The longtime president of St. Teresa’s Academy, who weathered controversy over a swastika and racial tension, is retiring. A Kansas City native with 30 years of education experience has been hired to replace her.
Siabhan May-Washington was introduced to students on Thursday at the all-girls Roman Catholic high school. She will step in as president after Nan Bone steps down at the end of the school year.
May-Washington is currently the assistant principal of faculty development at Pembroke Hill Upper School, where she has been an educator for the past 15 years.
Bone, in her 12 years at the helm of St. Teresa’s, had raised a significant amount of money for the school.
But the previous school year was clouded with controversy after several students were seen in party pictures posted on the social media app Snapchat showing them playing beer pong with cups arranged in the shape of a swastika.
Soon Bone and the academy took fire from alumnae, parents and current students outraged over the way the school had disciplined the students. The incident then led some St. Teresa students of color to speak out about having been on the receiving end of racial micro aggressions and bullying at school.
Bone responded by launching several initiatives designed to better educate St. Teresa’s 600 students about discrimination and cultural sensitivity. The school also developed a plan to improve diversity.
May-Washington, who is African-American, said she intends to carry that plan forward and to expand on it.
When she accepted the position, May-Washington said, “I was well aware that diversity and inclusion was a top initiative for the school. I would not want to work at a place where it was not a top priority.”
She said she intends to do her part to “help people understand that we need to celebrate our differences.” And she intends to make diversity in hiring another priority, “and I have ideas,” she said.
“We need to cast a wider net. All the research shows that having diverse role models is important for all students, not just students of color.” She recalled that students at Pembroke, an elite private school, had told her she was the first African-American teacher they’d ever had.
May-Washington said she also is excited about helping young women of varying backgrounds “to advocate for themselves, hone their power and find their voice.
“I want to let them know they matter and they are already good enough,” May-Washington said.
She plans to push students “to be more visible in the community, to be of service to the community a whole lot more.”
May-Washington holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English from University of Missouri-Kansas City and a master’s in education administration from Park University, as well as a doctorate in educational leadership from Baker University. She is one of the few teachers in the Kansas City area to have received a National Board Certification in English.
She landed at Pembroke after seven years teaching English and serving as the department chair at Lincoln College Preparatory Academy in the Kansas City Public School District.
St. Teresa’s, 5600 Main St., found her working right in its Kansas City neighborhood during a national search launched shortly after Bone, in April, announced her retirement plans.
“We are excited that Dr. May-Washington will bring significant educational experience with her to STA,” said Kevin Connor, who chairs St. Teresa’s board of directors. He called May-Washington a “teacher’s teacher.” She also taught college-level courses to high school students at Lincoln Prep and works part-time as an adjunct professor for Park University’s Graduate Education School.
She said that having lived her entire life in Kansas City has helped her develop “a rich tool kit” to work from.
Her Kansas City roots may help her in her role as chief fundraiser for St. Teresa’s.
During her tenure, Bone raised $11 million during the academy’s 150 Capital Campaign, which built a new learning commons and research library as well as innovative classrooms and study spaces. The effort increased the endowment from $2.5 million to $8 million.
Under Bone’s leadership, St. Teresa’s raised another $9.3 million that helped renovate the school’s historic auditorium, added a fourth building including some high-tech classrooms and built a state-of-the art track and field.