Northfield building named after Jan Borja

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Superintendant Paul Sally dedicates Jan Borja building

Superintendant Paul Sally dedicates Jan Borja building

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Superintendant Paul Sally dedicates Jan Borja building

Claudia Levens

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Wednesday Sept. 6, the Northfield campus’s B building was officially renamed in honor of New Trier’s former principal Jan Borja. The ‘Borja Building’ name unveiling took place outside the entrance of the B building around 4 pm. and was followed by a ceremony in the student commons inside.

“This is something we’ve been ready to do for a while,” said Northfield Principal Dr. Waechtler. New Trier’s policy is that a building can only be named after any faculty or staff member associated with the school 5 years after they’ve retired or left, so as soon as those five years had come to a close Waechtler and others who’d worked closely with her gathered support and submitted a proposal to the New Trier naming committee.

By May of this year, the School Board unanimously voted to rename the building in honor of Borja- notably, the first one at New Trier to be named after a woman.

Superintendent Paul Sally began the event by giving introductory remarks, and then Borja’s daughter, son, and husband revealed the sign that would be placed above the building. In the commons, current Northfield principal Paul Waechtler, assistant principal Gail Gamrath, and Borja’s daughter all gave speeches. New Trier student Sarah Shapiro sang to close the ceremony in honor of how much Borja loved student musical performances.

The B building contains many of the things that Borja loved and influenced throughout her time at New Trier. It houses the principal’s office, the advisor chair’s offices, and the Northfield building’s language department- all positions Borja held during her time at New Trier. She also worked to create a daycare center at New Trier which is in the B building as well.

Initially hired as the German and Spanish teacher in 1970, she eventually transitioned to freshman and sophomore advisor chair, then to department chair of the modern and classical languages department, and finally to the principal of the Northfield Campus- the first one since the campus’s reopening. Borja retired after 40 years at New Trier in 2011. In 2012 she passed away after battling cancer.

In addition to spearheading to the reopening of the Northfield Campus in 2001, Borja is also credited with integrating social emotional growth, anti bullying, and service learning programs into the Northfield campus’s curriculum- including Names Day.

Borja is known not just for her numerous accomplishments at New Trier, but also for having a positive impact on the environment through her relationship-based leadership. “In working with faculty and staff, relationships were paramount to her,” said Waechtler in regards to just one of her mantras, ‘it’s all about relationships.’ This involved getting to know and understand the people she worked with in order to help them and herself grow.

Another phrase she often used in regards to students was the idea of “the whole child,” which required thinking about what students need in order to be successful- intellectually, socially, emotionally. While teaching and learning were important to her, Borja also saw value in acknowledging how schools could really enrich students in multiple aspects of their lives. In fact, she’s known for her famous hug lines where she would hug people as they would enter a meeting.

As the Northfield campus enters its 17th year since reopening, it’s especially interesting to think of how New Trier has changed since its reopening. But also how the school has extended upon her ideas, carried on the traditions she started, and in this way, is very much the same.

As pretty much everything does here at New Trier, it all boils back down to the moto plastered everywhere- on backs of t-shirts, at the tops of banners, etc: “to commit minds to inquiry, hearts to compassion, and lives to the service of humanity.” A phrase she exemplified in every aspect of her leadership.

“It’s nice to think” said Waechtler “that her grandkids, who live in the area, will eventually go to New Trier and see her honored here on the building.”

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