Announcing Mountain Academy Structural Changes and Key Priorities

On March 25, CEO and Mountain Academy Head of School, Shawn Kelly, announced structural changes and announced key new hires at Mountain Academy. Below is his announcement to Mountain Academy faculty, staff, families and friends. 

Dear Parents and Families of Mountain Academy,

Since my arrival in May 2021, I have had the opportunity to hear from the diverse stakeholders of Mountain Academy. I have a deep appreciation for the rich history that grounds this learning community. Equally important, you have raised concerns and frustrations, based on a desire for Mountain Academy to achieve its optimal potential. I have witnessed this passion and care each day, and have heard amazing stories from students and families who have come here from other schools. Stories such as students finding renewed curiosity and a love of learning here. Just last week, a parent called to say “thank you for giving me my child back.” There is real growth and change happening both inside and outside the classroom, yet, there is work to be done. There is a frustration with the pace of change over the past five years. Change that didn’t always feel intentional and well thought out as it was implemented. Compounded with economic challenges and housing instability, many educators and families alike are struggling. These are realities that we must face together.

I have been fortunate in my career to work at and visit dozens of schools across the country and the world. No matter the location, I have found that the most successful academic institutions share a clear mission and vision, and a culture that prioritizes transparency and intentional communications. What does that look like at Mountain Academy? First and foremost we need to get the fundamentals right. We need to be a school that makes sure our students develop foundational literacy and numeracy skills while at the same time developing a robust ability to analyze and synthesize information. This requires both traditional “hard skills,” as well as “soft skills” – collaboration, innovation, and intellectual flexibility. The world is changing at a pace that would have been hard to imagine even ten years ago. We must give our students the ability to successfully navigate a world that will continue to change on the micro-level and as a larger-scale society. We must give our students the opportunity to foster strong social and emotional skills to navigate an ever-changing world with confidence and resilience.

I am grateful to each of you who has shared your ideas and your call to action. With your feedback in mind, we will implement important structural changes to ensure that Mountain Academy continues to serve our students to the utmost potential. Across all divisions, we are focused on academic rigor and co-curricular activities that enhance the holistic academic program. Each division is unique. We will invest heavily in our Middle School program as it plays an essential role in solidifying and building fundamental skills important for Upper School and beyond. It is important that we ensure a seamless curriculum that supports students with robust material that is developmentally appropriate. There will be a renewed focus on this as well on teacher retention and recruitment as both are critical to each student’s success.

We are excited to welcome J Dianne Brederson as our new Chief Academic Officer at Teton Science Schools. J Dianne will be driving the instructional review process, in other words, examining as an organization, what we teach, how we teach, and why.  J Dianne will engage in this work at each tier of the organization in order to provide academic consistency and rigor. Her work will include support for Mountain Academy as the curriculum is refined and developed. J Dianne and her family will be relocating to Jackson from Salt Lake City and her daughter, Phoebe, will be attending Mountain Academy following spring break.

Heather Zuckerman will begin her role as Director of Studies.  In this role, Heather will take the lead on Mountain Academy’s academic program. She will work with teachers to develop scope and sequence, that is, ordering topics across grades in a scaffolded fashion, ensuring there is an alignment of curriculum across grades. She will help to coordinate professional development and provide feedback to teachers.

Mountain Academy will continue to utilize and leverage our geography with our Place-Based Education approach to learning. Katie Rose Griffith, Director of Farm & Garden and Outdoor Education, will be designing a school-wide curriculum. It will provide scaffolding for teaching and learning about outdoor skills which will better prepare our students for journeys. We are very excited to see this program grow under her leadership.

Dan Zuckerman will be moving to a new role as Director of Student Life. With a focus on student experience outside of the classroom, Dan will help oversee after-school programs, implement summer programming, and support and enrich student experiences outside of the academic day. Dan will have an immediate focus on designing a robust dining experience for Mountain Academy students. This initiative will initially be implemented on the Jackson campus with the goal being to navigate the process on the TVC.

In recent years, Mountain Academy has used a division head model. Based on community feedback and industry standards, we have realized that Mountain Academy is too small to justify full-time division heads. As such, we are restructuring those positions into Division Coordinator roles where the responsibilities are streamlined with support structures in place.

Division Coordinators will teach, help coordinate off-campus activities and logistics for students, lead divisional meetings and act as a liaison with Associate Heads and the Director of Studies. This shift allows for a cohesive team with defined tiers of support to assist students and parents when issues or questions arise. Your new Division Coordinators are as follows:

  • On the JC: Paige Fisher (Preschool), Meghan Cobb (Lower School), and Alison Missler (Middle School). David Porter will remain as Head of Upper School
  • On the TVC: Lulu Orne, Elise Pierce, and Chris Philbin (Preschool); Tim Gruber (Lower School), and Kelsie Leu and Brooks Taylor (Middle School)

I appreciate your time and attention on these important changes as a lot of information was shared in this letter. Thank you for being a part of Mountain Academy’s past and future. Together, we are supporting this next generation of leaders.

I hope you all enjoy the upcoming break and I look forward to seeing you in April.


Shawn Kelly
Mountain Academy Head of School

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