New Head of School

The Miami Valley School welcomes Elizabeth Cleary as its leader

By Jennifer Patterson Lorenzetti

Founded in 1964 by a group of parents seeking academic rigor for their students, The Miami Valley School has grown to become the only independent school in Dayton that is not religion-based. With a mission “to challenge young people of promise to become self-sustaining learners and compassionate global citizens,” MVS specializes in preparing students for college and for lifelong learning.

The school is small enough for individualized attention. It currently enrolls 485 students in early childhood through 12th grade, allowing for a 9:1 student teacher ratio. All of the MVS students go on to some of the nation’s top colleges. Although the school is tuition based, nearly half of all students receive financial aid. According to Susan Strong, assistant head of school for external affairs, “if it’s for the right kid we’ll make it happen.”

This past year MVS welcomed its seventh Head of School, Elizabeth Cleary. Leading independent schools is in Cleary’s blood; her father was also a head of school and she grew up hearing stories of the challenges of leadership at the dinner table. Cleary has served as head of other schools and she says she was attracted to MVS because of the work being done with experiential learning and the immersion method of education. “I was excited by what was being done that no one knew about,” she says.

Cleary says she has found MVS to be “a match from the beginning” for her strengths and passions. “There’s a palpable joy in the school,” she says, sharing that one student told her “it feels like there’s a lot of love” at MVS.

There is also a lot of academic challenge at MVS. The school leads trips to destinations around the globe for students to immerse themselves in different cultures. Even at home, the students enjoy multidisciplinary experiences that offer opportunities for deep learning. For example, the school includes a maker space where students can create and prototype their own inventions; students learning languages like Mandarin write instructions for the pieces in these languages.

The richness of the MVS curriculum is partly due to the expertise of the faculty. The school hires subject-matter experts, not just education experts, to teach its students. Language instructors might be polylingual or native speakers, and science classes might be taught by those with advanced degrees in the subject.

As the first female head of school, Cleary is excited about the opportunities that she has to continue to guide the school and its students forward. She hopes to do more to connect the school to the community, both by increasing school involvement and working to be viewed as an asset to the Dayton area. She also hopes to encourage alumni to engage with their school in even greater numbers.