The Rhode Island prep school embroiled in a sexual abuse scandal for the past year has named the former principal of Acton-Boxborough High School as its new headmaster, the school announced Friday.
St. George’s School has hired Alexandra “Alixe” Callen as its 12th headmaster and the first female to lead the 120-year-old institution. She is currently the head of upper school at Lakeside School in Seattle, Wash., and was principal in Acton from 2008 to 2013.
A New England native with multiple degrees from Brown University and Harvard, Callen will face the challenge of steadying the elite prep school in Middletown, R.I., whose reputation has been badly damaged.
“We are confident that she will steer the course boldly for St. George’s, continuing to build on our long-standing strengths while at the same time moving St. George’s confidently into the future,” wrote Leslie Heaney, chair of the board of trustees, in a letter to the school co-authored by Tad Van Norden, an alumnus and chair of the search committee.
Controversy at St. George’s School became public in December 2015, after Anne Scott and two other alumnae told of being molested or raped by athletic trainer Al Gibbs in the late 1970s.
At the urging of Scott and her attorney, Eric MacLeish, St. George’s commissioned an independent investigation of sexual abuse in 2015. In late December, the school issued a report saying the investigator had found a total of 26 students who were sexually abused.
The report said six school employees were responsible for different instances of abuse. Though most of the perpetrators were fired after the allegations were made, the school did not report them to the state Department of Children, Youth and Families.
At least three St. George’s employees accused of misconduct went on to jobs where they faced subsequent sexual misconduct allegations involving children.
The letter to the school announcing Callen’s hiring did not mention the recent scandal, but said, “St. George’s has reached a period in our history where the future gleams bright and ripe with possibility.”
Callen, 47, is set to start July 1, 2017. She replaces headmaster Eric F. Peterson, who announced in June that he would not seek to renew his contract when it expires June 30. Peterson, 50, was appointed headmaster of the Episcopal prep school in 2004. He earned $579,000 in 2014, the most recent data publicly available.
St. George’s has educated Astors and Vanderbilts, and its rolling campus is known as “the Hilltop” for its perch overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Founded in 1896, it has 370 students in grades 9 through 12 and 82 full-time faculty. Tuition for next year is $58,000.
Callen was chosen after a national search by the executive search firm Spencer Stewart.
Callen attended Milton Academy and her great-grandfather, grandfather, great-uncle, and uncle graduated from St. George’s School, according to the school. Callen also served as assistant principal of Needham High School, from 2004 to 2008.
Callen will move to Rhode Island with her husband James “Ace” Bailey and their sons Zander, 18, and Miles, 14, according to a news release from St. George’s. Bailey is the former assistant director of admissions at Middlesex School in Concord.
Scott, the 1980 graduate whose reports of being raped by the school’s now-deceased athletic trainer sparked the investigation, praised the choice.
“I’m excited to see the choice of a leader who emphasizes excellence and compassion and caring,” she said. “I look forward to her leadership into a new era where we can fully heal survivors and see through the reconciliation process with survivors.”
Carmen Durso, an attorney who represented Scott and about 30 other former students who said they were abused at St. George’s, praised the choice, noting that Callen would be the first woman head of school.
Durso said a previous investigation of abuse at the school had noted how poorly prepared the school was to begin accepting girls in the 1970s. Teachers, he said, did not treat the girls with respect, creating a hostile environment that objectified women.
“Hopefully, having a female head of school will do a lot to make sure this isn’t an attitude that continues in the future,” Durso said.