Over the course of Grace’s long history, there are few who have been as present as Ms. Linda Cooper. Serving as assistant to the head of school for 35 years, her longtime influence on the Grace community cannot be overstated. Now, just weeks away from retirement, Ms. Cooper finds herself reflecting on her time here, what’s changed for herself and the community, and what she hopes to see happen after her departure.
Ms. Cooper began working with the school in 1988 and has become ingrained in the hearts and minds of the school community. Her office is situated right next to the entrance of the grade school campus, and she begins the day by greeting the influx of students on their way to their classes and ends it by making sure those same students find their way home. Her routine is emblematic of her deep love for and commitment to the community. However, she notes that something has been lost at Grace since she first started here. In an interview with the Gazette, she told us that when she first started at Grace, “the school was like your own house. It was so comfortable and everybody was so nice, and it felt like a home … and that’s something we’ve begun to lose over the years.”
Her perspective is uniquely informed by her identity as both a former parent and as the Assistant to the Head of School. She had originally enrolled her children in public school, and the switch from public to private education had come with many worries about how she and her family would adjust to the “private school life.” She believed it would “be really hard for [her kids].” However, it was the previously mentioned homey feeling that allowed her kids to feel comfortable almost immediately — and for Ms. Cooper herself to begin finding her own footing.
Ms. Cooper has borne witness to a variety of changes within the school, particularly concerning initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion within the community. Her previously mentioned adoration for Grace’s students and families is something that has bloomed when those with culturally diverse backgrounds are given the space and opportunity to shine. She’s historically been at the forefront of this effort since 1987 when she spearheaded the school’s first ever Diversity Dinner held in her apartment — an event that would become a tradition that is ending with her time at Grace. She also started Grace’s first official affinity group, CASA (standing for Culturally Aware Student Association), as well as its offshoot for younger students, CASA Jr.
Ms. Cooper started these groups with the hope of creating the kind of spaces that she would have wanted her family to have during their time at Grace. Her utmost goal with all of her work is that members of the community feel included and welcomed. Current Head of School, Mr. George Davison, who is also retiring this year, believes Ms. Cooper to be, “a confidant for many families” to the point where her role in promoting equity and inclusion in the school goes beyond any official titles or positions.
Even so, if there was one word above all others to describe Ms. Cooper, that word would be resilient. Both outside as well as, unfortunately, inside the school community, Ms. Cooper has faced a lot of challenges and discrimination from many different angles. She noted her particular struggles with Mr. Davison’s predecessor, who didn’t treat her with the same level of respect that Mr. Davison has. Despite these painful ordeals, Ms. Cooper has always carried herself with an air of quiet confidence. Her refusal to be, as she puts it, “walked all over” has solidified her role within the Grace community as well as her outlook on life.
As Ms. Cooper prepares to retire, she looks back fondly on her time here as a parent, faculty member, and familiar face to hundreds of Grace students. Her only wish as she leaves the community is that we all are “kinder, more welcoming, more accepting” to each other, and to remember that we too have a duty to hold ourselves to the same high standards she maintained for both herself and the wider Grace community.