8 Years in Tilton–Exclusive Interview with Mr. and Mrs.Saliba

Simon Wang

Mr. and Mrs.Saliba have worked in the Tilton School for 8 years. Last month, they announced their resignation at the school meeting. While we feel sad about their leaving, we thought the best way to memorize their contribution to this school would be an interview about their career in this school. Therefore, we had a talk with Mr. and Mrs.Saliba on December the 13th.

Question 1: What is your first feeling about Tilton? Why did you choose Tilton?

Mr. Saliba:

We chose Tilton for three reasons and it chose me for three reasons which are probably the same! First, it was a small enough school where we could get to know all the students. We had worked in larger schools and we wanted to be in a place where we could know the kids and their families well. So getting to know students was really important and I felt really good (during this process). The second reason is its location. Not far from here, Mrs.Saliba and I got married and all of our kids were born here. So coming here really felt like home. The third reason is that it is a boarding school. We both worked in day-schools where you don’t know the kids as well as you know them in this boarding environment. Those are the three reasons why I thought this was a good match.

Mrs. Saliba:

I liked it because of the feeling on campus. It’s a humble school. It’s not elitist. There is  great pride but it’s not obnoxious like other boarding schools or some prep schools can be. I knew that we would be able to fit in well and the faculty here were so genuine and down to earth so we knew that it was a good fit. I share the same reasons as Mr.Saliba, like the size of the school. I like the town itself and I like having a larger community around us – not just the school.

Question 2: What do you think is the biggest change in Tilton during these years? 

Mr. Saliba:

So Mrs.Saliba talked about having pride in your school, and I think I’ll answer the question in three different ways. The first is for the students. Students feel great pride in their school. And let’s just take today’s school meeting announcement out of the picture. Okay, I was very upset about the card the students had signed. Someone had written inappropriate things in it. And I was so surprised by that because that was just not something that a normal Tilton school student would do. And for me the fact that I was so surprised shows how much our students care about the school. I think that piece is a really important change for me. As teachers, we have chosen to focus on the skills that you have. I think that shift makes our teaching better. I’m really proud of that shift which is the second way I would answer this question. The third thing I’m really proud of is the growing involvement of our alumni and parents.  They believe in what we are doing and they choose to support the school in greater ways. This feeling of progress and pride has resulted in some great changes in the school and that’s what I’m probably most excited about.

Mrs. Saliba:

I think that the community has changed. When Mr.Saliba and I arrived, we sat on our front porch on a beautiful spring day. There weren’t very many students hanging out but over the last three to four years, it has seemed more like a community where there’s a bunch of kids hanging out and the sound has been different. The students are happy. Not everybody goes out on the quad but it’s much more communal and more social. I think that’s the part that makes me feel the happiest. We still go outside and just sit on the porch and listen. That’s really fun.

Question 3: During eight years in Tilton, how do you think the Tilton school shaped your life or your philosophy of life?

Mr. Saliba:

That’s an excellent question. The school has changed me in a couple of ways. The first way is that we worked with a very narrow range of students in the schools before coming to Tilton. In other words, students had a very particular academic ability but at Tilton, there is a much larger range of skills here which I have come to appreciate.  For me, I have seen and believed in the successes of students in a way like I never had before. So it gave me a deep appreciation for understanding that everybody’s successes can be different. It’s not just one outcome. It’s not being admitted to Harvard but it’s realizing the goals that you set up for yourself, and Tilton School enabled me to experience this.  I’ve also had to work on my own skills as a leader, growing and changing just like our students. That sense of shared experience has been really good.

Mrs. Saliba:

I have two. One is that I have seen the power of respect in action. When students are treated with respect, the relationship is much stronger and the community is stronger. I also have noticed how students are treated with respect from different teachers’ ways of approaching different students. When you have a range of kids in  your classroom, it’s very hard to teach everyone in the same manner. The foundation is respecting each student and knowing where they are and encouraging them to grow. It’s really cool to see this progress. 

The second impact that Tilton had on me was developing a better understanding of what it means to send your child away and the leap of faith that is required.  Even after working in schools for over 28 years with Mr. Saliba, I don’t know that I fully understood what it meant as a parent to send your child overseas for education until we traveled to China and met with  families. They can have you around at home and send you to a local school, but they have decided to give you better chances at Tilton School. It’s pretty hard as a parent to do that. I don’t think I really understood that until I came to Tilton.

Question 4: What’s your unforgettable experience at this school?

Mr. Saliba:

Yeah, so there are so many…and I have them every day. Today is a great example, standing up in front of everyone and talking about the inappropriate writing in the card.  Not a fun experience but certainly unforgettable. I also really liked being in the musical last year, driving the Zamboni and also shaking every senior’s hand as I award them their diploma.   

Mrs. Saliba:

My unforgettable experiences are ones involving how much students have changed or grown. For example, Simon, I like the fact that you are an incredible ceramist. I didn’t know when you started, but watching that develop and seeing what you come up with is really cool. I love that. I have enjoyed watching  Eric Zeng develop his fashion designs. Those are the stories that we remember. We met an alumnus who talked about how Tilton school saved his life. If he hadn’t come here, he would not have made it through being a teenager. He was a tough kid. Tilton helped him and he eventually became a successful journalist. So he attributes his success to Tilton School. There are so many other alumni who also attribute their success to Tilton School. It’s really great to hear their stories. Mr. Saliba and I have a long view of what’s happening with you guys. We watch students here have struggles that we know they will overcome.

Mr.Saliba:

All of you.

Mrs.Saliba:

Yeah!

Mr.Saliba:

I can think of a struggle for every single one.

Mrs.Saliba:

We know those stories and those are just so great. I will remember you when I see your pictures. I know that story and those are the ones that feel really good. 

Mr.Saliba:

I have one specific memory that popped into my brain. This all happened before you arrived. If you walk upstairs, on the third floor, and outside Ms.Young’s economic classroom, there’s a bulletin board. That bulletin board has a picture of some veterans from World War II getting their diplomas from Tilton. They were students enrolled here in the school in 1943 and 1944.  They were called up to serve in the army to defeat the Germans and the Japanese as soon as they were old enough and had to leave school early. They left Tilton but never got their diploma because they were all fighting the war. We finally gave them their diplomas in 2014. That was really amazing. I still get chills thinking about that. Building the Turf field, that’s another one. And Chinese new year fireworks in the snow. It was really fun. That was before you arrived. There are lots of them.

Question 5: Do these experiences give you the reason to stay in this school?

Mrs. Saliba:

I think that I’m motivated by wanting to make a difference and I feel like we do that every day on a small scale. We don’t always know the differences that we make, but sometimes our alumni come back and tell us what happened.

 I believe that the changes that occur in teenagers between the 9th and 12th grades are as significant as they are for children in their first five years of life.  So much happens between that time and we’re part of that. I’m proud that we’re helping to mold teenagers’ lives and that we can make a difference. That’s why all the stories that I can think of are about kids developing, changing, and discovering themselves. And that’s what keeps me going.

Mr. Saliba:

I agree with Mrs.Saliba. The reason why we educate. They are the byproducts of good work. And we do this job because we believe, as Mrs.Saliba said, ages 14 to 19, those are the most important years of any student’s life. And you can make the most difference in a human being in those years and that’s why we do this job.

Question 6: What kind of challenges did you have in this school?

Mr. Saliba:

I think there’s been a lot of difficulties that have challenged us. Sometimes you have to be incredibly patient with teenagers. You know kids make mistakes and you have to remember that they’ve made a mistake and wait for them to correct their mistakes. So it tests your patience. I think you also run into problems of culture. And so you want to make a change to the culture of the school and that just takes a long time to do that.

Mrs. Saliba:

Not the culture of the students but the culture of this school.

Mr. Saliba:

The culture of the student body. I think I’m always challenged by students’ safety. You know. I worry that kids will get hurt, but meanwhile you can’t limit their freedom too much. So that’s a challenge – to balance between students’ safety and freedom. There are also always challenges in operating a business making sure our assets and our liabilities are matched up. We also need to make sure we admit the right students and separate those that are not a good fit. Those are all some of the challenges that we face. I think raising our family at school is a challenge but one that was also so rewarding for the closeness with our kids.

Mrs. Saliba:

I think that the tradition of giving wasn’t very strong when we arrived. And that has been a challenge. At some schools that are bigger than us, there’s a history of financial support since  their beginning, but we are not built on that kind of history.  

Question 7: What do you think the spirit of Tilton is? How would you define Tilton?

Mrs. Saliba:

I think it’s a family. Though the problem with saying that is we can separate kids, but in a family, we can’t. If you break the school rules repeatedly, you have to leave. But if you did that and you’re my son, I won’t kick you out of my family. Right? A student once told me when people visited our school, students will smile at them or say their name, saying “Hi.” And it’s surprising to some people at first. I think that’s one of the challenges because our campus is next to all these other schools and when prospective students visit, they go on a tour and they’re looking at what makes us different from other schools. 

Interviewer:

But more social than some of the other schools.

Mrs. Saliba:

Yeah, and I don’t know how you define that. The friendliness and community is authentic. I’m not sure how you define it as a culture.

Interviewer:

Maybe you feel really inclusive?

Mrs. Saliba:

Do you feel that?

Interviewer:

Maybe for the first time, if a stranger is like “Hi!”, or something. They might feel a little bit weird but as you are becoming a part of this community, that will be easier for you to get involved.

Mr. Saliba:

I still think of the power of potential. I believe in the power of potential with every single student and adult.

Question 8: What’s your expectation for this school in the future?

Mr. Saliba:

I always want to see people smiling. I think there’s a great joy to be in a high school. We work really hard on designing the most reasonable schedule and the amount of homework for students. You know, you should work really hard at your homework but there should be fun in your life as a teenager. I’ve worked in schools where there are four hours of homework a night and you need to work really hard. We don’t have that here by design. I always want people to be able to enjoy themselves and smile. And my hope is five years from now, that spirit will still be strong here.  That spirit was here when we arrived, we have helped sustain it and I hope it continues into the future!

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