In his new job as head of school at Tabor Academy, Anthony “Tony” Jaccaci is cognizant of diversity at the school by the sea.
“I define diversity [as] ethnic, racial, but also socio-economic as well. There’s no doubt that we are an institution that is blessed with wonderful resources, and it’s very expensive to attend Tabor. But we have a very strong and robust financial aid program so that we can support kids from all different backgrounds,” he said, noting that the Marion-based prep school has close to 200 day students among its approximate 530 enrollment. “[Day students] come from the Tri-Town region, they come from all over southeast Massachusetts.”
Unlike in the movies where children are sent away to boarding schools as punishment or for convenience, Jaccaci stresses that Tabor Academy is based more on the British boarding school model, calling it “whole-child education: the mind, the body, and the character.”
Once religiously affiliated, Tabor is presently non-denominational and considers all student activities as education. Jaccaci uses the acronym “VUCA” to describe the variable, uncertain, changing, and ambiguous world that awaits today’s students.
“That’s the only thing we know about the future, [that] it’s going to be all of those challenging things,” he said. “That means they will have to develop a flexible mind, they have to be able to have a cultural competency where they can communicate well with people from very different backgrounds, they have to have the resilience and grit to get through difficult times, they have to understand the changing world and the implications of things such as artificial intelligence and changing environment around them, and really to enter into relationship with people from other countries, too.”
The advent of social media can improve learning, but Jaccaci said education also means teaching kids how to put their technology down and pick their heads up. Incidentally, Jaccaci’s leap into Marion Harbor is viewable on Instagram. “I was told, ‘To become a Seawolf, that’s what you have to do,'” he said.
While part of his own education this year will admittedly include looking people in the eyes and greeting them, one thing Jaccaci considers very important is “having civil discourse about really difficult discussions.
“We have a lot of issues going on in America. For example, across the country and here at Tabor, we’re thinking about things like diversity, equity, and inclusion. But what’s happening, I fear, is people, if they disagree with you, they’d rather just shut you out or so-called ‘cancel’ you, as opposed to [doing] the difficult work to find common ground,” he said.
Other than a long-ago visit as coach of the St. George’s School varsity girls soccer team, Jaccaci had never spent time in Marion before accepting the Tabor job.
“I saw the beauty of the campus, but I also met the community, the coach, the parents, the players of Tabor, and really felt that this is a special place,” said Jaccaci, who officially took office on July 1.
His interviews for the Tabor job were conducted by teleconference from Ohio, where Jaccaci served for six years as head of school at Cincinnati Country Day School, a coed day school with 820 students and 120 faculty.
“In that process, I came to understand the importance of the Tabor and the Tri-Town community relationship,” he said. “I knew that the school is over 145 years [old], that it shifted parts – originally it was a little farther away from the harbor and then in 1916 came closer – but part of that was understanding that the relationship between the town and the school is going to be a very important part of my responsibility.”
The Town of Marion also realizes that, as Select Board member John Waterman and Town Administrator Jay McGrail made sure to meet with Jaccaci ahead of his first day on the job.
The sometimes-contentious vetting of the new Campus Center by Marion’s Planning Board and the future of the Percy Browne House are matters Jaccaci will sink his teeth into as he settles in, but the town’s and Tabor’s mutual interest in improving their partnership apparently factored in Jaccaci’s selection.
Jaccaci, 52, takes over the role from Julie Salit, who had acted as interim head of school in the wake of John Quirk’s departure in January 2020.
Jaccaci began his career 20 years ago in Middletown, Rhode Island, just outside Newport where he and his wife, Lucia [Murphy], former captain of the Brown University women’s ice hockey team, spent 13 years. He taught Chinese language, ran the school’s global program, and coached baseball, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and track; she taught history and coached girls ice hockey. All three of Jaccaci’s children were born in Rhode Island.
“Much like Tabor, you teach, you coach, and you live in the dormitory. It was very easy to get babysitters,” he said.
Born at Phillips Academy Andover, having attended boarding school and even having met Lucia at one, Jaccaci jokes that he was doomed for this career from the start.
Before the family went to Cincinnati, the Jaccacis were in Shanghai, China, for five years. There, they started the equivalent of a charter school for Chinese citizens. “No campus, no books, no teachers, no kids,” said Jaccaci, describing the school’s beginnings. “The dual-language (English-Chinese), dual-curriculum (Chinese-Western) school had a boarding program.”
Having traveled to China, Jaccaci could speak the language.
“My four-year-old became fluent to the degree that, if you put a sheet between him and a native speaker and they could only hear him, they would think a Chinese person was on the other side. It was great,” explained Jaccaci. “We’re absolutely blessed to have such an opportunity and show our boys the world.”
Ages 10, 8, and 4 at the time, the older two boys are off to college, while the youngest will be a junior this fall at Tabor.
“We’re thrilled to be back in New England,” he said. “I aspire to do what I can to both serve the school but also be a really good neighbor to this community as well.”
By Mick Colageo