After nine years as Head of School, Jody Reilly Soja will be departing IMS and joining Loomis Chaffee as their next Head of School. Jody has been an integral part of the community and growth at IMS and we can't wait to see all she accomplishes in her next role.

Before she departs, we sat down with Jody one final time to reflect on her legacy at IMS.

You came back in 2015 to be our ninth Head of School and the first female head of IMS. In those first years, what did you draw from that shaped your work and vision for the school?

I was really lucky to have worked here from 1999-2009, so while I was a new Head of School in 2015, I wasn’t new to IMS. I returned to the Mountain with an already deep appreciation for the junior boarding experience and for the playful atmosphere cultivated at IMS by faculty and staff who really enjoy educating young people. 

In my first few years as Head of School, I became really interested in the history of IMS – particularly the founding Head of School, Francis Riggs, and his motivation for starting a school. I also tried to remain grounded in the core values at IMS: honesty, compassion and respect, and to think about how we create the conditions for learning and living together based on those principles. 

In my second year as Head of School, we also created the first Strategic Plan of my tenure, The Courage to Climb, and that plan really shaped the work we have done together over the last nine years. 

You have logged more hours than anyone else in our archives, pouring through documents, articles, musings, and photographs from the past. From your view, what are the ways in which we remain true to the vision of our school’s founder, Francis Behn Riggs?

Well, Mr. Riggs was educated at Groton and then Harvard and he had a deep appreciation for quality education and for learning environments where debate and discourse were cultivated and encouraged. Furthermore, he was deeply affected by the horrors of World War I and believed that education was our best path to avoid conflict in the future. It is not as well known that Mr. Riggs was a very active pacifist. He wanted to educate the next generation so that we could avoid conflict and violence in the world. I share his view and continue to strive toward that goal. 

Mr. Riggs also wanted to create a school, in those early days, for “boys of modest means.” Very few students in the early years could afford to pay full tuition, and so it has always been a goal for IMS to support financial aid and create access for education in a setting like ours. I am proud of IMS’ commitment to financial aid and to investing in future generations. 

Lastly, Mr. Riggs chose Life Through Service as our school motto. To me, this motto highlights not only our responsibility to care for our local community and the world, but also to think about how we care for each other. Being a member of a community is both a privilege and a responsibility, and Mr. Riggs laid the foundation for that mission and ethos from the very start. 

Last year we celebrated 100 years on the mountain. What did that mean for you?

I was incredibly proud to serve as the Head of School during the School’s centennial. As the first female Head of School at IMS, I think it was particularly poignant for me – as a sign of the future and how far we’ve come in the last 100 years as an institution and an industry. IMS holds a very dear place in my heart, so to have been here during this important time in our history has been very meaningful to me. 

There has been so much growth at IMS, in enrollment and in our physical space. Talk about the vision and work that led to this growth.

In my early days as Head of School at IMS we conducted a campus master plan. Through that process, we identified athletic and community spaces as our biggest needs. That plan had input from faculty and staff, parents, alumni, and students, and all agreed on these needs and priorities, which made it very easy to focus on these critical physical spaces. In the last nine years, we have renovated and redecorated dorm common rooms and bathrooms, built the addition on Stockton to increase our boarding enrollment, added six new beautiful tennis courts and the O.W.L and, of course, completed the construction of Centennial Field and the Morehead Athletic Center. 

When I arrived we were under-enrolled and continued to be for two years. Slowly over time, thanks to everyone but especially the leadership of Heather Eckert and then Charles Brown, we stabilized and then began to grow our enrollment. In the fall of 2019, we opened at our target enrollment of just over 250 students. Never in our wildest imagination did we imagine the massive changes to come with the pandemic in 2020. It was our goal to emerge from the pandemic from a position of strength. Certainly, the booming enrollment in 2020-2021 helped that goal, but the fact that we have not only maintained but also built on that momentum has been really impactful for IMS in very positive ways.  

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of the students who graduate from IMS and the way they positively  impact the communities they join after they leave us. I have heard from other Heads of School that IMS graduates are amazing community members in their secondary schools, and that makes me really proud. 

What’s the biggest or perhaps most unexpected lesson you’ve learned from your years at IMS?

As an introvert who does not enjoy public speaking, I have had to really push myself out of my comfort zone in this role. I have actually found so much inspiration in the courage of our students. Routinely, IMS students challenge themselves by picking up a new instrument or sport, speaking at morning meeting or morning circle, going on a camping trip for the first time, and more. Despite uneasiness, they embrace new experiences and are willing to try.  As with all things, practice makes it easier, and I have learned to at least be more comfortable speaking in front of large audiences. 

What do you hope for our next Head of School?

I hope that our next Head of School finds as much joy in the work as I have. There is so much laughter and silliness at IMS, and this is a highlight of the school and the job. I hope that the next head of school can find time to be in the company of our students- whether it is dorm dinners, food Fridays in the ECC, at the dining table for meals, or at drop off – to understand how amazing and hilarious our students are. I also hope that the next Head of School has as much support from an amazing faculty and staff, a collaborative and dedicated administrative team, and a thoughtful and engaged Board of Trustees. I have been blessed by all of the above. 

Speed Round Questions

Favorite spot on campus (upper and lower)?

On the Upper Campus it is the deck of Becket House and on the Lower Campus it is the Early Childhood Classroom(s). 

Favorite tradition on the Upper Campus?

It’s a tie between Mountain Day, dorm dinners and 6th grader Tuesdays at Becket House, and Halloween.

Favorite tradition on the Lower Campus?

I love scooping ice cream on LEAP day.

Most embarrassing moment?

Anytime I have to sing the birthday song acapella. 

Favorite meal from the dining hall?

The homemade chicken tenders, I love those things!

Maroon or Gray?

MAROON! But really I’m impartial 😉

Fondest Memory?

There have been so many, but what comes to mind are the fireworks at the Centennial Celebration and what they symbolized for me. I also feel very fortunate that I was able to be present for both of my sons’ This I Believe speeches. That was really meaningful to me as a mom and made me so grateful for the education they received at IMS. 

Thank you Jody for enriching the lives of our entire community at IMS!