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Newton high schools drop ‘Housemaster’ title

Newton North High School will no longer refer to certain administrators as “Housemaster.”

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff/File

Newton North High School will no longer refer to certain administrators as “Housemaster.”

Following in Harvard’s footsteps, Newton’s two public high schools will drop the title “Housemaster” for certain administrators and call them “Dean” instead, officials said Tuesday.

“We are making this change because we believe that the words we choose to describe ourselves indicate our values and beliefs,” said a joint e-mail to the school community from Joel Stembridge, principal of Newton South, and Mark Aronson, interim principal of Newton North. “The usage of words also changes over time, and the intentions of those who chose a title over a century ago may be betrayed by new meanings.”

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In early December, Harvard College announced it was dropping the term “house master” for the faculty members who oversee undergraduate residences after students argued that “master” evokes the term used for slave owners.

“The term ‘Housemaster’ is an extension of ‘master,’ which is a word meaning ‘teacher’ in a different century,” Stembridge and Aronson wrote. “While it is important not to lose touch with our history, it is also important to recognize when current meanings of words hamper our ability to establish who we are and what we care about.”

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The term “master” has “powerful negative connections that override the more benevolent definition from previous eras,” the principals said. The term “dean,” however, is used “throughout education to mean a person in authority over a specific academic area.”

The eight high school administrators who were previously called “Housemasters” will continue the same “supportive work” with students, families, and faculty, the principals said.

Leslie Anderson can be reached at leslie.anderson@globe.com.
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