Scott Alan Nelson, Rye Country Day School

Local heads of school in Westchester, Fairfield and Dutchess counties talk about lessons learned from the pandemic, inspiration, superpowers, what makes them smile and – in one case – the benefits of dogs on campus.

Located in Rye on a 26-acre campus, Rye Country Day School is a coeducational, college preparatory school dedicated to providing students from prekindergarten through grade 12 with an excellent education using both traditional and innovative approaches.

With a bachelor’s degree from Brown University, Scott Nelson kicked off his educational career as a history teacher and coach at his alma mater, Hackley School in Tarrytown. He later earned a master’s degree in educational administration from Fordham University and served as the head of Upper School at Hackley and Marlborough School (in California) before coming to Rye Country Day School 28 years ago to accept the role of head of school. Nelson and his wife have twin adult daughters.

Tell us something surprising about your school.

“RCDS was founded as a girls’ school in 1869, became coed through grade nine in the 1920s and then went fully coed in the mid-1960s.”

How did your school cope during the pandemic? 

“We had a combination of 100% in-person (grades pre-K to five), and hybrid-flex (grades six through 12) for two-thirds of the year and then moved to 100% in-person in early April. We also conducted weekly Covid pool testing of 1,200 students and employees. We found a number of virtual events such as parent/guardian meetings, community-wide conversations and admissions programs were well-attended and effective on Zoom.”

Which aspects of running a school are most appealing to you? 

“I get to attend student presentations, performances, concerts, art shows, athletic contests. I have a ‘season pass’ to everything that happens at school involving students from pre-K to grade 12.”

Tell us about an encounter at school that put a smile on your face.

“Just seeing students’ excitement about returning to school this past year after being fully remote in the spring of 2020.”

What superpower do you bring to the school? 

“Retention of details resulting in strong institutional memory.”

What led you to choose education as a career?

“As a scholarship student, I found teachers and coaches had an incredibly positive impact on my life.”

Did you have a favorite teacher who affected your life?

“One of my high school English teachers explained how he often reread books to find new ideas and develop new approaches to his teaching.”

What do you do to recharge in your free time? 

“I take a daily 45-minute walk, starting at 6 a.m.”

Rye Country Day School at a glance

  • Head of school: Scott A. Nelson
  • Number of faculty and staff: 220
  • Student enrollment: 935
  • Annual tuition: $39,400 to $47,900

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