Ask SMUS: “What Does a Director of Academics Do?”

Denise Lamarche

I often get asked: “What do you do as Director of Academics? And how are you different from the Director of Learning?” It’s a great question for my first blog post because I know there are some who don’t know.

I use a metaphor involving a head gardener and a landscape designer to explain. The landscape designer (the Director of Academics) oversees the entire area that needs cultivating. They consider all that’s needed to grow a lush and thriving garden. They work with the head gardener (the Director of Learning) to determine what plants to plant, what soil to use and what to add to the space to make it complete. Then a team of gardeners works to get it done and makes sure plants flourish in that environment.

As Director of Academics, I oversee the academic program your kids experience. I make sure we always ask, ‘What does your child need to thrive here?’ and explore how we get there. Our head gardener – Director of Learning Mr. Adrian French – works hands-on with teachers to make that happen. He helps determine what each class and each student needs.

A quick side note: there are other directors at SMUS – like our new Director of Educational Technology – who (in this metaphor) I would also consider head gardeners. They, too, play an integral role in this process. But for the sake of clarifying these two roles, I’m just focusing on the directors of Academics and Learning.

Gardening in practice

As one example, we recently built an Innovation Lab on our main campus. It was clear to me that we needed a space where creative learning and design could happen. Students and teachers were asking for a place where they could explore different technologies, like devices, videography, photography and robotics. I worked with our gardeners – directors and teachers – to design a space where this could happen. We worked hard to find the right equipment that students could use to boost their learning. The Innovation Lab is now a space where Middle and Senior School teachers bring their students for the type of creative work that can’t happen in a traditional classroom.

Our youngest students and their teachers also wanted a similar space. They were asking for a place where they could be creative, design and build. Last year we started talking about what an Imagination Lab could look like at the Junior School. As Director of Academics, I worked with a group of gardeners to start planning for the space. We know it’s also important to talk with our students about what they want. Their voice and ideas are important in our planning process. Now we have a team of gardeners and students working with Ms. Becky Anderson and Ms. Margaret Lincoln to design that space.

I’m so proud to work at a school where student support is top-of-mind. Like a landscape designer, there’s a lot of planning that happens before a garden comes to fruition. But I see our garden growing every day. It’s exciting to step outside and see plants that arrived here as seedlings are all thriving.


I aim to write a blog on the SMUSpaper at least once a month and I hope to use it as a way to provide clear, easy-to-digest information about what we’re doing at SMUS and – more importantly – why we’re doing it.

What questions do you have for me about our academic program? Please comment below with your questions (or email me) and I’ll use those as topics for future blog posts.

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Denise Lamarche
Denise Lamarche is Director of Academics at St. Michaels University School.

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