Marlborough School is in capable hands

| December 29, 2022 | 0 Comments

JENNIFER CICCARELLI in her office at Marlborough.

As the ninth head of school at the oldest independent girls’ school in Southern California, Jennifer Ciccarelli has her hands full. Hancock Park’s Marlborough School, originally called St. Margaret’s School for Girls, was founded by Mary Caswell in 1889. It is the educational home to 530 girls and young women in grades seven through 12 and has a long legacy of being a national leader in girls’ education.

The Larchmont Chronicle sat down with the head of school to talk about her new position, the post-pandemic school culture and her hopes for Marlborough in the coming years.

“I get really excited about new opportunities and learning new things,” said Ciccarelli, who took over at Marlborough last summer. Ciccarelli told us, “I’m a person of ‘yes’… [and] Marlborough was an easy ‘yes’ because I had known about [it] for a long time and, as soon as I started to learn more about the school, I fell in love with it.”

Ciccarelli, who was selected from a field of more than 200 candidates, previously shared her expertise and enthusiasm for girls’ education at multiple schools across the country, including Columbus School for Girls in Ohio, where she was head of school from 2014 before coming to Marlborough.


The longtime educator touts the advantages of single-sex schools and told us the benefits are huge and clear on a lot of levels. “My theory is that when you have a girl-centered education, girls can play all the roles that are possible for human beings. So, they’re not told what they should or shouldn’t do. They are the leaders everywhere.

They get the message that girls and women lead. They don’t get the message that they should quiet their voices, they should get smaller, they should shrink back, which is the message that our society sends girls. And so, for girls in particular, single-sex education is extremely valuable and the research does bear that out.”

The head of school notes that girls who have grown up with this unfettered education are in the habit of living this way. When they graduate, they go out into the world with the assumption that this will continue. And, when they “bump up against a counter-narrative,” said Ciccarelli, “they say, ‘woah, woah, woah, what’s going on here?’ And they use their voice, and they speak up and they fix it.”

Pandemic impacts

Ciccarelli believes strongly in the Marlborough goal of helping students lead lives of purpose. When asked about how the pandemic continues to affect school life, she said, “The pandemic really loosened things up a lot, and what I know as an educator is that kids thrive with boundaries. So, the fewer boundaries you put in place, [the more] unsafe things start to feel —not just for the rule followers. And you lose focus on what you should be focusing on, which is the learning and creating a lovely, supportive community.” Ciccarelli said Marlborough staff is working to put some loosened boundaries back in place.

The new head of school believes teachers around the country did as great a job as they could, but that learning online is not the same as being in person. She said the learning loss was real. According to Ciccarelli, math is the most concretely visible area where changes have occurred. She has noticed that students are not as willing to dig in — they are not as focused as previous students have been. The educator said, “It’s like the muscle for executive function and attending has atrophied.”

Ciccarelli said she also has noticed that kids are a little more risk adverse. They stick to what they know — stay with people they knew from the schools they came into Marlborough from. She said, “We are doing a lot of support on social dynamics and how to be kind to each other — how to reconnect with somebody after you’ve been in a fight and those day-to-day social skills. And, I suspect that we are going to decide to teach them more explicitly.”

The years to come

Regarding curriculum, Ciccarelli said the school is in phenomenal shape. “It’s an extraordinary school with a fantastic reputation of being a really academically rigorous, relevant and thoughtful school.” She said, “One of the things Marlborough does really well is it gives our students a great foundation of all those traditional academic skills… And then, pretty early — through some of the electives — students get the opportunity to apply those skills to some passion of theirs.”

The school has a great infrastructure in place to set up opportunities for students to explore their passions out in the real world. “We have connections at lots of the hospitals, research areas, nonprofits and in the [entertainment] industry. This is a fantastic, world-class city and we’re right in the middle of it.” Ciccarelli marvels at the students’ exciting endeavors. “That’s something that Marlborough is already doing quite well, and I want to continue to build on that.”

The head of school also is mother to daughter, Perry, a new seventh-grade student at the school. “When I started to meet Marlborough girls, I thought to myself, ‘Oh, this is Perry’s school.’ Because they are kids who love learning, they are deeply engaged in what they’re doing, they care passionately about what they care about and that is Perry to a T.”

Now that she’s taken some time to listen, observe and ask questions, Ciccarelli is starting to think more about goals. In particular, she’s thinking about the partnership with Los Angeles and how Marlborough students can take the incredible skills they’ve learned and work on thinking about some of the problems that exist in Los Angeles and how to help solve them — mostly through nonprofit work and some of their capstone research programs.

“I’m also always thinking about access to a Marlborough education.” She believes in the really talented girls in Los Angeles having access to the school. Ciccarelli wants to make sure that these girls are finding out about the school and can find a way to come. “Marlborough has worked hard to keep socio-economic diversity as a part of the school. So, a lot of our families are middle-class families who you would assume would never qualify for any financial aid. But they do qualify for it… We offer scholarship and financial assistance all the way across the financial spectrum.”

The relationship with the town the school is part of is also important to Ciccarelli. Twice a year, the school has a meeting with immediate neighbors — inviting them to the school and giving a state of the school update. Marlborough informs the neighbors about all the on-campus events, especially if the events are going to affect parking. The school also is a venue for Windsor Square Association board meetings, and the school makes its facilities available in other ways.

“We expect our students to be great neighbors. When they are here and out on Larchmont Boulevard, they are representing Marlborough all the time, and we expect them to be respectful. Girls’ schools in general trust the students to do the right thing… And they do.”

Tags: ,

Category: News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *