Honoring Ayanna Hill-Gill

As our time with Ms. Ayanna Hill-Gill as our Head of School comes to a close, the Laurel Leaf would like to take a moment to celebrate her hard work and dedication to the AGS community. A couple of weeks ago, I sat down with Ms. Hill-Gill for an interview about her passions, accomplishments, and plans for the future. It was a fantastic experience and I’m so glad I got to learn more about her. Here’s just a little bit about our conversation.

When I  asked Ms. Hill-Gill about her childhood, she told me that she was born and raised in Philadelphia during the 1970’s. Her parents were both in the Navy, making her a military brat! Although she was an only child, Ms. Hill-Gill was close with other military families and had several cousins that were like siblings to her. She spent a lot of her freetime playing with her cousins, a memory she recalls with fondness.  Ms. Hill-Gill grew up during the end of the civil rights movement, and lived in a predominantly Italian neighborhood with few African American families. She also met a diverse range of people through the military bases that her parents worked at. “At an early stage I was exposed to different cultures and people because of my neighborhood,” she said. As Ms. Hill-Gill grew older, she was able to go outside of her neighborhood and meet even more people, giving her the opportunity to learn about cultures outside of her own.

After grade-school, Ms. Hill-Gill attended an all-girls high school in Philadelphia. This experience was her first exposure to single-gender education, and she “absolutely loved it.” Ms. Hill-Gill learned to be her authentic self and was encouraged to go into science, which she ended up pursuing in college. After high school, she attended Dickinson College, a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. She majored in biology and chemistry and completed a certificate program in environmental science. After graduating, Ms. Hill-Gill became a field scientist and studied in Costa Rica. She loved Costa Rica, but hated the research because it was “isolating.” Fortunately, she had the opportunity to go to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden in New York and began teaching horticulture to adults around the city. She loved teaching, and soon got involved in the children’s gardening program. Her experience volunteering with children made her realize that she wanted to become a teacher. 

After going back to school for a little while, Ms. Hill-Gill became a science teacher. She started teaching at the Purnell School, an all-girls boarding school in New Jersey. “I fell in love with it,” she said, and taught there for 20 years, ultimately becoming the Head of School for 7 years. Then, she came to AGS in 2014. She explained that “You just never know, you have to be totally open to the journey.” 

I asked why Ms. Hill-Gill decided to work at an all-girls school rather than a co-ed school, and if attending an all-girls school affected her decision. She said yes, she was drawn to single-gender schooling because there was “more of an affinity” since she had the same experience as a teenager. Ms. Hill-Gill wanted to be able to have the same impact on girls that her teachers had on their students. All 27 years of her teaching career have been in single-gender schools. She also said that “any service work I do tends to be all girls or women-centered.” 

Towards the end of my interview with Ms. Hill-Gill, we discovered that we love AGS for the same reasons. At AGS, students and faculty can be their “authentic selves.” Wonderful, lifelong friendships are formed, and students can worry less about fake friends and superficial competition often seen in larger schools. “You really know that girl inside and out, and that can truly be your sister” Ms. Hill-Gill explained. Ms. Hill-Gill also mentioned that she likes how girls’ schools tend to be small. Students can form close relationships with their teachers and their grade, creating a network of people that care about them and are there to help. 

Ms. Hill-Gill’s best experiences at AGS include Elder Academy, student-led assemblies, and student-led activities like DEI Day. She explained why these activities are her favorite, saying that “It warms my heart to see girls taking the lead.” Ms. Hill-Gill also loves hearing the laughter in our halls. She actually purposefully asked for her office to be near the middle school dining hall because she enjoys hearing us throughout the day. “It’s a building full of joy, and that’s something I’m really going to miss.”

Next year, Ms. Hill-Gill is moving back to Pennsylvania with Elise and her parents. Her son will stay in Atlanta to finish up high school at Woodward Academy with her husband, who will eventually join her in the Northeast. Ms. Hill-Gill will begin working as the president of the Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools. “Instead of being in a school next year, I will be serving schools” she said. She’s planning to get to know the schools in her new area, bringing out her background in data and research.

We’d like to thank Ms. Hill-Gill for her openness and willingness to share her time with the Laurel Leaf a few weeks ago. Ms. Hill-Gill, you’ve been an amazing Head of School during your time with us and although we’re sad to see you go, we’re excited for the next part of your journey.