“I have found San Diego and the Bishop’s community and the La Jolla community to be incredibly friendly and intimate,” Roche said. “Bishop’s is a school where you find kids here at 8 o’clock at night and on weekends. It functions with the heartbeat of that boarding school still in it,” she continued.
Under Roche’s leadership, Bishop’s has expanded to include sixth-grade, opened a library and adopted a complex daily schedule. Roche considers the greatest challenge in education today to help young people find balance in their fast-paced, tech-heavy lives.
“The world they live in is so ready for them to disclose in a public forum what may be better held privately. The world around them says, ‘Technology is king!’ but yet what is the value of conversation? The world around them says, ‘Do it now!’” she said. “But yet we all know that patience is one of the single greatest gifts we can give ourselves as well as others.”
THE BISHOP’S SCHOOL
• Type of school: Independent, Episcopalian church affiliation
• Year established: 1909
• Number of students: 800
• Grade range: 6-12
• School colors: Maroon and gold
• Mascot name: The Knights
• Tuition: $28,900 annually
• Address: 7607 La Jolla Blvd.
• Phone: (858) 459-4021
• Website: bishops.com
• The Principal’s Office Archives: To see every story and video from The Principal’s Office series, visit www.bit.ly/lajollaprincipals
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