School helm falls to Gray after Mazzola takes dive


Nathalio Gray stands on the library porch in fall 2021. Starting that year, he has the title of assistant head of school. (File: Natalie Wendt, Lena Sugrue)

By Cameron Aryanpour

Following Head of School Chris Mazzola’s knee replacement, Assistant Head of School Nathalio Gray has assumed the role of acting head of school.

After suffering a bad fall during an Outward Bound trip, Mazzola decided it was time to go through with a knee replacement on her right knee. 

“We’ve been planning for a long time, I knew I was going to have to get a knee replacement, but the Outward Bound trip was the last straw,” Mazzola said. 

Although planned with administration and other faculty members months in advance, Mazzola’s surgery and subsequent leave was announced to the greater Branson community Nov. 3, just a day before her planned surgery date.

“Nathalio and I had started talking about it for a couple of months. We had pretty good communication with the administration. We meet twice a week, so I would say the transition was pretty good,” she said.

Gray, named assistant head of school in 2021, has stepped in as acting head of school while Mazzola recuperates from her surgery.

“As assistant head of school, it is expected that in Chris’ absence, I would serve in her place,” Gray said. “So when she told me that she was going to be out for surgery, she said, ‘You will be the acting head while I’m away,’” he said.

Although the head of school is out, Jeff Symonds, director of studies, noted that Gray and Mazzola have quite similar leadership styles, which he attributes to the seamless transition of Gray stepping up as acting head of school.

“They’re both super enthusiastic, there’s a lot of good humor, a lot of good listening, they’re good framers too,” he said. “If the absence of one person makes you think, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ that’s probably a bad sign, but I simply don’t feel that way with Nathalio and Chris.”

Gisella Petrone, the senior dean, also viewed the notion of Gray and Mazzola’s great teamwork as owing to their similarities.

“Nathalio’s doing a fantastic job, just like Chris is,” she said. “Because they are so similar, I think they work very well together and are on the same page, which makes them a great pair.”

Although Gray was just named assistant head of school in 2021, he has had many positions of leadership at Branson throughout his 22 years. Some are still ongoing. These include head of admissions and community engagement, among others. Junior Dean Maura Vaughn noted the initiative Gray has taken since his outset at Branson.

“What’s amazing about Nathalio to me is that he has been in a leadership position on creating policy and a path forward almost since the beginning,” she said. “He has always been in that position where he has a vision of where and how we want to progress.”