A student’s deep passion for learning can so often be credited to an educator with a genuine love for teaching. And at Shipley, arguably no one loves his or her work more than Dr. Steve Piltch, Head of School.
For more than two decades, Steve Piltch has led Shipley with enthusiasm, dedication and humility. In doing so, he has inspired those around him to always seek to improve and to find what is in the best interest of the Shipley community. “My job is to spur passion and interest, to be compassionate and understanding, and to move people to do the best work they can do, so that we can do the best we can for every student in the school,” he says.
With that generous philosophy at the heart of his work, Steve has served the school through an era full of change, growth and stability, and continues to look towards the future—always with the welfare of Shipley students in mind.
“For me, the job is about doing is what is best for our students and the people in our community,” he says. Steve’s own upbringing, education, and early work experience inspire this keen commitment to the wellbeing of not only students but also of everyone in a school community.”
Steve’s awareness of the importance of education was kindled when he was very young. He grew up in Greater Boston as one of nine children. Looking back, he says his mother was one of the greatest educators he’s ever seen. Through his family’s commitment to education, he learned the value of academics early on, excelled at school, and moved forwards on his path to attend Williams College.
During college, Steve was unsure of what he wanted to do when he graduated. He contemplated lots of possibilities. Going into his senior year, his academic advisor at Williams asked him the right questions at the right time that sparked the idea of pursuing a career in education. He noted: “My conversations with my advisor reinforced for me that everything I loved – children, athletics, learning, community, and academics --- revolved around schools. The conversation empowered me to pursue something I might have really wanted to do, but had not yet consciously decided to do.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, Steve was offered a position at Choate Rosemary Hall, a highly respected boarding school in Wallingford, Connecticut. Though a few preconceived ideas about independent schools gave Piltch pause, he accepted the position. “My perception when I was really young—wrongly, by the way—was that the only people who went to independent schools were either really wealthy or really troubled, or perhaps both,” he says.
Once Steve began working with students at Choate Rosemary Hall, his passion for teaching ignited into fully formed resolve towards a career as an educator. Soon after arriving, he knew that teaching (education) would be his lifelong pursuit. “I loved everything about it,” he says, “I got to teach, I got to coach, I got to advise, I got to grow.”
During his introductory time at Choate, Steve immersed himself in campus life. “To this day, I’ve never worked harder than I did in my first few years,” he says, “I taught four or five sections, I coached three sports, I advised two or three groups, I was a dorm advisor for 10 or 15 kids, and I loved every minute of it.”
Steve was hooked. He knew he wanted to spend his life as an educator, and, more specifically, he aspired to one day be the head of a school. Choate gave him the chance to test the waters of administration, too, as a dean. “I absolutely made my share of mistakes all the way through! But people were supportive and I grew,” he says.
With the experience of Choate and an eye towards administration, Steve pursued graduate studies at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education (HGSE) in Counseling and Consulting Psychology, and now holds two Masters degrees in education and a Doctorate in education from Harvard University.
While he studied at HGSE, Steve concurrently pursued his passion for sports with a position at Harvard as an assistant coach of men’s squash and then the head coach of the women's squash team. “I loved every minute of it,” he says. For the next nine years he would coach squash at Harvard, eventually becoming the head coach of both the women’s and men’s teams and an assistant director of athletics.
On the first day of Harvard orientation in 1983, Steve also met the woman who would later become his wife, Sunny Greenberg. Steve describes Sunny as “a great educator and spectacular human being” and who later would join him at Shipley as an English teacher.
As Steve wrapped up his studies at Harvard, he began his search for a school that’s principles of education aligned with his own. “I knew not to take a job just to take a job,” he says. “The philosophical fit had to be right.”
Fortunately for Shipley, after his first interview on a rainy day in March 1992, Steve knew quickly that Shipley would be a perfect fit. “I fell in love with the place, honestly,” he says, “I loved what [Shipley] was about—it was about challenging and supporting kids. It was about appreciating kids as individuals. It was about offering them opportunities.”
Now, Steve is one of the longest-standing heads of school in the region, but to him, the time has flown by. “The only time I feel as old as I am is when I look in the mirror,” says Steve, who has seen his wife, Sunny, lead a thriving career as an English teacher at Shipley, and their three children, Matt, Ali and Jamie, all graduate from Shipley. “This has been a real family affair in a lot of ways.”
After attending Shipley, Steve and Sunny’s son Matt graduated from Williams College in 2012 and now works for Deloitte in Boston. Two years after Matt, Ali also graduated from Williams College and now works at Bain & Company. In June 2013, Jamie graduated from Shipley, and he is now enrolled at Harvard.
But it’s hardly only family accomplishments that have marked Steve’s time at Shipley. “Success is not simply about getting the grade, or winning the game,” he says. Instead, he believes it is about the process to get there and what can come from that top grade or best game: “The milestones I look to revolve around kids and their development. If we do our jobs well, our students learn at least as much from the process as they do from the results. In fact, good process maximizes the chance of achieving great results.”
Steve notes that education has changed in a lot of ways. "It’s not only about the reading and writing, but also about the character development and emotional literacy.” According to him, if kids learn to think critically and express themselves clearly, they will more likely have the chance to develop "a strong sense of their ethical domain."
"I think the easiest thing to do is to teach our students how to think," he says, "how to do the academic piece. I also believe that the skills they need to learn to function and succeed go beyond the academics. In addition to being motivated and committed and striving for achievement and excellence, our students need to develop empathy and resilience, and passion and compassion to meet the challenges and make a difference."
To go about helping students develop an aptitude not only for academics, but also for morals and ethics, gets to the heart of the Shipley mission—a commitment to educational excellence, the love of learning, and compassionate participation in the world.
Ultimately, Steve simply strives for Shipley to be a place where its students can be appreciated as individuals and thrive. “I hope what I’ve done is to provide a clear vision, and a clear sense of a commitment to what the school’s mission is about, and hopefully the opportunity for growth for everybody and the ways to get it done.
“I’ve been remarkably lucky. I’m surrounded by gifted and dedicated colleagues, by a great board of trustees, by a knowledgeable and committed parent body, and by students that I think are first rate. They are the ones who make things happen at Shipley and who define this wonderful school. I couldn’t ask for more,” says Steve. I love my job, and I love our community.