Lisa Lyle: Challenges, Cultures, and Relationships at ZIS

Being bilingual herself, Ms. Lyle appreciates both the beauty and the struggle of being caught up in a mix of cultures – it was this mindset along with her drive to improve communities that drove her to join ZIS. 


Our new ZIS director, Lisa Lyle, spent much of her life studying and teaching all around the USA – from Missouri to Manhattan to Minnesota. However, she feels a connection to ZIS students’ global vision by having initially gone to college to study French and eventually living there as well.


“The experience of recognising that language and culture are inextricably linked, and my experiences with French, has helped me to appreciate how valuable it is, how important it is, and how really difficult it is to become bilingual and bicultural,” Ms. Lyle says as she explains how she can relate to students coming from all over, trying to integrate together. She also explains that this wasn’t the case back in the US: “We talk a lot about trying to prepare kids to be global citizens, yet it’s in a pretty homogeneous community. “


Coming to us from the Mary Institute and St. Louis Day School, she felt that although they were trying to teach students to live in an international world – the community there supported that vision less than the one here, and she says this shift really energises her.

Another thing that excites Ms. Lyle about coming here? The challenges we face. “I love being in schools and seeing change over time… my focus has been strategic planning, construction, capital campaigns, and curriculums… and it just so happened that those were the areas of need here”. Ms. Lyle aspires to utilise the 2019-2020 school year to the maximum and figure out what it is about ZIS that exemplifies real strength. She also wants to help our community determine what needs to be changed, developed, and enhanced to give students, staff, and parents the best possible experience here. “One of the most important things I want to do in my time at ZIS is to help the community to begin to have more open and honest conversations about what we want to be, and to develop disciplined ways to measure that as times goes on.”


One challenge Ms. Lyle is looking forward to solving is moving the ZIS Middle School from Kilchberg to alongside the Upper School Campus, specifically how we can take full advantage of the opportunities to make sure we “have no redundancies and all growth throughout this process”. She is also contemplating the prospect of MS students taking US classes, and developing possible mentoring programs between students of the two campuses, all of which is soon going to be possible due to the proximity of the buildings. 


Ms. Lyle has quite a resumé to back up her ambitions: in her old school she instituted a faculty evaluation professional growth system, planned the construction of six buildings and raised $100 million dollars for a capital campaign. However, she also has a deep motivation to improve the school culture from inside, especially when it comes to empowering students to embody the school’s leadership pillar.


“I certainly believe deeply in creating conditions for all students who are eager to step up into leadership positions, and I recognise that for young women in school and for women on the faculty and staff, modelling female power is extremely important,” Ms Lyle says about the impact she hopes to make from her position of power on the diverse group of students and faculty at the school. 


Ms. Lyle ponders the possibility of organising future meetings or assemblies to empower young women who aspire to be in leadership positions to step up into those roles. She also says she will ensure that when the administration do anything, they first look around the room and ask themselves some questions: “Are we representative of the folks in the community? Are we reflecting the global reality of the kids that are in the school? Are we bringing to the table the perspectives we need to make good decisions?” 


Although Ms. Lyle appreciates the power she has to change students’ lives with broad changes around the campuses, she also realises the great impact that direct relationships with students can have.


As someone who holds degrees from Ivy League schools like Columbia and University of Pennsylvania, it’s hard to believe that college might’ve not been an option for our new Head had it not been for an influential teacher in her life. “No one in my family went to college; it wasn’t a plan that I had,” she explains about her situation when she was our age. However, there was a single person who swayed her on the path to higher education – a certain Mr. Johnson. 


“I love working with students, and I love being more directly involved with students, and in order for me to serve as my own Mr. Johnson I need to build relationships with students,” Ms. Lyle explains as she mentions her hopes to recognise the individual potential in pupils so that their growth can be more deliberate and powerful – and so that maybe she could become their “Mr. Johnston”.  


From her appreciation of ZIS’ jumble of cultural identities to her motivation to improve the school environment to her interest in strengthening the community even on an individual level – I’d say that we’re in safe hands with Ms. Lyle as our leader.


– Olivia O’Brien ’22



Leave a Reply Cancel reply