Board of Trustees Announces Head of School’s Departure, Names Interim Head

On June 25, 2021, Sewickley Academy’s Board of Trustees announced that Head of School Kolia O’Connor would no longer serve the school, effective immediately. After careful consideration and discussion with Kolia, the Board of Trustees determined that a change in leadership was in the best interest of the school. The Board wished Kolia well as he begins this next chapter and thanked him for his leadership over the past 18 years.
The Board of Trustees also announced that effective June 25, Dr. Ashley (Brown '00) Birtwell would serve as the Interim Head of School. Dr. Birtwell attended Sewickley Academy from seventh through tenth grade and then graduated from Western Reserve Academy in Ohio in 2000. She attended Middlebury College, where she majored in economics and minored in mathematics. After graduation, Ashley pursued a Master of Science in Public Policy and Management from the Heinz School at Carnegie Mellon University and then finally earned a Ph.D. from MIT in organizational behavior. Over the years, Ashley has taught classes on power and negotiation, managerial psychology, and leadership at both undergraduate and graduate levels. She has a deep love of teaching and was consistently rated a top instructor at MIT Sloan School of Business. She was also honored to be a finalist for the MIT Goodwin Teaching Medal, a university-wide teaching award. Her scholarly research has focused on negotiations and group dynamics. 
Ashley was born and raised in the Pittsburgh area and recently moved to Sewickley from San Francisco in 2018 with her husband Ryan and their two young children – Sam (4) and Catherine (1). She has served on Sewickley Academy’s Board of Trustees for the last two years. She is also a member of the Board of Directors at the Laughlin Children’s Center. 
“Ashley’s passion for Sewickley Academy was formed long ago as a student. She understands the needs of our community, and she is uniquely positioned to serve as Interim Head of School at this critical time,” Chair of the Board of Trustees Kate (Poppenberg ’82) Pigman and Vice-Chair Brad Busatto ’88 said in a joint statement to the community.

“I am humbled, honored, and excited to begin my tenure as the Interim Head of School for our beloved Sewickley Academy,” Dr. Birtwell said. “While much has changed since my time here as a student in the 1990s, it remains such a special and unique community, and we are all fortunate to be a part of it.”

Sewickley Academy intends to initiate a national search for its new permanent Head of School. The search will be undertaken with an overarching goal of selecting a candidate who shares Sewickley Academy’s community values, embraces its Mission, and can ultimately resolve the challenges the school now faces. 

“While we appreciate that uncertainty and anxiety accompany times of change, we firmly believe that this transition is in the best interest of our amazing students, our dedicated faculty and staff, and our SA community,” Mrs. Pigman and Mr. Busatto said. “Our future remains bright, and we must not lose sight of that. We remain deeply grateful for your continued patience, trust, and confidence.”

If you’d like to speak to a representative from the Board of Trustees, please feel free to contact them at