What was North Cross like in 1989?
I came at a very exciting time in the life of North Cross School. David Dougherty was about to begin his first year as Headmaster, and I was joining an Upper School faculty that consisted of North Cross legends like Hugh Meager, Jerry Maycock, Margaret Grayson, Rick France, Gates Dehart, and Richard Cook. These were master teachers who were extremely experienced, were passionate about teaching, and possessed a great sense of collegiality. I came in with only four years teaching experience, and as a young teacher, I enjoyed being in an atmosphere that was so supportive and encouraging.
Out of all of those legendary teachers, who was your mentor?
It is a good story, before I started working at North Cross, I had taught English and French at Buckingham County High School. I was looking to move back to Roanoke, and I just happened to come by the school one day in June to drop off my C.V. At the time, I did not even realize they were looking to fill a position. I went into the Upper School office and met Peter Wonson and then Rick France, who had been the Upper School French teacher. Rick had just been promoted to Director of the Middle School, and they were looking for someone to take over his French classes and start a wrestling program. I had been on the wrestling team in high school and my first year in college so this seemed like the perfect fit. Rick and I had a long conversation that day, most of it in French, and a few weeks later, I was offered the position. Rick became a great mentor for me. He would share his materials and provide me with great advice. He was very enthusiastic and had high expectations. Given Rick’s great work in the French department, I wanted to continue his legacy of outstanding instruction to the best of my ability.
When did your passion for the French language and culture begin?
My father had a passion for the French language after he served in World War II. We traveled to Canada when I was 10, and I started to develop a strong affinity for the French language. I began studying the language in middle school and loved it, and I decided to continue through high school. In college, I was an English major and a French minor, and I consider myself fortunate to have had a series of outstanding French instructors. After college, I had the opportunity to live in Brittany, France for a while and continue my education at La Sorbonne-Université de Paris IV where I received a degree in French Language and Literature. Since then I have traveled to France several times and taken groups of students on multiple occasions. My father had the opportunity to travel to a number of cities in France he saw during World War II, and it was nice for me to have the opportunity to explore some of those cities when I was traveling.
The Dickenson Family after the birth of their second son. From left: Alexandre ’24, Ed, Mistie, and baby Gabriel.
What about your passion for running?
I started running track in middle school when I was about 13 years old. There was something about running fast and taking the lead in a race that created a fire in me. I continued to run on cross country teams, and in college, and I was the team captain my senior year at Hampden-Sydney. I was able to continue my passion for running by starting the first cross country team at Buckingham County High School my first year out of college. Since then I have run ten half-marathons, four marathons, and more five and ten kilometer races than I can remember. I love coaching the cross country team at North Cross with Mr. Schaefer, and I always hope to pass along the passion that I have for the sport. I have coached some great teams and individual runners in past years, and this year’s team possesses as much talent as any I have ever coached.
When did you transition to Director of the Middle School?
It was seven years ago. The same year Tim Seeley was transitioning from Upper School Head to Headmaster. I think he was looking for someone who had a feel for the history of the school and specifically who knew the expectations of the school in terms of academics and character. After spending eighteen years working in the Upper School, I had a good sense of how to help students prepare for their futures at North Cross. I took over the position after Amy Jackson who is a gifted organizer. She shared with me a great set of documents and notes, which helped enormously in my transition.
Teaching, coaching, and administration…. which position have you enjoyed the most?
Honestly, I love working with students, and if there is one thing I have learned, it is that coaching effectively is not that different from teaching effectively, and the same goes for being a good administrator. You have to build a clear framework of expectations and share your goals and passion for success with the people around you. I love working here because the school allows me both the responsibility and the freedom to teach and coach in my own style as a person.
What is the most rewarding part of being a teacher, coach, and administrator?
I have had so many rewarding experiences throughout my years here, but one of the most special moments was seeing North Cross through my child’s eyes. Although I have not had the opportunity to teach or coach my son yet, I have seen the school in a different light as a parent since Alexandre started attending North Cross in the Early Childhood Program. By the end of the first week, he wanted to be the first student to arrive in his classroom every morning because he loved his Lower School teachers so much. Alexandre truly loved his teachers (and still does) and his class, which was special for me and reminded me how many fantastic and caring teachers we have at North Cross School.