Andrea Kassar

We are thrilled that Andrea Kassar, current head of Upper School at The Nightingale-Bamford School in New York City, will join us in July 2022 as Westridge’s 12th head of school. A dedicated educator with more than 20 years’ experience as an administrator and teacher at girls’ schools in Manhattan (and a graduate of a girls’ school herself!), Kassar would be the first to share about her love for girls’ schools and belief in their impact and importance. She is an academic thought leader and her proven passion for girls’ empowerment and leadership; student wellness; and diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice work makes her perfectly poised to lead Westridge into our future. We look forward to having her with us (you can find the announcement of Kassar’s appointment as our next head of school here, along with her full bio). Read on for our Q&A with Kassar.

Why did you become an educator?

My students always tell me that I smile all the time as I walk up and down the hallways (in fact, the song they picked out for me in the yearbook faculty rag sheet is "Walking on Sunshine"). I smile a lot because I am naturally someone who likes putting people at ease and making those around me feel comfortable; but, most of all, I smile a lot because I love my job.

When I was 16 years old and a junior in high school, I encountered the Romantic poets for the first time—Wordsworth, in particular. I didn't know it then, but in retrospect, I see that this encounter shaped much of my life. In one of his most famous phrases of poetry, he states, "The child is father of the man." I love this statement because it reverses what we would normally think: that the man is father of the child. It places the child as the foundation, the original, the shaper, the generator, the teacher. The concepts that matter immensely to me as an educator are all found in this poetic phrase. I can see now that Wordsworth awakened my life-long belief in the power of childhood and adolescence, and I think this belief is the reason I went on to study literature and developmental psychology in college and beyond, and why I have devoted my life to education.

As someone who just went through your own admission process of sorts where you researched and chose Westridge for your next educational home, what insights do you have for our prospective families and what drew you here? 

I was initially drawn to Westridge because of its inspiring vision statement that embodies everything I believe in deeply and aspire to be as an educator each day—that is, "forward-thinking" and "committed to educating intellectually adventurous thinkers and courageous, compassionate leaders." As I said to my husband when I first read this statement: "It doesn't get better than that."

When I learned more about Westridge through the interview process and through my visiting days, I could see this vision in action so clearly. The students are bold and vibrant and asked me many thought-provoking questions. Their engagement in school life, in social justice issues, in making a difference in the world at large is palpable. My numerous conversations with faculty made their intellectualism, warmth, care for students, and dedication to best/current pedagogy abundantly clear. The parents spoke about Westridge with such gratitude and enthusiasm. And I am continually impressed by the thoughtfulness and intention behind every decision that the leadership team makes—students are always at the center of every decision. The beauty of the campus was no doubt a draw as well.

Ultimately, I remember thinking that I could picture wrapping my arms around this whole school. So, my best advice to prospective families is to see if you feel that way too. 

What excites you about all-girls' education?

I am energized everyday by the forward-looking mission of girls' education. I know the power of an all-girls experience on the most profound and personal level; I have been a student, teacher, administrator, and parent in girls' schools. This mission to inspire girls to be anything they wish to be and to navigate the world with bravery, passion, and self-awareness drives and fulfills my professional life. It propels me forward. I feel incredibly lucky every day to be surrounded by dynamic and intellectual young women who will go on to shape and change the world. And despite being in girls' schools for over 30 years, it feels to me now—more than it has ever before in my lifetime—that this work carries with it a renewed and palpable sense of urgency. This sense of urgency is motivating and full of meaning. I honestly can't imagine something I would rather be doing with my life than educating girls.

What are you looking forward to at Westridge?

Everything! Talking with students on campus, supporting the professional community, spending time in classes, cheering for the Tigers, attending shows and musical performances, immersing myself in school traditions, asking questions, listening and listening more, getting to know families, sitting under a beautiful campus tree and appreciating Pasadena nature and weather (very different from NYC!) and doing my best each day to make everyone around me feel a deep sense of belonging.

Lightning round! 

  • Favorite thing about school growing up? Watching my teachers' passion for their subjects, laughing uncontrollably with friends in the hallways between classes, rehearsing for school plays late into the afternoon/evening, conversations with classmates and teachers about the most intellectual things and also the most silly things.
  • Who are your heroes and/or mentors? So many! I think especially women who tell the truth about their lives and what they really want. And for me, that has come from my teachers (my 8th grade history teacher, Sue Leonard, in particular), from writers whose texts I return to again and again (Toni Morrison, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf, Jhumpa Lahiri and many more) and from the founders and leaders of girls' schools that have come before me—they inspire me and have opened many, many doors—I take their legacy very seriously.
  • Do you have a favorite quote/motto? A quotation I think about all the time is from the end of Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov when Alyosha advises, "Love life more than the meaning of it." To be honest, this is very hard for me to do sometimes, but the older I get, the more I understand how important this is.
  • What do you do for fun? I spend time with my three children. I love to take long walks and listen to interesting podcasts or turn my music up very high and sing along while I walk. And I love having dinner with a friend and talking for hours. 
  • What is the best advice you have ever received? A teacher once told me that it is better to be curious than to already know. Asking questions is something I have always relished; I find it freeing and a sure way to get unstuck. I designed and currently teach a class for seniors called Essential Questions of the Heart and Mind. I love exploring big, life-long questions with students and colleagues.