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Peace, Consideration, and Reconciliation

December 23, 2014

During Christmas week, the spirit of St. Andrew’s celebrates the peace, serenity, and promise of the season. Even in days that provide precious little sunshine and daylight, we focus on hope, renewal, and the power of gentle innocence and love directed to a world beset and besmeared by violence, division, mistrust, and hatred.

St. Andrew’s grieves for the loss of 132 children, 10 staff members, and 2 soldiers killed by Taliban militants at the Army Public School and Degree College in Pakistan.

We mourn and condemn the killings of policemen Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos shot in their patrol car Saturday in Brooklyn.

In his beautiful Christmas poem, “The Gift,” William Carlos Williams describes the power, the innocence, the miracle of new life: the very sight of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus brings wise men to their knees, and “the very devils” in Williams’ words, “by their flight gave praise.” This season, Williams suggests, creates a sacred time. Read more…

A Different Kind of All-School Assessment

October 17, 2014

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Assessments are an important part of any educational institution and it’s no different at St. Andrew’s. The always inventive and creative faculty often go about it in different ways, but students are constantly called upon to show what they know in papers, presentations, and projects.

The beauty of a boarding school is that showing what you know also extends into areas of kindness and selflessness. These assessments are often unexpected — life’s version of “pop quizzes” — so they are also incredible accurate. That’s why I’ve felt so good about St. Andrew’s since welcoming Sam Winslow ‘17 back to campus.

Sam suffered a brutal leg injury while defending his goal in a JV soccer game a few weeks ago. Three teenage boys running full-speed at a ball is the short version of the story. Nurses, trainers and coaches were on the scene immediately to stabilize him and direct the ambulance. An hour later he was at Christiana Hospital where Janice Nevin ‘77, P’13 was recently named CEO. His parents were on their way as was Headmaster Tad Roach. Sam had surgery that night. Read more…

Student-Led Solar

October 3, 2014

Last spring, Luke Baumann ’15, Caitlin Porrazzo ’15, Emma Porrazzo ’15, Yousaf Khan ’16, and Neel Puri ’16 presented the Board of Trustees with their case for building a solar array on campus. The 30-minute presentation was airtight; a perfect combination of passion and reasoning — “Wall Street worthy,” said one Trustee.

Underlining the impressiveness of these fearless and intelligent students was a sincere desire to make St. Andrew’s even better. They argued how bringing cleaner energy to campus would increase our commitment to sustainability, reduce our CO2 emissions by 39 metric tons annually, and save the School thousands of dollars in the years to come.

When asked why they decided to embark on the ambitious project, Luke’s answer was simple: “My mom always told me to leave a place better than I found it.” This afternoon, their dream of making St. Andrew’s a better place moved one large step closer to reality with the public launch of the St. Andrew’s Solar Initiative.

The students have already raised nearly $120,000 to date, but need an additional $30,000 to fully fund the project. “To meet this goal,” said Luke at today’s launch, “we’re going to need everyone to pitch in.”

I pitched in to this historic initiative about an hour ago and I hope you will join me.

Accessing Accountability

September 26, 2014


I was sitting in Tad Roach’s office this week when Jo Graves came in to report that a few little boys on the Front Lawn had just broken a light above a door into Founders Hall. Two of the boys were my 5- and soon-to-be 7-year old sons whom I had foolishly trusted to occupy themselves in a less destructive way.

Jo quickly led us to the crime scene where I found my older son standing there looking embarrassed, but mainly fearful of the consequences sure to follow. Within all my immediate fury blossomed pride. He knew he made a mistake and was ready to suffer the consequences. It’s incredible how the tenor of a situation can change so dramatically when people hold themselves immediately accountable. Read more…

Merry-Go-Round the Classrooms

September 26, 2014

On Thursday, Peter McLean, Gretchen Hurtt and I visited three classes after lunch, spending a little over ten minutes in each class.  We went to Bowman Dickson’s PreCal math class, Sara O’Connor’s Advanced Biology class, and Giselle Furlonge’s Latin 2 class.

We found these quick visits extremely beneficial and illuminating, for varying reasons than visiting an entire class.
Observing three classes quickly let us see how three different teachers actually taught with similar methods and approaches.  Each brought tremendous energy and enthusiasm; each listened intently to what their students said; each was excited and curious about the topics and work.  They prodded and encouraged, and had clearly crafted a clear approach to what they were doing, because they used time efficiently and purposefully. Read more…

Student Self-Assessment

September 21, 2014


I visited Avi Gold’s Dance 1 class last week, and was struck how often he asked his students to reflect about what they had just done – “How was that? Where was it difficult? What did you notice about that step, that movement? What did you see in the mirror as you put those moves together?”

As a faculty, we are constantly asking our students to reflect on the athletic field, in advisee conversations, in oral exhibitions; but I was struck how often right in the middle of class Avi let his students reflect and self-assess. I’m trying to ask students to reflect about my questions, their experience with a question or assignment, right as these are happening, rather than waiting for course evaluations or the end of a unit.

Are there challenges here to asking students to self-assess more? Has anyone discovered something unusual through such verbal self-assessments?

The Joy in the Struggle

September 19, 2014


It is perhaps a universal truth that there is no growth without struggle, which is why all is not lost after a heartbreaking 1-0 loss or why I felt uneasy at halftime of the boys JV soccer game today. We were up 3-0 on our way to a 6-0 win and the only perceivable struggle in front of us was our ability to stay composed in the face of an increasingly chippy, talkative, and frustrated opponent. (I’m proud to say we did.)

As a teenager I gleefully affixed a Ben & Jerry’s bumper sticker on my old truck that read, “If it’s not fun, why do it?” My dad shot me a look when he saw it that was part anger and part wonder at how he could have steered me so wrong. His years as a father of four had correctly informed him that in fact many things in life are not fun. Indeed our struggles can be the fuel for a more fulfilling life. Read more…

The Original Member of the Hawaiian Shirt Club

September 12, 2014


I didn’t know Rob Jordan ’86, but the more I read about him the more certain I am that I would have sought him out at a Reunion had he not died in the North Tower of the World Trade Center 13 years ago. The many tributes to Rob since then reveal the kind of guy who looks impressive within the four corners of a resume, but all the more exceptional in person.

The 6-foot, 4-inch workhorse captained the Orange Coast College crew team before transferring to Cal-Berkeley at the beginning of his junior year. He rowed heavyweight for the Bears, majored in English and met his future wife, Elizabeth. Ten years later he had worked his way up to become a limited partner at Cantor Fitzgerald in New York.

I haven’t been able to find a picture of Rob where he’s not smiling, and the stories a few of his classmates shared yesterday place him within a long line of kindhearted and fun-loving Saints who breathed so much life into our hallowed halls. Read more…

Why We Gather Rocks

September 5, 2014


Susan Kemer sent out a note a few weeks ago asking for help removing rocks from the organic garden she so beautifully maintains. In her note, she described how the soil in her mother’s native Serbia was dark and rich and free of rocks thanks to the effort of generations of farmers. “We can do this as a gift, and as a symbol of hope in the future of the School garden,” she wrote. “It has become my dream to see the soil here look that good.”

So I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to pick up rocks — to have generations of people labor for a future benefit they most likely will not reap. The halls of this place have been filled with such people. I went back tonight and watched Bill Amos’s Chapel talk at June’s Reunion. Mr. Amos is a rock gatherer of the first order and he shared the story of three St. Andreans who spent their lives picking up more than their fair share. For me, it was a good reminder to give thanks to the 2,000 or so of you who came before my time (what I’d give to meet Bill Cameron and have him edit this essay!) and a good reminder to make sure I’m doing my part. Read more…

Leading By Example

September 3, 2014


Elizabeth Green’s “Building a Better Teacher” argues that modeling can be extremely beneficial for student learning (p. 267 -268). When we show students what we want – exemplary papers, labs, projects, videos of exhibitions, intentional teaching of discussion and practices of rigorous, collaborative learning. The more we can demonstrate and model the excellence we seek, the clearer our expectations will be, as will the steps to that level of thinking.

During our recent fall athletic camps, I witnessed two examples of such modeling. At the end of their first volleyball practice on Wednesday afternoon, Gretchen Hagenbuch had her girls running a series of drills. When she asked them to practice a dive, some of the newer girls weren’t exactly sure what to do. So Gretchen dove across the court, bracing her fall with one arm, thrusting her other out for dig at the imaginary ball. She did it again, and then one more time, to make sure they girls understood. Then she did it with them to give them a final visual model to imitate. Read more…