“These Five Years Have Gone Really Quickly”: An Interview with Outgoing Head of the Upper School Felicia Wilks


Ms. Wilks (who, with Mx. Sandusky, runs the best advisory in the school) will be leaving Lakeside at the end of this year. She will go to the East Coast to head The Spence School, a K-12 school in New York, but, as a member of her advisory, I figured she needed a proper send off, so Tatler interviewed her about what she’s done here at Lakeside, her favorite memories and little pieces of joy at the school, and her aspirations for the future. 


Rohan Dhillon (R): How would you summarize your experience here at Lakeside?

Ms. Wilks (W): I think my whole experience has been one of learning for me. I’ve tried to contribute to the school positively, but I’ve learned so much that I’ve gotten more than I’ve given. It’s such a warm and wonderful community. My favorite thing about Lakeside is that people work hard, but they also work hard to be kind to one another. 


R: What are you going to miss most about Lakeside?

W: The people. I’m going to miss all of the students, all of the colleagues. The school is full of very excellent, smart, excellent, and funny people. I really felt embraced here. I’ve never felt this warmly embraced, including by parents and guardians. It’s really a very special community. In particular, I’ll miss my advisees the most. 

R: What is your best memory from Lakeside?

W: All of them are around the fun things that we do, like the faculty vs. senior basketball games. I have so much fun out there with the students. I love bowling in the Bliss hallways with my advisory. There’ve been days which are much harder, but we have fun at this school and we’ll continue more after COVID. I’m also looking forward to scaling the tree on Mayday.

‘My hope is that the school continues to put in structures that continue to ensure equity among all different types of students, but I hope the school also continues to do the work to make sure we don’t just have the structures and people but also that sense of belonging.’

R: What did you like most about your role as head of the upper school?

W: The power to make some decisions. I have had the opportunity to work with students and adults on campus to improve things that we thought would get better. I appreciate that. Things like the sexual misconduct policy and the courses we have with 10th, 11th, and 12th graders are good. The schedule change is also a highlight — there were a lot of things people liked, but COVID forced us to rethink things, and while it isn’t going to be kept forever, it’s still better than the legacy schedule. Overall, I really liked having the ability to influence important decisions at the school.


R: Do you have any regrets, any things you wish you did differently?

W: I think there are more things I wished I could’ve gotten done. One thing, which I don’t know if can be overcome, is that some of the miscommunication between the administration and the students makes me sad. The admin is really just five people and people know who those five are. I think there are too many things that people still have questions about that I wasn’t able to settle so that’s what I have some regrets about. I don’t know if that’s going to be something we can do though, because students naturally will want to push back, and there have been positive changes out of that, but it’s also for that reason that we can’t share everything with students. Still, I think we should explain our big decisions better. The administration and students should feel closer because while we are close, communication between us can break down so there could be improvement there. Sometimes students can feel unheard or unseen, and while we’re trying to be sympathetic to their needs, that’s not always possible. 


R: How do you feel about being a woman of color in such a powerful position?

W: I feel a couple things: it’s really important for all students to see different types of people in leadership positions because that’s what leadership in the world looks like (not in the US always though). I take that very seriously because I’m one of the few women of color—particularly African-American women—in these sorts of positions in schools. I realize that even though I don’t want to always be representative of a whole group of people, some people will paint what I do on such a large group. And so, I try to be kind and good in general, and I make sure that I’m open to all students in conversations, particularly about identity. For example, Mr. Noe giving a speech in a Boston accent—that’s a part of who he is. I’m always trying to represent the people who made me who I am, and also I will try to create a path to other people who don’t necessarily have access. 


R: What do you hope for Lakeside in regards to racial and gender diversity?

W: I hope the school feels like they’ve got it done. The school continues to grow and learn better and better ways to support all kinds of families and adults on this campus. I think the school has done a lot, but there’s a lot more to do. My hope is that the school continues to put in structures that continue to ensure equity among all different types of students, but I hope the school also continues to do the work to make sure we don’t just have the structures and people but also that sense of belonging. We want to make sure people are welcome so we can continue to listen and learn from the experiences of students, families and adults. They know better than what we do so we need to keep listening.

R: What do you want to leave Lakeside students with?

W: A lot of love. That’s just the thing I’ve tried to give while I’m here—yes I’m the principal and I have to make hard decisions for people. But, I love this place—the people, the community, everything—so I really just want to leave my love here for it. 


R: What are you most excited for at your next school?

W: Well, I think the opportunity to have a bigger impact than just the Upper School. For example, I have some responsibilities for 5-12, but the idea of helping a K-12 student body grow and learn and be healthy and safe and to be brilliant is exciting. I love high schoolers and elementary schoolers so I’m excited to work with elementary and middle school students too. 


R: What do you hope Lakeside will look like in a decade from now?

W: I hope it is as excellent but in new ways. I hope it’s as diverse if not more so. And I hope everyone here has a balance of working hard and working hard to take care of ourselves. I would also love to have a swimming pool and tennis courts in the school. But, with that said, the other stuff is the most important: balance, diversity, excellence, and how well we take care of ourselves. It’s been a real privilege to be here, and these five years have gone really quickly; I’m proud that a piece of my life is connected to a small piece of Lakeside’s story. 


This interview has been edited for clarity and concision.