Admissions and Westchester Lower School Administrative Assistant
Ms. Barrett is pictured on the right with Laura Trifiletti.
Admissions and WLS Administrative Assistant Joan Barrett didn't initially consider working for a school when she returned to the workforce after staying at home for 10 years to raise her two children. Prior to starting a family, her career focus had been working for brokerage firms on Wall Street. Ms. Barrett counts herself lucky that she landed at Windward, which became her second home for 24 years.
As newly single parent in 1997, Ms. Barrett had just completed a course through Westchester Community College that was geared toward women who had been displaced by divorce, layoffs, or extended periods away from work. A crash course in computers, resume writing, and interviews, the program allowed Ms. Barrett to bridge her knowledge gaps and regain confidence. “It was a pretty intense 3 months,” she shared, “but I was grateful to take part in this wonderful service for women.” When it came time to apply for a job, at first Ms. Barrett aimed her efforts at corporate positions. In fact, when Ms. Barrett discovered Windward, she’d just accepted a position with another company. But then “someone at the WCC had heard about an opening at Windward, and they thought it was a good match for me. So, they encouraged me to apply.” The first interview solidified what her intuition had told her: it was an ideal fit.
So, Ms. Barrett began her tenure at Windward working for the Business and Development offices. Back then, the School was much smaller, and she recalls tracking many tasks by hand on paper, such as planning for the Benefit. Still, she always found it a pleasure to come to work, especially in the close-knit environment at 13 Windward.
In 2002, Ms. Barrett moved to the Westchester Lower School main office, where she divided her time between assisting WLS families and answering inquiries for the Admissions department. “The main office is a very busy spot to be in!” Ms. Barrett noted. “The whole dismissal process at that time was done by hand in a notebook. It got pretty hectic. The phone system was different as well—sometimes it felt nearly impossible to keep up with calls!” During this time, Ms. Barrett also began assisting the Admissions office, and she found herself drawn to the work of reassuring prospective families and answering their questions. “This was where I really learned about the school,” she explained. Ms. Barrett took part in courses such as Expository Writing and Multisensory Reading Instruction: PAF, which she recommends to everyone, because the courses help with understanding how the Windward program works and why it’s so successful. “I found it very rewarding to talk to prospective parents, answer their questions, and calm them down. Some are so anxious because their children are suffering and struggling in school. I would say, ‘There's an answer, and the answer is this school, so don’t worry.’”
“I found it very rewarding to talk to prospective parents, answer their questions, and calm them down. I would say, ‘There’s an answer, and the answer is this school, so don’t worry.’”
Another major impact of Ms. Barrett’s time at the School has been the relationships she’s cultivated with colleagues. Being together 8 hours per day, 5 days a week, she’s spent more time with them than with anyone else, and they truly started to feel like family. “Because it’s a small environment, we really grew to understand each other, to work together to build each other up and help one another. My colleagues have been there through everything in my life, the good and the bad. They helped me out when it was rough, and they cheered me on when it was great.” Elisabeth Seocanac, fellow WLS Administrative Assistant, agreed. She shared, “Joan and I have worked together for 18 years. The two of us have gone through a lot over the years. We’ve cried, we’ve laughed, we’ve navigated lots of different big life moments together. Having started at Windward when I was 22, she’s been my friend and mom at the same time.”
Ms. Barrett’s colleagues in the Admissions office sang her praises, with ToniAnn Hutchison noting, “It’s been an absolute pleasure to have worked with Joan the past few years. She’s an incredible colleague and friend. She’s always been there with an available ear." Trissi Dunn concurred, and added, “I really will miss our ‘therapy times’ between 4:00 and 5:00pm Monday through Thursday.” Beth Foltman reflected that “Joan has always been one of the first faces that people see when they come into the WLS, and one of the first voices that they hear on the phone when they’re interested in applying to Windward. That’s a tremendous responsibility, and she’s always performed it with grace, with kindness, and with care.”
Ms. Barrett is also grateful for what she has learned from the people she’s worked closely with during her time at Windward. “Learning how to be open to challenges, ideas, and new ways of doing something has been invaluable. I could take pieces of what I discovered through working with my teams at Windward and apply them to other areas of my life. And sharing problems and solutions, being open to hearing other perspectives—this is the norm at Windward, and it’s pretty special.” Engaging in workshops through The Windward Institute provided Ms. Barrett with valuable tools to apply in her personal life, as well. "After having sat in on workshops, I was able to understand my daughter’s learning issues. She was never diagnosed with a language-based learning disability, but she struggled in some of the same ways. Taking those workshops really enlightened me about how children can struggle with learning, and what they need in order to learn.”
In her retirement, Ms. Barrett plans to relocate to Denver to be close to family, a huge change after being a lifelong New Yorker. She also plans to check off a bucket list item by taking a trip to Ireland with her children. Pursuing part-time work, as well as volunteering for a hospital’s baby cuddler program, are additional ideas on her list. "And, of course,” she smiled, “I’ve not given up on tandem skydiving!” Whatever she does, whether it’s on solid ground or among the clouds, Ms. Barrett will undoubtedly bring to it her trademark warmth, curiosity, and passion for learning.