Aude-Marie Ackebo ‘18: While you went to Northwood, you were a part of the yearbook but not a writer for The Mirror. Did you have a passion for journalism while you were here? Or did that start later? Mr. Tom Woodman ‘73: Not really. I had a passion for writing, which is the reason why I was on the yearbook, but I didn’t know I had a passion for journalism until I was in college. It was just before the 1980 Olympics, and I was looking for work to do. I lived here in Lake Placid when I came back from school and the Olympic events created a lot of press interest. I then started doing freelance work for ABC sports, local newspapers etc and ended up enjoying it. I realized it was a way to get paid for writing, which otherwise is pretty hard to do, and I went from freelancing to working for a newspaper in Plattsburgh in 1978. I have been doing it ever since.
You were a student here Mr. Reed’s first year. How was he as a teacher? How did his class help you grow? Because according to him, he’s the reason you got accepted to Yale. Well, I’ll let him take that credit. [Laughs] He was the reason I was excited about writing. He had a great passion for what he was doing and made it okay to take reading and writing seriously. He was really able to bring out people’s ability to express themselves in their own way and put themselves out there. That is something you have to do if you want your writing to be published, and he really had me excited. His lessons stayed with me throughout my career.
You are the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Why did you decide to get involved with that and the school? I lived out of the area for about thirty years. When I came back here in 2008, Mr Good, the head of school at the time, talked to me and told me he would like for me to reconnect with the school. He wanted me to help the school by being a trustee and being on the board. I was thrilled to do it and to be a part of Northwood again. While I was away, I was still keeping up with it and supporting [the school], but I couldn’t be a part of the school’s operations. This was a way for me to understand what Northwood is like in the twenty first century and to bring whatever skills I could to the board and the school, to help make the decisions that hopefully would help the school to improve and grow. So I started as a trustee, then became the vice chair of the board, then chair of the search committee (the group of trustees and faculty who mounted the search to find a new head of school when Mr Good retired) and as we made the choice for him to become the head of school, I became the Chair of the Board of Trustees. Each step along the way, there is more responsibility and daily involvement added. The head of school and I try to meet once a week, talk about the school, what’s going on, the issues, questions, hard decisions that have to be made, the programs, outside activities etc. The board as a group would meet three times a year but I am always involved, so there are different wheels turning 24/7. Being able to be a part of the school in this way has been very rewarding for me.
About Northwood on Main, what was the process of coming up with what would happen there? How did you come up with the dinner that happened recently? The main driver of how that was going to work was Mr Maher, accompanied by his staff. They developed the types of programs that would happen there. Mr Broderick went around to other schools to research, he put together a plan and then he came to the board with it, telling us the direction they wanted to take. At the same time, Mr Maher and others had identified that building as a real opportunity for the school because of the quality and amount of space that is there. It is also in the middle of lake Placid so it’s a way to bring Northwood a little more into the community. To have people walk by, see what’s going on and get an introduction to what the school is like and connect with it a little more. The program took this general direction, but that program is very flexible so that the space itself will be open, but the plan isn’t very set and stone. Five years from now, we don’t know if we’ll be doing there what we’ll doing today. We want it to be current and responsive to whatever is going on and watch how the students respond to it.
You said that 5 years from now, it could all change. However, you have seen Northwood in the twentieth century. What are the big differences between Northwood during your time and Northwood now? One of the most apparent change is the addition of girls, I was in the first class of Northwood students that had girls, they were in a small number to begin with. The proportion of girls in the school now is definitely larger than when I was here. It is a goal for Mr Maher and me, now, to increase the share of the enrollment of girls. We are now at roughly a third but we’d like to get it closer to half over the next 5-10 years. That entails new facilities and dorm rooms, the programs to attract the applicants etc. We also didn’t have the number of international students that we have now, and this fairly new cultural diversity enriches the student experience. [International students] will continue to be a big part of the school, but how that balance changes or not is still a moving question.
Those are probably the biggest changes in terms of the student body. The school itself is also bigger than when I was here. I don’t remember the exact numbers in my graduating class but I believe we were in the low thirties and we have about twice of that now. Meanwhile, we still have the family atmosphere and a lot of individual attention for the students. Students also have more course choices now. The school is now also more focused on hockey and skiing than it was when I was here. We had a fall and a spring athletic schedule that was equally important.
We went many years back, let’s go eleven years forward, when I come back for my ten year reunion, what am I expected to see? You will continue to see the same family/small school environment, with a lot of personal attention for the students. You will see the balance in the types of students and our academy courses to be a little different and more diverse. You will see closer to an even distribution between boys and girls. You will see more of a balance between athletes and nonathletes; even though our athletic programs will always be a centerpiece, we’ll have more resources going to other programs so that they’re more developed. You will see Northwood on Main continuing in an upgrade for the master plan. You’ll see campus improvements that will continue for decades but a gradual improvement of facilities like science or art. We’re looking for a larger girls dorm that is less set apart and closer to the main building than Bergamini is. All of that is in the planning and conceptual stages, but when you deal with the technical things, those are still uncertainties. I am sure that eleven years from now the campus will still have the same traditional look but some parts will definitely be more contemporary.