Kathleen McNary Pillsbury

Kathleen McNary Pillsbury

Kathleen returns to Suffield Academy as Assistant Dean of Students, is a mathematics and leadership faculty member, and is the dorm head in Kotchen Dorm. In the summer of 2003 Kathleen began teaching chemistry and biology at Suffield’s Summer Academy. After graduating from the University of Connecticut in 2005 with a Bachelor of Arts in Biological Sciences, she continued to teach in the Summer Academy. Kathleen began her career at the Dalton School in New York City where she worked as the Assistant High School Director for Student Activities, serving as Dean of Students and senior class academic dean, while teaching science and health and directing the leadership program. In 2012, Kathleen earned her Master of Education in School Leadership with a concentration in Independent School Administration from the University of Pennsylvania.

Kathleen met her husband, Mark, while working at the Summer Academy. They married and moved to the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, where she served for five years on the senior leadership team as the Director of Student Activities, Human Development instructor, and a dormitory head. Most recently Kathleen served for three years as Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life at The Ethel Walker School in Simsbury, Connecticut. In 2019, Kathleen completed a fellowship through the National Association of Independent Schools for Aspiring Heads of School. Kathleen arrived on campus in 2021 with Mark, a local physical therapist, their two sons Everett and Alden, and their puppy Libby.


Where were you born? 
I was born at Yale New Haven Hospital, and I am from Madison, Connecticut.

What do you love about where you are from?
The beach!!

If someone was traveling to where you are from for 24 hours, what would you recommend? 
Definitely a visit to Cohen’s Bagels, then Madison Beach Hotel for lunch and a quick swim in the Long Island sound, a walk on Middle Beach road, a trip to RJ Julia’s booksellers to browse and read, and Ashley’s Ice Cream! And a stop at the best little school in the world: The Country School, where I was a lifer from PK–8th grade (and a past member of the Board of Trustees).

What would you tell them to do/where would you tell them to go?
Summer music concerts on the town green, a parade and fireworks for national holidays... If you are looking for more than a beach walk, head to Chatfield Hallow state park for a nice hike or to go fishing!

What do you love about where you live now?
We love the small town, the people in the community, the sports programs, local parades, fairs, live music, outdoor movies on the green that gather the community, the schools, how it is close to both our family in Massachusetts to the north and to our family down on Long Island to the south. We are close to our local ski mountain, hiking trails, and the pool and golf course in the summer! North Main Street is our favorite place to walk/bike ride as a family.

What is your favorite thing about day-to-day life at Suffield Academy? 
I love that we gather as a school daily. It is nice that the entire school pauses for lunch, to connect and hear from one another. It is unique and a special part of our community. The academic schedule is felt through the hustle and bustle of the schedule, but come noon, everyone pauses to be together!

What is the first thing you do every morning when you get to work? 
I walk up from the quad with students and say hello to those who are coming in and out of the union. Before I even drop my bags, I check in with students at the snack bar tables having breakfast. We share a quick hello as I am passing through and make my way to my office, then I greet my colleagues in the office and dive in on email!

Who is your favorite artist? 
Probably Sol LeWitt; he is the first to come to mind. I grew up attending grade school with his two daughters (one went on to attend SA in the nineties) and from a very young age he was the first artist I knew. I would visit with him when I was at his home hanging out with his daughter and see him in action in his studio. In grade school I was fascinated with the sculptures along his property and his large scale, bright and bold bands, loops, and lines. He was my friend’s dad which made his work that much more exciting.

Which of your roles at Suffield Academy do you relish the most? 
I love working in the Dean of Students office—I like supporting students, colleagues, and parents through challenging circumstances, troubleshooting, and strategizing to move forward. Adolescence is an exciting time filled with lots of decision-making. I enjoy working with students and listening and guiding them in their self-discovery and exploration.

What is something your Suffield Academy family might not know about you?
My first experience at Suffield Academy was when I was junior in college, and I took a summer job teaching Chemistry at the Summer Academy! I was hooked; something about that summer confirmed my interest in being an independent school educator. I also met my husband almost ten years later at Summer Academy too. Suffield Academy is a very special place for our family.

What is your favorite book? 
With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo. I discovered it during COVID and I enjoy putting it forward to students as a summer read, and discussing it with students in the fall. It is a coming-of-age novel about decision-making and adolescent challenges. It explores many important issues of race, culture, privilege, access, and intergenerational family dynamics.

What is the one word that you live by? 
One phrase: Effort is Everything! My students hear it from me often, my kids hear it…

What is something you believe one can never over-invest in? 
Family time—there is never enough family time, and family time will never ever be too much! With our immediate family, our two children, or our extended family of cousins, aunts/uncles, and grandparents, prioritizing time together means everything to me.

What is your favorite hobby? 
I love skiing, socializing, planning events, traveling and exploring new places, playing at the beach, camping, shopping to find a good deal, listening to live music, watching live sports, and cooking!

What advice would you give a new teacher at Suffield Academy? 
Make time during dorm duty to engage with dorm residents. Bring a snack, a pet, play a card game, turn on a game or show. Bring the group together, find a reason to engage and be human—students love to get to know teachers outside the classroom!

What is the most important life lesson for someone to learn? 
For me the most important life lesson is that relationships are everything. A quote that I live by and is grounding for me is from Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” To me relationship building is everything. On campus I work to open doors, to be visible and engaged in student life, to open dialog with those that I know and those that I don’t. I work to be a friendly face, intentionally inclusive, to smile in passing, and make time for a warm greeting. I see it as my work to model for students what we hope to see in them. My hope is that by building relationships I will not only model for students that it’s important to reach beyond your comfort zone but I will signal to students that the DOS office is a space where we make time and space for everyone and we are always here to listen and help.

What is/are your prized possession(s)? 
My husband, my kids—not possessions, but they are my world. Our health—these are my most important “things.”

What is your favorite song of all time? 
“The Best,” by Tina Turner. It’s a classic that reminds me of my family and my childhood, and has always been a powerful song that I play during good times and bad and it always lifts me up!

If you could have dinner with one person, alive or dead, who would you dine with? 
Oprah Winfrey. As a child of the 80s and 90s, I grew up watching her show, learning from her and listening to her. I was most interested in her human-interest stories and how she cared deeply about other experiences and took it upon herself to elevate their stories to a wider audience.

Who is your role model? Inspiration? 
My role model is my first boss, a dear friend and mentor: Head of School, Dr. Lisa Yvette Waller (Berkeley Carroll). She mentored me and guided me in the first decade of my career as an administrator and I admire her work, her student-centered approach to education, and her deep care for those she serves.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go and why? 
If I were to leave tomorrow, with my family, I’d like to go to Colombia, with some of our best family friends. They are from there and I have heard so many stories over the years about the mountains, the cities, the rain forest, the countryside, and the deep-sea fishing—it’s intriguing. 

What is your favorite food? 
Fried rice with scallions, edamame, and a spicy peanut sauce!

What has been the most interesting thing you have learned from a student? 
I have learned so much from my students! Some of my past students taught me how to make dumplings; that was really exciting!

What book is currently on your nightstand?
I am currently reading SA Board of Trustees member Stephanie Winston Wolkoff’s book Melania and Me. It has a fascinating perspective, and I am flying through it!

What album in your earbuds right now?
My kids are obsessed with Nathan Evans, so we listen to a lot of Irish Sea Shanty songs in the car. When I have a choice I love Tracy Chapman, Josh Ritter, Ben Folds, or country classics like Sugarland and Taylor Swift!

I never leave home without
My glasses! I wouldn’t get far.

What is your style in 3 words?
Good, better, best (I love the phrase: “Good, better, best, never let it rest until your good is better and your better best”). But if the question means fashion style: Colorful, Relaxed, Polished.