Vito “Bo” Perriello will be Field School’s new Head of School, taking the helm this summer after 19 years at St. Anne’s-Belfield School in Charlottesville, where he served as chemistry teacher, director of admissions, and head coach of the boys’ lacrosse team during his tenure there. He sees Field School’s fifth through eighth grades as an opportunity to lay important academic groundwork for students.
“We can focus on the roots—what makes someone excited to learn, what makes them have the foundational skills that are going to give them success in high school?” said Perriello. “High school can get so focused on the AP/college track and college placement and you get away from the foundational skills needed to learn, to understand how to keep a planner, to engage with a teacher, to do revisions and edits. Those are the lifelong habits that are going to lead to students having success when they get high school and beyond.”
Perriello believes his experience at St. Anne’s gives him insights that he’ll bring to the Field School job. “In my relationships with student athletes, I’ve had the opportunity to instill a set of values to help them achieve their potential, to help them realize that hard work does have a payoff,” said Perriello. “I think sports is one place where all of that plays out, and lacrosse has been a great classroom for me in that regard. From an enrollment management perspective, Field School doesn’t need to grow by leaps and bounds, but there’s an opportunity to attract more students on the foundation of a great education plus extracurriculars like sports, music, theater—whatever it may be that helps with relationship-building.”
In Perriello’s view, middle school is great age for students to experiment. “Although you’ll start to see some creeping into specialization, particularly in sports, I think they’re still at an age where it’s easy to say, everyone’s an athlete, everyone’s a musician, everyone’s an artist at some level,” he said. “They can grasp that and engage in lots of different activities for the sake of engaging.”
Perriello taught at two all-boys schools in New Jersey and Massachusetts before moving to St. Anne’s, and he thinks there’s value in the model. “I’m a huge proponent of single-gender education through eighth grade, because in middle school boys and girls are just systematically different, and that can impact learning,” he said. “Field has a tremendous opportunity here to provide an experience tailored to the needs of boys.”
Perriello feels that he can hit the ground running in other ways as well. “One of the biggest deficits for new people coming here is the time it takes to become familiar with the Charlottesville/Crozet area and to learn how we tick—we’re a bit of a unique community in a lot of ways,” he said. “I’m someone who has been selling this community on independent schools for 20 years, and I have a unique lens into Field School, as my wife Maureen has taught there for seven years.”
One of Perriello’s significant mandates as Head of School will be to orchestrate Field’s eventual move to a new 25-acre location on Barracks Road near Charlottesville. “The big challenge will be to figure out what it would cost and how to raise the funds to move us there,” he said. “I do think the new campus provides Field School a tremendous opportunity to build something specific to the needs of middle school boys.”
Though Crozetians will be sad to see Field School relocate, the move has been in the works since at least 2016. “I do think it will allow us to cast a little bigger net in terms of attracting students, and I also feel it would aid in our attempts to diversify the school,” said Perriello. “Phil Stinnie [current St. Anne’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion] will be joining me at Field to be our dean of student life and director of community engagement. Phil also grew up in Charlottesville and has spent a lifetime developing relationships in and around the local community. He is known for bringing diverse communities together and I have no doubt he will help spread the word about Field School to an even broader audience.”
Stinnie will “support students to be set up for success and contribute to an inclusive culture of belonging,” according to the Field School announcement of his appointment. He is also St. Anne’s varsity girls basketball head coach and was a star player himself at Virginia Commonwealth University. Stinnie and Perriello worked together at St. Anne’s for 19 years, and Perriello calls him “an educational innovator and motivational leader.”
Field School’s stated aim has been to develop “well-rounded boys of character and accomplishment,” and Perriello feels that pursuing that goal is well within his wheelhouse. “I’ve thought a lot about the character education of boys over the last twenty years,” he said. “I think it’s important to spend time talking and thinking with the students about ‘what does it mean to be a leader, a teammate, a classmate, a citizen?’” he said. “We can talk about what positive leadership is and find ways to challenge the students by giving them opportunities to lead both in and outside the classroom.”
Field School’s teaching staff is small but dedicated—they worked tirelessly to allow Field to be one of the only schools in the region to remain in-person during the entire Covid pandemic, largely by erecting outdoor classrooms and working with families to manage exposure. “I’m not planning any wholesale changes quickly,” said Perriello. “I want to take it all in and hear from the people who’ve had their boots on the ground, while looking for opportunities to enhance the boys’ overall experience.”
The current Head of Field School, Dr. Charles Skipper, will step out of school leadership to focus on writing and consulting projects, but will continue to work in an advisory role for the school. Leo Connally, long-time Assistant Head of School, will be leaving to serve as dean of academics at Cardigan Mountain School, an all-boys independent 6th-9th grade boarding and day school in New Hampshire.