By: Mary Ellen Trent
George Vosburgh, former Head of School at The Crossroads School and the Kildonan School, as well as a committed volunteer and advocate for those living with learning disabilities, is the 2021 recipient of the Pennsylvania Branch of the International Dyslexia Association’s prestigious Janet L. Hoopes Award.
The Hoopes Award was established in 2003 to honor Dr. Janet L. Hoopes, the first recipient of the award, a dedicated PBIDA Board Member, Professor Emeritus at Bryn Mawr College, and co-founder of Hill Top Preparatory School in Rosemont, Pennsylvania. The Hoopes Award is presented annually at PBIDA’s Annual Fall Conference to an individual or individuals in Pennsylvania or Delaware who have made a significant contribution to the education of those with learning differences. Vosburgh and Hoopes were colleagues during his first years serving PBIDA.
Vosburgh received his BA in English Language and Literature from the University of Colorado, Boulder, where he met his wife Melissa. After teaching in Durango public schools and Colorado Academy, he “needed to know more” and enrolled at the University of Denver earning an MA in Educational Administration in 1972. He later taught at Kimball Union Academy in New Hampshire until he was recruited for his first headship at The Barlow School in Amenia, New York. In 1980 he left Barlow to become the Head of School at Kildonan School, a boarding school for students living with language-based learning disabilities and founded by Diana Hanbury King, who trained both George and Melissa Vosburgh in the Orton-Gillingham approach.
Vosburgh’s work with Hanbury King made a deep impression which impacted his work as Head of School at The Crossroads School in Paoli, Pennsylvania, a position he took in 1991. “Her [Hanbury King’s] influence was profound,” said Jennifer Cordovari, school psychologist at The Crossroads School, “It emphasized his commitment to every LD student – that they had their own unique strengths and challenges.”
Cordivari and Dottie Mazullo, Assistant Head at The Crossroads, shared that during his 15 years as Head of School, Vosburgh was “forward-thinking and ahead of his time.” According to Cordivari, “George was always about possibility: the possibility of helping a student reach their full potential and supporting a family in their journey to that end; the possibilities of promoting teachers to their maximum effectiveness, developing support systems through board members, and connecting to the community at large. George could see the big picture of possibility for all students.”
Vosburgh made notable contributions during his tenure at The Crossroads. He promoted board recruitment, training, and development. Each year he required trustees to spend two half-days observing classrooms. In-house, he encouraged professional development. To ensure that all faculty could attend the PBIDA Annual Fall Conference and the 2004 Annual IDA Reading, Literacy, and Learning Conference in Philadelphia, he scheduled in-service days. Vosburgh also created a conference evaluation form for faculty feedback and suggested they share their conference take-aways. To promote The Crossroads, Vosburgh considered the school a local business and joined the Paoli Business Association.
Within the community, Vosburgh believed in sharing The Crossroads’ expertise with parents and professionals. He created one of the first LD Speaker Series in the region. Cordivari and Mazullo presented in addition to faculty. The Crossroads Speaker Series also brought Sally and Bennett Shaywitz, Mel Levine, Leslie Rescorla, Robert Brooks, and Rich Lavoie to the region.
Perhaps Vosburgh’s greatest attribute was his kind, nurturing, and inclusive leadership style. He elevated his team and “believed in cultivating relationships with all.” This team remains loyal to Vosburgh. They meet annually for a Crossroads reunion. “He believed that teamwork was imperative to success and always encouraged us to lead with the positive. George was loved by all,” said Mazullo.
Vosburgh retired from The Crossroads in 2006 but has remained active in serving others. He established the educational and career consulting firm, Vosburgh Transitions. He served on many boards, including those for the Montgomery School (nine years), Delaware Valley Friends School (13 years), and the Association of Delaware Valley Independent Schools. Additionally, Vosburgh served on both the Pennsylvania Association of Independent Schools and the Middle States Association’s Accreditation Committees and the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. At St. David’s Church in Wayne, Vosburgh is a member of the Vestry and the choir, a counselor of the Career Transition Ministry, a popular announcer at the annual Country Fair, and a member of both the Organ and Rector Search Committees.
Vosburgh also was an effective member of PBIDA. During his second time (2005 – 2019) serving PBIDA on the Board of Directors, he was the Corresponding Secretary on the Executive Committee for eight years. He traveled to Pittsburgh to ensure the smooth and transparent merging of their Regional Group with the Greater Philadelphia Branch, when the current Pennsylvania Branch was formed. With Melissa, he volunteered as a facilitator for countless dyslexia simulations in Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Dyslexia remains a cause close to Vosburgh’s heart as it’s a challenge for daughters Betsy, a former LD school administrator and current O-G tutor, and Caroline, a midwife in Newport, Rhode Island, as well as two nephews. Later this month George and Melissa Vosburgh will relocate to Massachusetts to be closer to Betsy and her family. They take with them the 2021 Janet L. Hoopes Award, a representation of the countless individuals in New York and Pennsylvania who will always be grateful for the education, care, and advocacy Vosburgh provided as they struggled to break the code and finally learn to read and write.
Mary Ellen Trent is the Director of Admissions at Delaware Valley Friends School. She was a co-founder of the Pittsburgh Regional Group, is a former PBIDA board member and served as chair for six annual PBIDA conferences.