Obituary: Claudia Gallant / Sewickley Academy administrator with knack for energizing people

Oct. 1, 1944 - April 21, 2013

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Claudia Gallant, assistant head of school for academic affairs at Sewickley Academy, knew how to sell a good idea.

"When she came in the room, she was not a dominating personality," said Ken Goleski, dean of students at the senior school.

But when she led discussions, Mr. Goleski said, "She was a master of letting everybody contribute and everybody having a voice. I think that's why she appealed to faculty in all three divisions of all ages, from veteran to brand new. She was just a very good listener."

Kolia O'Connor, head of school, said, "She was very smart and very persuasive, and I think frankly it was the power of the ideas that got people excited and energized."

Ms. Gallant, 68, who resided in Sewickley on the school campus, died of cancer Sunday at Concordia at Cabot.

Ms. Gallant had an extensive career before arriving at Sewickley Academy in 2006, initially in a new position called director of academic affairs.

She previously served as executive director of the Global Connections Foundation and vice president for professional development with the National Association of Independent Schools.

Earlier in her career, she taught English at Chatham Hall in Virginia and Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire and was director of professional development programs for Fitchburg State College in Massachusetts.

She earned her bachelor's degree in English from Emmanuel College in Boston and a master's in English from the University of Michigan.

At Sewickley Academy, a private school with about 700 students, Ms. Gallant was instrumental in the design and implementation of a global studies program that includes "passports" for lower school students learning about other cultures, international student exchanges and a senior school program that leads to a school-issued global studies certificate.

Ms. Gallant was committed to continuing her work at the academy for another three to five years, Mr. O'Connor said.

But her plans changed when she was diagnosed with cancer in October. Early in her illness, Mr. O'Connor said Ms. Gallant "would fire off 40, 50, 60 emails" daily to keep in touch with the school.

As her stamina declined, the emails declined but she "remained acutely interested in what was going on in school."

Mr. O'Connor said the work continued, in part because Ms. Gallant was good at "developing people's leadership capacities, people's confidence in their ability to carry on."

Ms. Gallant had a love of animals. Her German shepherd Sophie trained at Misty Pines Dog Park in Sewickley to become a therapy dog. She adopted a black lab named Tasha, who Mr. O'Connor described as "highly challenged" but was taken to Misty Pines for behavioral training.

Homes were found for both animals, he said.

She set up a fund to help pay for training of other dogs with behavioral issues.

She also enjoyed playing the piano.

In her application for the academy job, Ms. Gallant described her educational philosophy.

"I think that, in the end, meeting the highest standards in education requires what comes down to 'guts,' the ability to act and to engage in the fray, whatever that fray happens to be, in the classroom, on the playing field, in a parent meeting, in the head of school's office, at a board meeting, in a capital campaign.

"It means having the guts to make decisions, to swim upstream at times, to communicate clearly, to maintain an open door and listen to all comers, but in the end, to judge, act and take responsibility."

Surviving are two sons, Michael of Merchantville, N.J., and Jon of Nanaimo, Canada; and two sisters, Cynthia Linkas of South Hamilton, Mass., and Cathryn Chadwick of Ipswich, Mass.

A reception will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday at the Hansen Library at Sewickley Academy, with a program of remarks and music that will begin at 5 p.m.

The academy has established the Claudia Gallant Global Studies Fund to provide financial aid for students to travel, study or do service as part of the Global Studies program.

Correction, posted April 24, 2013: In an earlier version of this obituary, Claudia Gallant's last name was incorrect in two references.

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Education writer Eleanor Chute: or 412-263-1955.


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