The newest addition to our Woodlawn family, Mr. Paul Zanowski, joined us in July of 2019 as Head of School. Mr. Zanowski brings a wealth of educational experience, leading schools in New Jersey, Virginia, and North Carolina. He also spent time in Asia, working in international media, marketing, and publishing. With his first ninety days complete, let’s get to know Mr. Z a little better.
Q: We are glad to have you here, Mr. Z! What most attracted you to Woodlawn?
A: The students, teachers, and parents! The way that the school’s mission, culture, and project-based learning all come together to nurture and enhance everyone’s natural joy for lifelong learning. The campus is beautiful, and it is designed to be mission-driven and student-centered.
I love the Woodlawn Story! The amazing vision of our Founders, Mr. & Mrs. Bowman, and our Founding Teachers, Mrs. Armstrong, Mrs. Lolla, and Mrs. Lysne.
I love the Woodlawn Way! The kindness, the trust and respect, the way the Woodlawn School family is united around a bright, happy, optimistic vision of what young people become, and the way every person here – students, teachers, and parents – work in ways that help bring out the best in one another.
An added bonus for my family: We are reunited! We raised our children in North Carolina. Nick lives in Todd and Katie Rose lives in Hickory. It is wonderful to live near them!
Q: Being Head of School, you take on many roles. What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: Being a partner to parents and teachers in the work we share, helping to educate and raise great kids! Supporting our teachers and parents to help each Woodlawn student thrive. Shining a light on the success of our students and the strengths of our school. Helping our school reach its full potential. Being a cheerleader for all things Woodlawn!
Q: Woodlawn’s campus extends over sixty acres. You can catch the students roaming through the woods to pick the perfect leaf for Biology class, watering the garden, or chatting on the benches facing the recreational soccer field at lunch. Where is your favorite spot on campus, and why?
A: Carpool lines and classrooms… Sidelines at games and alongside Cross Country trails… Playgrounds and patios… Any place where Woodlawn kids, teachers, and parents can be found! I love seeing the campus at sunrise – especially on a school day! I love seeing it at sunset when it is quiet, and I think back on the great day we shared. Our campus is the most beautiful school campus I have ever seen.
Q: As you’ve seen, students love to walk around campus. Describe your most memorable interaction with a Woodlawn student so far.
A: The very first time I ever met Woodlawn students, last winter, I asked them this question: Your friends that don’t go to Woodlawn, what do they think of your school? The students answered: “They don’t think Woodlawn is real! They think we go to camp all day. They don’t understand that we work so hard and do so much because we love what we do, not because people ‘make us’ take hard courses and force us to work. We don’t complain about the work and our teachers, and when we say we like our teachers and our teachers believe in us and help us, and that’s why we work so hard, our friends don’t have that at their schools, so it is hard for them to get it.”
I remember that so well because it is so rare and powerful, and because I see it every day now that I am here with you. The Woodlawn Way is the right way – it is the way school should be everywhere! Kids and teachers who come to Woodlawn from other schools appreciate the Woodlawn difference right away. Woodlawn is a rare and special place.
Q: The students and faculty have a strong bond. What do you believe makes this relationship so unique?
A: Love! Woodlawn teachers and students love one another and love the things that unite us; teachers and students share a love of lifelong learning. Respect! Woodlawn students and teachers respect each other and treat each other with kindness, dignity, and care. Faith! Woodlawn teachers have faith in our students, especially when kids go through hard times in schoolwork and in life. That shared love, that mutual respect, and that strong faith keep us together, especially when times are tough. Woodlawn students know our teachers take genuine delight in our students!
Q: Now, for a few more personal questions. What is something that a lot of people don't know about you?
A: All through Middle School and the first year or two of High School, I was incredibly shy and withdrawn and not a successful student. I was really lucky to have a couple of teachers who believed in me and saw potential in me. Even when I failed their courses, they never let me believe I was a failure. The turning point came when I found a small school that in so many ways feels like Woodlawn, Lancaster Country Day School, in Pennsylvania. Mr. Jarvis, the Headmaster, and Mr. Gibby, the Assistant Headmaster, and the Upper School teachers saw potential in me that, at first, I didn’t believe was there. The kids there were so welcoming and friendly. Like Woodlawn, it was a place where it was cool to be smart, cool to love good things, cool to be kind. “Cool” is also a word for safe. It was everything I needed to really take off!
I have a forever debt to Mr. Jarvis, Mr. Gibby, those teachers, and those students. It is a debt I pay forward all my life, by trying to help kids, teachers, and parents, and serve schools that change people’s lives. Schools like Woodlawn!
Q: Every Friday afternoon, students hang out at the patios by car lines, wishing their friends and teachers good weekends. What is a typical weekend like for Mr. Z?
A: I love spending time with my family. I love cooking. I love to read. My dog, Wrigley, loves to hang out with me, especially when I am cooking! I love to think about Woodlawn and do my Woodlawn homework. Wrigley likes to take rides with me to Woodlawn, especially when the top is down on the car. He loves visiting Woodlawn and Dairy Queen, on the way home, for a treat. Child-size soft-serve cones, vanilla for Wrigley and chocolate for me!
Q: Speaking of weekends, have you found a favorite restaurant in the Lake Norman area? If so, what is your go-to order?
A: Alino’s Pizza – Mrs. Z and I share a salad and pizza Margherita. Carrburitos – Anything on the menu that is hot and spicy!
Q: An essential question - if you were stranded on a deserted island, what three items with you hope were in your travel bag? (No cell phones!)
A: Are Woodlawn students and teachers allowed to be packed in travel bags? If so, a couple of Woodlawn students and Doc! They would engineer a solution that would get us all rescued or enable us to live in splendor, or at least survive until someone finds us!
If Doc and kids were not allowed, a question: Would my Kindle work? It is linked to Amazon, and I am sure I could use it to somehow get a message to Mr. Bowman, and he would engineer a rescue! And it would be nice to download a copy of, “How to Survive on a Deserted Island.”
If the Kindle is out of the question, then:
- A tiny water purification device.
- A Swiss Army knife with lots of gadgets.
- Lots of SPF 100 sunblock!
Q: If you could look into the future, how would you describe Woodlawn School five years from now?
A: It is the same Woodlawn people have known and loved for years – the same mission, vision, values, the same family culture, and feel.
There is more project-based learning than ever. It is project-based learning in partnerships with schools around the nation and the world. Everyday partnerships on projects, working remotely and collaboratively, using technology to bring us together.
It has more students enrolled than we do now, closer to the 235 number that was enrolled when Mr. Shirley was Head of School, but it is still small in the way it looks and feels. We never want our school to be big and impersonal.
Thank you for sharing with us, Mr. Z! Have any additional questions? You can find Mr. Z on his daily strolls around campus.