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Explaining the purpose of a class dean

Senior class dean Cathy Chen speaks at a year-end event in June 2017. Photo courtesy of Pete Zivkov.

By Bridget Quigley 

What is the role of a class dean? A class advisor? What’s the difference? Many students in the Menlo community have been asking this question since the start of the school year.

According to Dean of Freshman Transition Cindy Lapolla, only the freshman and senior classes have deans, and the sophomore and junior grades have class advisors. “The idea [of having deans] was to bring some structure to have the seniors develop as leaders and [to make sure] the ninth graders are feeling supported,” Lapolla said.

The class deans were originally meant to serve as additional outlets for the freshman and senior classes as they transitioned into or out of high school, respectively. However, as the Student Life program grew, sophomore and junior class deans were added, but these positions were soon replaced by class advisors.

From many standpoints, the positions of class advisors and class deans seem very similar, but there are differences. The class advisors are meant to supervise the activities of their grades and run class meetings, but they have more minor roles compared to the class deans, who have more responsibilities in terms of student transition.

“The difference between a dean and an advisor [is that] the deans deal a lot with special issues,” Dean of Students Tony Lapolla said. These “special issues” include discipline and emotional or physical issues, which constitutes more responsibility than that of the advisors. "[The advisors] are primarily dealing with two programs: advocacy and activities that relate to that area,” Lapolla said. Deans deal with advocacy and related activities as well, but they also deal with personal student issues.

The freshman class has a different structure than the other grades, specifically because of the necessity for extra support during their transition into high school. Along with a Dean of Freshman Transition, there is also a Freshman Class Coordinator, Eve Kulbieda. “[The two positions] work together to coordinate the life of the freshman class outside of class,” Cindy Lapolla said.

The senior class dean, Cathy Chen, also doubles as the Dean of Student Life Programs, as she supervises all student life activities. “The thinking is that the freshman role and the senior role [are] somehow bigger in some ways because they are bookends to your years,” Chen said. “With the freshman transition and the seniors exiting… those roles end up taking more time, and energy, and money.”

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