After seven years as Woodstock’s principal, the thoughtful and energetic Dr. Jonathan Long will move to new frontiers, effective at the end of the current academic year.
Dr. Long originally joined as principal in 2011, coming from the United World College in Pune. He said, “While the UWC was a great school, students only came in at 11th grade. So, just after their first year, they had their last year. Taking into account vacations, it was really just a 16-month experience. We [Dr. and Mrs. Long] missed being at a school which had kindergarten through high school, and students had been there for longer, so we felt we could really connect to students of all ages, and that’s what we really enjoyed doing.” And so, upon receiving an offer from Woodstock, he and Mrs. Long decided to take a visit to the Himalayan foothills.
“When we first came, it was hailing and very cold,” Mrs. Long said. “So I said to Dr. Long, ‘Let’s not go.’ But when we actually got here and saw the warmth of the community and the potential for outdoor learning, it seemed a very exciting place actually, so we thought we would go.”
The veteran educators moved from the heat of the plains of Maharashtra up into the cold of the mountains of Uttarakhand.
It was at Woodstock that Dr. Long learned more about how much he loved “living and working in India. My spirit feels more like itself when I’m among Indian people, in the sun color and dust of India. This might be a romantic notion, but India has gotten under my skin.”
He also learned the “importance of plurality, and the multiple worldviews, belief systems, idea, identities that people hold here, all of which have value. I learned that a pluralistic worldview doesn’t come from me convincing people of my worldview, but from living in peaceful coexistence with people very different from you. That’s something the world desperately needs it. And that is what happens here,” he said.
So, why did the Longs decide to leave? Dr. Long said, “I have done what I had set out to do here,” and upon visiting the school that had invited him — Aga Khan Academy in Hyderabad — he saw challenges there that are different from Woodstock, but “that I feel I have the skills and experience to fix.”
Also, he said, “The educational vision I have brought here and was passionate about during my time at the UWC, has been planted here and doesn’t need me to keep it running.”
But while his departure may not affect the day-to-day running of the school, the emotional impact will be far more significant.
Mr. Richard Davies, Head of Upper Years, said, “His leaving means the big loss of a mentor to the staff. He was a good guy to go and chat to.” He said Dr. Long had a great ability to help you “clarify your own thinking,” and “trusted people to do their job well, while always being there for advice and questions. I’ve really enjoyed working with him.”
Student Council President Kritin Garg, Class of 2019, said, “Dr. Long is always willing to hear your point of view, and he’s great to work with because you can go and talk to him whenever you like.” However, what he said he’d remember the most about Dr. Long are “the funny, moral stories he told us when we were in junior school,” he said.
Ismail Elainain, Class of 2019, who is a student in Dr. Long’s Dead Philosophers course, had similar sentiments, saying, “Dr. Long is so understanding and a really smart person.” He said he couldn’t imagine future students not being able to learn from him.
Some of these sentiments can be summed up in a statement that Garg made: “The Longs were always there for students. I’ll miss how caring they were.”
Living in and among Woodstockers for seven years, students have gotten used to and enjoyed the Longs’ accessibility at all times, and they have in turn felt the same way about providing their attention. Mrs. Long said, “I will hold close the wonderful moments with students and friends at our home around the fireside, the amazing students who I have been privileged enough to work with, the fun we have all had in the Quad during Christmas and other festivals. Lots of laughter, incredible acts of kindness and compassion, great food and wonderful friendships. I hope we all remember the same things about each other.”
On a similar line, Dr. Long said, “I’d love people to look back on these years as a time when Woodstock really found its heart and came to believe in itself. For centuries it’s been just an American high school in the Himalayas. It’s now become more about diversity, about building global citizens and global souls, offering more than academic experience.”
His message for the next Principal? “The greatest treasure at Woodstock isn’t the obvious things, like the mountains and forests and beauty. It’s an incredible community, particularly the student community. They all touched us most profoundly. It was just very beautiful and gentle, they have a quality that can’t really be named. Candidates who come for my position will be struck by the obvious things like scenery and history. But what I’ll miss most is the sheer spontaneity and joy in the Woodstock community. I’ve never seen that anywhere else.”
Edited by Ryan Bajaj
Photo courtesy of Woodstock Photos group