Jean W. Brune wound up a toy cow and smiled as it walked across the conference table in her office at Roland Park Country School.
"This is the dignified me," Mrs. Brune said, laughing as the small animal stopped near a coffee mug and made a MOO sound.
Today, Mrs. Brune, 50, was to officially assume her duties as headmistress of Roland Park Country School, an all-female private school with about 600 students. And she wants it known that her door will always be open to students and faculty as she kindles the school spirit that is a hallmark of RPCS.
Her folksy cow collection, which decorates her office, has served as an ice-breaker, something to put the students and faculty at ease. And then there is Mrs. Brune's campus sidekick, nicknamed "Tarby" -- her 9-year-old black Labrador retriever, which has been adopted as the official school pet.
"It is important for the students to know that I have a personality," Mrs. Brune said. "The collecting of cows came about because people who have known me as a teacher know that I love cows. It goes along with the nurturing part of education."
As headmistress of RPCS, which is located in North Baltimore, Mrs. Brune oversees the school's operating budget of $5.6 million, a $9.9 million endowment and financial aid awards of more than $600,000 earmarked for 132 students. She also works closely with the school's 31-member board of trustees headed by Richard C. Tilghman Jr., a local attorney.
Mrs. Brune majored in English and graduated magna cum laude from Middlebury College in Vermont. Later, she received a master's degree Johns Hopkins University's school of liberal arts.
Her 25-year education career began at Pimlico Elementary School, and eventually she headed the Lower School at the Gilman School before being appointed at RPCS in April.
Returning to RPCS has brought her academic career full circle. She graduated from RPCS in 1960 following in the footsteps of her mother, Jean Waller. Mrs. Brune's daughter, Marion Paterson, is also a RPCS graduate.
As the sixth headmistress of RPCS, Mrs. Brune's overall goal is to help the students to strengthen their characters through academic excellence.
"I want to provide an environment so that you can be a risk-taker and make mistakes and then learn from them," she said. "I had a strong education here. Part of that strength I discovered at college when I realized how well I was prepared. It gave me a chance to develop leadership skills in myself."
She describes RPCS as a school whose distinction is "a sense of spirit and commitment." Because tuition costs at the upper school run about $9,000 per year, Mrs. Brune wants to curb future tuition increases while recruiting a more diversified student body.
"I want to immerse myself in a love of learning," she said. "One of the goals we should instill in our students is a life-long love of learning."