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Student & Alumni Stories

Meet the Changemaker

Guiding a new vision — with a respect for tradition — at Asheville School.

Tucker Branham, who graduated from the Asheville School in 1996, returned to campus to help guide the school through a year-long strategic planning process.

There’s joy in challenges, in stumbles, and in success. Asheville School is all about being tough academically and having the teachers and staff to help students get through it. People are going to have an amazing experience stumbling, rising, and leaving here as wonderful and resilient humans.
Tucker Branham '96

Through her company Change Develop Move, Tucker helps a wide variety of organizations articulate who they are, where they want to go, and how to get there. Tucker shares a bit about what’s ahead for the school—and why keeping students at the center of decisions is so important.

What were you like as a student at Asheville School in the 1990s?

Asheville School gave me the space to grow up and mature but not to lose the fundamental things that made me me. I have deeply held beliefs, and I’ve always been curious. I push the envelope, and I like to challenge the status quo where it needs to be challenged. The school did not quelch that in me but helped me channel it into positive lessons. The school pushed me to grow and learn more deeply. It was tough. It was not an easy school. But it wasn’t the academics that I mostly remember. It was everything else. When you wake up, you’re there—there’s no escaping. The students are your friends, the faculty and staff are your people. When you go to Asheville School, you are kind of going to college during high school, and that changes you. Independence is an essential piece of the experience.

What kind of work do you do?

My company, Change Develop Move, works with organizations to operate better. We do this through services such as strategic planning, leadership development, culture identification and development, fundraising assessment, training, campaign management—you name it and we do it to help nonprofits, companies, and individuals with all facets of organizational development. I’m a big believer that to have buy-in and change, you need to include people in the process. People are more likely to care about a plan if it’s done with them and not to them. It’s wise to get feedback from people are doing the work and living it every day.

What was the process of creating a strategic plan for Asheville School like?

We interviewed students, alumni, teachers, staff, the board, parents—at least two hundred people. Everyone was excited to share their ideas. Covid fundamentally shifted our youth, the way we interact, our mentalities—across industries. There’s been this massive evolution of human behavior and need based on the isolation. So, places like Asheville School are saying, we’ve got to do something. I think a lot of the organizations that have been around for a long time often become very strongly rooted in their traditions and the way things have always been done. There are great facets of that, but there has also been this shift that we needed to address. Asheville School needed to think not only about who and where they are but also where they want to go and who they want to be. The root of what makes Asheville School will always be in place, but the tools and mentality are shifting for what students need to feel successful and feel a meaningful connection in community. Schools all say that, but Asheville School wants to live it. That is exciting to me, especially as an alum.

What were some strong takeaways from the process?

Everyone expects Asheville School be a college prep school, and it’s a great one, but kids these days are even more engaged, passionate citizens of the world. When I spoke with the students, I was amazed at how articulate and excited they are about the things that really matter to them. I’m excited to help them lay out a plan for getting what they want out of their educational experience—the value of academics and the time and space to be a kid, a friend. The days of rote memorization are gone. Kids are all about curiosity—and Asheville School is, as always, preparing people to be lifelong learners. Another takeaway that came up a lot was this idea of joy. You’ll see joy throughout the strategic plan. That doesn’t mean that everyone’s happy all the time, but it’s about being able to do things they didn’t know they could do. There’s joy in challenges, in stumbles, and in success. Asheville School is all about being tough academically and having the teachers and staff to help students get through it. People are going to have an amazing experience stumbling, rising, and leaving here as wonderful and resilient humans.

As alumni read the new initiatives, what do you hope they keep in mind?

I’m really proud of Asheville School for doing this—they didn’t have to. It was an intentional decision to say, we have been this amazing institution for so long, how can we make it even better? To go through this comprehensive of a process, you have to be willing to be vulnerable and open. That isn’t easy, and it says a great deal about the leadership that this was the road they chose. The incredible people of Asheville School understand their strengths and want to build on this strong foundation of character. They looked at the pieces that weren’t supporting students and said, how can we make this better? You must listen to your students. It’s all about being student-centered to cultivate deeper areas of student interest academically, socially, and in co-curriculars. These deep conversations led them to really consider and understand the idea of joy. This idea that students can come, learn, be joyful and curious, and leave with this close group of friends and adults who support you and care immensely about you. It’s remarkable—for you to be prepared to go to college, you have to have a level of independence and emotional strength. I love that Asheville School has set itself up for the next iteration to be even better than it’s ever been.