Head's Reflection Archives
Welcome to the 2020-21 academic year. Convocation is, typically, a time for us to gather physically as an entire School community and mark the beginning of an academic year. On this occasion, we welcome new members of our community, celebrate faculty milestones, and present student character prizes. A responsibility I treasure on this occasion is to offer some observations to help set the tone for the year.
As Margaret Wheatley once observed,
"It is possible to prepare for the future without knowing what it will be.
The primary way to prepare for the unknowable is to attend to the quality of our relationships, to how well we know and trust one another."
Here, blessedly, is where Episcopal schools are at their best—in knowing and trusting one another, in adhering to a clear purpose, our very reason for being.
-Dan Heischman, Director of the National Association of Episcopal School
In my experience, the best educators are the ones who constantly seek ways to continue their own learning, thereby modeling a habit of mind that we want for our students. Those educators, lifelong learners, are also able to convey a passion for learning for a particular subject that is infectious for students and colleagues alike. I am proud of the desire for continued growth that I see among my St. Mark's colleagues, and I am proud of the love they convey for their work, both inside and outside the classroom. These educators do so much to make St. Mark's an intellectually vibrant school, energizing for adults and students alike.
Every day every one of us walks the hallways of the Main Building, and at least twice a week we spend time in this space, Belmont Chapel. If you are anything like me, you have at least a passing familiarity with what is displayed on the walls of these spaces, however you do not engage regularly in a close study of what you see there. The walls really do tell a story, a story about St. Mark's and a story about leadership and service.
Inside the front entrance of Belmont Chapel, one can find a recently added holder for pew cards. These cards identify values we hold dear at St. Mark's that we trace directly to our identity as an Episcopal school:
- We value time for spiritual reflection and the intentional teaching of wisdom, compassion, and humility
- We value human reason used critically in the pursuit of knowledge
- We value life in common, believing it is strengthened by honest and respectful dialogue across lines of disagreement and difference.
I am deeply concerned about the dangers that drug and alcohol use pose for St. Mark's students. Any report of a drug, or alcohol-related adolescent tragedy, especially involving someone known to a member of the St. Mark's community, chills me to the bone. I am also keenly aware that the possibility of a drug or alcohol related tragedy in our school community is very real, as are short or long-term negative health consequences resulting from use.
I imagine everyone here tonight has decorated a space—a bedroom, a dorm room, an office—so that it reflects you. Those of you boarders moving into rooms in your houses here are going through that exercise now. Those of us who have offices and classrooms here at School go through that exercise often annually, continuing to add or subtract to what we and others will see. The choices we make about what to display are highly personal, and if the space we are decorating is frequently visited—like an office or a dorm room—the choices we make are often also influenced by messages we want to send to others about what is important to us—the parts of our identity, our passions, and our loves that we want others to see.
Our 2011 Strategic Plan, St. Mark's School: 2020, envisioned a Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning that would bring ever greater intellectual vibrancy to our School by inspiring professional growth in our faculty and by engaging St. Mark's in the broader educational dialogue about teaching and learning. I am pleased to report that Center Director Colleen Worrell, currently completing her third year in the role, has undertaken a number of initiatives to make that vision a reality.
John C. Warren, '74
Laura P. Appell-Warren
His Majesty King Sobhuza II (1967)
Your ordinary acts of love and hope point to the extraordinary promise that every human life is of inestimable value.
As long as poverty, injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.
The safety of our students is my most important priority; nothing matters more to me. I am keenly aware of the trust parents place in the School to provide an environment that is safe, supportive and respectful. As consumers of media, we are all aware of boundary crossings in the workplace and of predatory behavior toward students at schools and colleges. Not surprisingly, I am frequently asked how we atSt. Mark's protect our students from abusive and unsafe situations. I am pleased to be able to answer these questions by describing an extensive and sophisticated array of policies and practices. At the same time, I know that we cannot be complacent about the topic, so we are constantly on the lookout for ways we can make our approach even better.
We have all seen the portrait of our School's founder, Joseph Burnett, on the far wall of the Dining Room, and I trust you have also noticed the relief sculpture on the wall just outside the entrance to Belmont Chapel. As with so much that becomes familiar, we can pass by these objects without giving them much thought. I hope that by telling you a bit about Joseph Burnett today you will develop the same respect and admiration I have gained for him. As I will explain, Joseph Burnett subscribed to certain admirable values that are familiar to all of us as St. Markers. Most importantly, though, he walked the talk: he acted in accordance with these values, leading a life of consequence and leaving a positive legacy that continues today.
Innovation is one of the most commonly used words in today's education literature. St. Mark's publications are no exception to that trend. Indeed, we are very proud of The Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning, a major initiative of our Strategic Plan, and often write about its innovative work.
I am very proud of our Global Citizenship Program because of the way it benefits each one of our 360 students and because of the way it benefits our School as a whole. Our students gain knowledge and insight about themselves and the world from courses, from spending time with students visiting St. Mark's from our partner schools, and from participating in exchange or travel opportunities. The climate of our School is enriched by the periodic presence of students from our partner schools in Australia, Korea, Germany, and Chile. Valuable conversations result in the Dining Hall, in classes, in the Houses, and elsewhere around campus that enlarge our students' perspective. The climate is also enriched by what our students bring back from their travel. Our students who return from places like Haiti and the Dominican Republic and Cuba share their stories both informally and in formal settings like Chapel and School Meeting enlarging the perspective of their peers.
One winter evening in 1966, walking down a hallway at New York's LaGuardia airport, after returning with my family from a visit to my grandparents in Cambridge, I was excited to see TV cameras, and spotlights aiming toward someone in the middle of a small crowd. As I got closer I recognized the subject of the attention as Robert Kennedy, who everyone called Bobby at that time, then a United States Senator from New York. I suspect Kennedy had been on our flight. An avid follower of the news, even at age 9, I was very excited. I quickly pulled my ballpoint pen out of my jacket pocket and asked my parents for a piece of paper so I could get the Senator's autograph.