Xavier Appoints First Female Headmaster

Making history at Jesuit school for boys during Women’s History Month

| 13 Mar 2021 | 03:52

Xavier High School in Chelsea has made history by appointing the first female headmaster at the 174-year-old Jesuit school for boys.

Kim Smith, currently an academic vice principal at Boston College High School, was selected after an extensive nationwide search and will join Xavier in her new position on July 1, the school announced.

Smith is excited about all of it, starting with her move to New York City.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” she said in a recent phone conversation. “There’s still the beautiful myth of New York as that distant destination. I grew up just outside of DC and went to college in Boston. I would not pretend that I know the city [well].”

In one area she is quickly becoming familiar with New York City living: what she describes as an “intimidating” apartment hunting process so far.

Smith always wanted to teach. An English and Theology major, she graduated Boston College and then, following a desire to travel to other parts of the country, completed her graduate degree at the University of Denver in Colorado. Although a lifelong Catholic, she had not initially set out to teach exclusively in Jesuit institutions. Fate may have played a part in that.

While at a job fair in Colorado near the completion of her master’s degree, she asked the various schools present “What do you do at your school to foster community?” She got the most satisfactory answer from the representative of a Jesuit institution and thus started her now 20-plus-year career as a teacher, mentor and administrator in Jesuit high school education. She is one of 16 female headmasters at 60 Jesuit high schools throughout the U.S. Both Boston College High School and Xavier educate young men only.

School’s 55th Headmaster

Xavier High School serves just over 1,000 boys in grades 9 through 12, and is listed as “an academically rigorous, Catholic, Jesuit, college preparatory school in New York City that educates intelligent, motivated young men of diverse backgrounds and means.” Kim Smith becomes the school’s 55th headmaster and will replace the outgoing headmaster of 15 years, Michael LiVigni, when she starts in a few months.

Xavier administration and current colleagues of Smith heaped praises on her, lauding her many accomplishments when sharing the news of her appointment: “the right combination of passion for teaching, compelling prior leadership experience”; “a great educator - very smart, very hard-working, very kind person.” Jack Raslowsky, president at Xavier, added, “Kim Smith brings a deep understanding of Jesuit education and a real commitment to academic excellence. I look forward to partnering with her to advance the work of Xavier.”

While Smith seemed genuinely appreciative of the many accolades, saying her success comes from “hard work – satisfying, hard work”, she spoke most passionately about the values of the Catholic tradition, such as being good neighbors, caring for each other, and the joys of guiding the young people in her charge as they learn and grow.

“They are fun, interesting, curious, seeking their own goodness in the world,” she said of the young men she has taught and mentored. “They are up against a lot; they live with constant pressure now to always be on [because of modern devices]; always having a lot going on. It really is a fascinating, formative time, and to get to journey with them through that time is a privilege.”

Xavier has been on a hybrid teaching model since the fall, with about half of the students in-person on any given day while others attend remotely on a staggered schedule. Speaking about the pandemic, Smith says she’s grateful to be healthy and feels very lucky to be safe, she knows how many others have suffered from its effects. She is optimistic that the nation will continue in the positive direction it is going, especially now with the availability of vaccines. Asked what she was most looking forward to at the start of her tenure, Kim Smith had a ready answer.

“What I’m looking forward to the most is being in the building with the teachers and students,” she said. “Being inside the building.”

“I’m absolutely thrilled. There’s still the beautiful myth of New York as that distant destination.” Educator Kim Smith