MFS welcomes first female head of school

In 233 years, the school has never had a female in the head of school position.

Photo Courtesy of Moorestown Friends School.

For more than 200 years, Moorestown Friends School has educated students in and around the Moorestown area. In all that time, the school’s head of school position was occupied by a man, but for the first time in 233 years, a woman is taking charge.

Julia de la Torre will serve as MFS’ first female head of school. De la Torre was appointed to the position July 1 and has spent the summer preparing for when the students returned to the historic halls of the institution on Wednesday, Sept. 5.

A first-generation American, De la Torre grew up in Houston, Texas. Her father was from Argentina and her mother was from Germany, so she grew up speaking German, Spanish and English in her home.

She describes her childhood as a “global upbringing” with travel playing an important component of her formative years. She attended an all girls Catholic School in Houston that was founded by an order of French nuns, so she was required to study French from first grade onward.

When it came time to decide her college major, de la Torre knew she wanted to teach, so she studied French while also being enrolled in the teacher certification program at Haverford College in Pennsylvania. At Haverford, a college founded by Quakers, she learned about the Quaker values of simplicity, integrity and kindness in terms of education.

After earning her degree at Haverford, de la Torre taught for five years in Colorado before joining the Peace Corps where she served in Moldova. She said she was curious about what learning and teaching looked like without access to textbooks and technology, and she was ready for a professional challenge.

“I was really interested in getting back to the essence of education,” de la Torre said.

She was assigned to train university students studying to be English teachers, and she helped build the skills they needed to be teachers.

“That set me on a path that was very much about global education,” de la Torre said of her time in the Peace Corps.

When she returned to the states, de la Torre attended graduate school at Harvard University where she earned her master’s degree in international education policy. She said she came out of school recognizing many American students were not prepared to collaborate with their peers from other countries, and so she went to work at Primary Source, a Boston-area based nonprofit focused on global education and citizenship.

She served as both program director and executive director during her time at Primary Source. She said its ultimate mission is helping American students become more knowledgeable and sensitive about diverse perspectives, and so, she helped develop and implement professional programs for teachers.

After 12 years in the nonprofit world, she decided to do a national search for a leadership position in a school community, and she served as head of the Upper School at Greenhills School in Ann Arbor, Mich.

She said the experience reminded her how much she missed working directly in schools.

“It was exciting to be back where the work was being done,” de la Torre said.

Having attended the same school until her college years, de la Torre decided she wanted that same experience for her son. So, she went on another national search and came upon the opening at Moorestown Friends School.

She connected with the way Moorestown Friends School embraced the same Quaker values as Haverford. She said the singular school experience from pre-K through 12 grade, the sense of community and small town feel of Moorestown all felt like the right fit.

De la Torre said having gone through a school system led entirely by female leaders, she is used to being surrounded by strong, influential female leaders. She said she recognizes that in independent schools, women occupy only one-third of leadership positions, and so her position as head of school carries a greater significance.

She said her goal for this upcoming year is to listen and get to know the school community. She said she brings with her the perspective of someone is globally oriented, and she looks forward to finding opportunities for the school to contribute in ways that go beyond Moorestown.

As a first-generation American, she hopes to serve as an example for students to empower them to leverage their differences and cultural backgrounds.

“Within the 700 students is such a rich tapestry of stories and global experiences,” de la Torre said. “I’m excited to help students feel validated and affirmed.”