Rainy weather could not dampen spirits at The Agnes Irwin School on Friday, October 16. Members of the community and honored guests, including local education leaders, gathered for a special convocation to officially welcome Sally Keidel as the 14th Head of School, as AIS students, faculty, and alumnae nationwide and beyond watched the landmark event via livestream.
The festive but socially distanced occasion, held in a large tent adorned with palms and flowers, with the AIS logo emblazoned on the ceiling, was as much a homecoming as a formal welcome for Mrs. Keidel. Her story intertwines with Agnes Irwin, where she served as Director of Admission and Financial Aid from 2007-2014 and as Assistant Head of School from 2012-2014.
Mr. Steven Lisk of Lancaster Country Day School opened the ceremony with an invocation, followed by a welcome from Ginny Sharp Williams ’88, Chair of the Board of Trustees. “From the beginning of our search for a new Head of School, Sally's desire to return to our community was a constant theme,” Mrs. Williams noted. “Towards the end of the process, Sally reminded us of her passion for our school and her belief in the transformative power of an Agnes Irwin education.” Addressing Mrs. Keidel directly, Mrs. Williams added “As we begin the next 150 years of Agnes Irwin history, the optimism is palpable and the confidence those around you share in your ability to lead us forward is what makes me proud to say, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, welcome home.”
Students from all three divisions presented Mrs. Keidel with gifts on behalf of their respective student bodies. Sidney ’29 offered a framed photo from Mrs. Keidel’s first day with the Lower School, as well as a Lower School tote bag embossed with the nine leadership attributes found in the Agnes Irwin Leadership Toolkit©️. Gabrielle ’25, vice president of the Middle School Student Council, bestowed an official monogrammed Middle School backpack, remarking that “Now you’ll be able to show your AIS pride in style!” Upper School Student Body President Ayanna ’21 presented Mrs. Keidel with her very own Irwin Blazer, a symbol of leadership in the school presented to students during their junior year. Dunlop referenced the glowing praises from the Board of Trustees’ official appointment announcement, adding that “No one could have imagined then how much we would come to depend upon your vision, leadership, and love for our community in a time of crisis.”
Following a special virtual performance by the 2020-2021 Bel Cantos — directed by Murray Savar, who also served as the faculty and staff speaker — the AIS community shared well wishes for Mrs. Keidel's success in her new role. Nissa O’Mara P’22, ’24, President of the Parents’ Council, presented a trio of dogwood trees, while Alumnae Association President Alexandra Fergusson Powell ’00 offered a watercolor collage depicting each of The Agnes Irwin School’s physical locations over the past 150 years.
Dr. Steven Piltch, Director of the School Leadership Program at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, took the podium to honor Mrs. Keidel. Mr. Piltch, former Headmaster at The Shipley School and a long-time colleague of Mrs. Keidel, reflected on several of their interactions over the years before imparting his observations of Mrs. Keidel’s character. “Bright, humble, and thoughtful, Sally deals with issues of all kinds with great care and effectiveness, and seems to do her best work when issues are particularly complex and challenging,” he remarked. Mr. Piltch praised her commitment not only to the mission of the schools she served at, but her dedication to acknowledging each voice — while not allowing personal achievement to overshadow collaboration and community. “She will stress the importance of getting to know others … and treating others with respect, understanding, and compassion,” Mr. Piltch added. Smiling knowingly, he concluded his address by noting the importance of working together and coming from a place of goodwill and trust. “This is the way Sally Keidel lives her life. This is the way she will lead the school. And this is the reason that, years from now, you will look back on the appointment of Sally Keidel as the 14th Head of this storied and wonderful school as the best and most important decision that was made as Agnes Irwin moved into its second 150 years.”
Finally, it was time for the woman of the hour. As Mrs. Keidel took to the stage, she thanked her colleagues past and present — including former Head of School Dr. Wendy Hill — remarking that “I am here today to draw upon the strengths and aspirations of this community — and to formulate a vision and a future for our school that we can commit to together because it comes from all of us.” She recalled her previous years at Agnes Irwin, and how the experience exposed her to leadership challenges, enrollment possibilities, and creative problem-solving skills. Mrs. Keidel admired the community’s willingness to dialogue about social justice, adjust to COVID-era classrooms, and more, adding that “I have worked with administrators who have dedicated themselves to what is right and best gift for girls — all day, every day, in every circumstance.”
Bolstered by her dedicated team of educators and administrators, Mrs. Keidel expressed optimism for the opportunities and challenges ahead. “We are called to action in making Agnes Irwin a place where every girl feels loved, supported, and respected every day,” she remarked. “As students venture out from AIS, they do so with the strength of character and scholarship they developed on this campus, and it sustains them to be successful in college and beyond. The lessons and skills they learn here empower them to seek out ways to get engaged and to become leaders quickly wherever their future endeavors take them.”
She concluded her remarks by circling back to the school’s founder, who called for each girl to conduct a self-assessment at the end of each day, and ask what they did to make a difference. Mrs. Keidel beamed as she declared, “We have a great opportunity to make a difference in the lives of each and every girl enrolled at AIS and I am honored to be part of this great calling. As I reflect on my work, I will reference the question of Agnes Irwin and endeavor, every day, to make a difference for the girls.”
Before closing the ceremony with the Alma Mater, Maggie ’27 provided familial insight into the life of Mrs. Keidel, remarking that a list of professional credentials “cannot tell you how warm and caring my mother is. … She puts her all into everything she does, and it really inspires me. She has shown me that I can accomplish anything I want, as long as I work hard for it.”