Sudarsanan appointed Dean of the Class of 2026


Sean Lee , Staff Writer

“She’s always there for her students, she always gets a sense of how they’re feeling, and I feel like that’s super valuable in a Dean who can make individual connections with their students and really make an impact on their lives at school,” Rowan Mally (12) said.

Math Teacher Dr. Shalini Sudarsanan will become the Grade Dean for the Class of 2026, which is entering the Upper Division (UD) this fall. Sudarsanan’s primary role will be to take care of the academic and emotional life of the students in her grade, Head of UD Dr. Jessica Levenstein said.

Sudarsanan has already begun her work as Dean, attending Deans’ meetings once a week, participating in Upper Division Orientation (UDO) for incoming students, and fielding parent questions about class registration, Sudarsanan said. “Sometimes it’s been a little overwhelming because I’ve been trying to juggle meeting with my own kids for extra help with their math stuff and doing some program planning, but now I feel like things are kind of settling down,” she said.

After Grade Dean Dr. Glenn Wallach announced his retirement to the school administration this past summer after 22 years at the school, the search for a new Grade Dean began, Levenstein said. The administration notified the faculty of the opening, and once interest was expressed, a group was gathered to conduct interviews of all the candidates, she said.

The interviewing committee included Levenstein, Dean of Students Michael Dalo, Dean of Faculty Dr. Matthew Wallenfang, Grade Deans Dr. Susan Groppi and Stephanie Feign, and Director of the Office for Identity, Culture, and Institutional Equity Christine Moloney, Levenstein said.

Sudarsanan was interested in the position because she loves getting to know her students in and out of the classroom, she said. “When you’re teaching a class, you get a sense of who [the students] are in the walls of your classroom, but I really do try to get to know my kids beyond the classroom,” she said. “But then, once they’re out of your grade, you might not get a chance to see them again over the next three years that they’re here if you’re starting with freshmen.”

After teaching math to the current senior class for three out of their four years, Sudarsanan found the process of giving her students support and advice and watching them blossom over their four years at the school to be rewarding, she said. “I was just thinking, if you’re a Dean, you have that opportunity with a whole grade of students and really supporting them through their four years here.” Sudarsanan is excited to get to know her students and their families on a deeper level beyond the context of the math classroom.

As a Grade Dean, Sudarsanan’s ability to teach will be limited to one math class per year, Levenstein said. “When you’re Grade Dean, you’re 75 percent grade Dean and 25 percent teacher, although Grade Deans often teach HMO and SOI as well so they’re in the classroom a fair amount,” she said.

There are several responsibilities of a Grade Dean like scheduling and communication with students and parents that were relevant in the selection process, Levenstein said. “When you’re a Grade Dean, the primary people you interact with are students, so you have to like high school students and enjoy being in their presence,” she said. “But you also have to have quite a lot of contact with parents, so you have to be an adult that other adults are going to trust and feel comfortable with.” Especially in situations where students are in distress, a Dean must be responsive, compassionate and thoughtful, Levenstein said.

When interviewing and considering different candidates, Sudarsanan had many qualities that made her a good fit for the job, Levenstein said. “Some of the qualities that we saw, both in our interview process and in our years knowing her as a classroom teacher, are her warmth, her clarity, and her very strong relationships with her students,” she said. As an advisor, Sudarsanan has advocated for her students, works well with parents, and is a reasonable, thoughtful individual who is a good person to talk about decisions at the school, Levenstein said.

Sudarsanan hopes to provide representation for Asian students in the Dean’s office. “We have a huge Asian population here, and it’s nice for students to see themselves represented in a Dean’s or administrative role,” she said.

Being a Dean will bring new challenges that Sudarsanan did not experience as a teacher, she said. “With teaching, I have my set schedule and I know what I’m teaching,” she said. “But when you’re a Dean, every day brings on something new, and you come to work and you don’t know what’s going to happen — so there’s that sense of uncertainty and not having control that I’m used to having.” However, Sudarsanan is more excited than nervous about the changes and challenges the new position will bring.

As a long time student and Sudarsanan’s advisee, Matthew Edelman (11) believes the Class of 2026 is in good hands. “As an advisor, she always makes sure that she is there for you, and when you do go to her, she is super encouraging and helps you feel so much better,” he said.

Alexa Turteltaub (11) has always appreciated Sudarsanan’s openness and approachability. “After the tragic mass shooting at the elementary school in Texas, she wasn’t afraid to talk about it with us, and the emotion she showed was comforting to me because I knew that I wasn’t alone in feeling scared or vulnerable and there were adults in the community to support me and communicate with me.”

With the Class of 2026, Sudarsanan wants to be firm while also supporting her students. “We do a lot of supporting for our students, but it’s important for them to realize that HM is a special place where we do these supports, and when they leave here and move on into the real world and college, there’s not going to be all of these supports,” she said. “I think it’s important for kids to realize that and have that learning experience.”