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From the Head of School

professional portrait of john cissel

About the
Head of School
John R. Cissel



MALS; Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT
BFA; Denison University, Granville, OH

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Employed Since



John has been working in independent schools since graduating from college -- first in Connecticut at Fairfield Country Day School where he taught, coached and became the Upper School Director of Admission. He then moved to Greens Farms Academy in Westport, CT as the Director of Admissions before leading its Middle School as its Division Head. Most recently, John was the Head of Dutchess Day School, a small, rural Prek through 8th Grade school in Millbrook, NY. John loves all sports, biking, carpentry, reading and the St. Louis Cardinals.

John has three wonderful daughters: Ellie is a Second Grade teacher at the Mandell School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, Katherine is a Gallery Assistant at the Hirschl and Adler Gallery on Fifth Ave, and Margaret is working at the Island School (a Marine Biology School) on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas where she is teaching photography and working in the Development Office. 

A Message from the Head of School

Hello and welcome to Harbor Country Day School! The best place to introduce you to Harbor is with our mission statement:  “Harbor Country Day School cherishes childhood, cultivates wonder, and inspires confident learners and leaders.” I mention this first because all our decisions are based on this statement.

I believe that our website demonstrates the evidence of how we live this mission each day and I invite you to explore our website to learn more about how we do this. We have worked hard to capture the spirit and the life in our halls, classrooms, and fields through pictures and words. 

Certainly each school is unique in its culture and every school has its own qualities that set it apart from other schools. Not every school is right for every child but, perhaps, Harbor may be the place that is right for your son or daughter.

Central to all that we do at Harbor, are the close relations we establish between teachers and each child. This is where the magic begins. 

As we become familiar with how each child learns, and what each of them needs in order to be challenged, we are able to better educate the student as an individual.  Students are empowered to ask questions and become self-advocates as we strive to instill in each person the self-confidence and resourcefulness to become independent learners. Students are also encouraged, when necessary, to ask for help and work with others to find the answers to problems they may face.

We aspire to have our graduates leave us better equipped with the intrinsic resources, skills and attitudes to solve any challenge that may come their way. Whether solving it on their own or with others, qualities such as resilience, self-advocacy, empathy, and determination will support them in their school careers and in reaching their life’s goals. 

Within and beyond the classroom, how we treat each other, understand and celebrate the differences between us, and learn how to work with others are central parts to a Harbor education as well. I refer to it as character development. This is just as important and goes hand in hand with the education of the whole child. 

The education of children is about the social, emotional, intellectual, and physical development of each student and we strive to work with each child and their parents to fulfill the potential of each child in each of these ways. 

Feel free to reach out for additional information or with any questions you may have.  I look forward to meeting you and having a few moments to help you with this important decision. I believe that education of children at this age sets the course and habits of the mind that are critical in creating lifelong learners poised for a fulfilling and productive life.

Best wishes,
John Cissel