“Don’t You Just Feel a Little Bit Taller?”

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As I made my rounds on the first day of school, I overheard a 6th grade girl make a comment to two of her classmates upon returning to the hallway outside her old 5th grade room: “Don’t you just feel a little bit taller?” The comment made me realize the reason why I had a huge smile on my face that first day of school as I checked out students and teachers in all three divisions.

This 6th grade girl was, in fact, a little bit taller and her comment was actually reflective of a young person who is quite self-aware. She was probably a bit different in other ways as well – such is the pattern of growing and maturing, such is the matter of moving from grade to grade in a good school.

The 9th graders had a similar experience as they navigated their first day in the Upper School. This group, many of whom I saw every day in action a year ago when they were 8th graders, seemed not only to be taller, but were standing a little bit straighter, walking more purposefully and were a bit more engaged in the manner they communicated – there was a new maturity and greater sense of belonging.

Finally, figuratively, being a little bit taller describes our seniors, the class or 2015. On the first day of school, I observed them, as a group, in a class meeting getting information about the day, the week and the year. Expectations were clarified, and questions asked and answered. Through the course of the meeting a reality set in – this was it, senior year, a year they had been waiting for — a year where they are in charge, they will set the tone, they will lead the way. It was clear to me there is no question they are ready, no question they will step up.

As I took a step back and processed things, I got the very clear sense the 6th graders were ready for Middle School, the 9th graders more than ready for Upper School and the seniors right where they need to be (and where we want them to be) as seniors.

What made me so confident of this readiness? They are all a “little bit taller.”

North Shore Country Day is a private, college-prep school for high school, middle school and elementary school students in Winnetka, IL, a suburb of Chicago.

Great Teachers

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This week has been a full one with numerous meetings – large groups and small – classroom preparations, planning dialogues and schedule fine-tuning. In addition, we are privileged to host, Pat Bassett, the former President of NAIS (National Association of Independent Schools) to meet with faculty, staff and Board of Trustees to engage us in being all that we can be as a school.

I have known Pat for over 25 years and have had the privilege of hearing him speak on numerous occasions and reading his many articles. There is no one who understands independent schools and education more, no one who is more current on educational change, opportunities, challenges and best practices. Pat, a dynamic speaker, started as a classroom teacher, dorm master and coach; he was Head of School at two different schools; led ISACS (Independent Schools of the Central States) and served as President of NAIS from 2001 to 2013.

Each time I have heard him speak or read one of his articles, I learn something and curiously, I also feel challenged and inspired to do my job just a little bit better.

I distinctly remember attending a session with Pat in my first year as Head of School. Pat began his remarks affirming that which I thought that I knew – the challenges facing independent schools and the unique challenge that comes from a Headship. Just when I thought I had a handle on things, he shifted gears, asked a number of probing questions and then brilliantly challenged me, and others, to think more deeply, examine a wider range of options and aspire to a higher level of teaching and learning for our students.

I can’t think of a better way to start the year than to have Pat Bassett here. In many ways, his presence was a “twofer.” He provided faculty, staff and trustees with a wealth of relevant information, and just as importantly is a model of a great teacher.

North Shore Country Day is a private, college-prep school for high school, middle school and elementary school students in Winnetka, IL, a suburb of Chicago.

The College List

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Many judge a school based on the list of colleges its graduating seniors will attend. North Shore’s annual list is typically impressive, both in terms of the quality and competitiveness, and the range of colleges and universities represented. We are quick to point out however, that looking at the strength of our college list is only a very small part of the story.

Our College Counseling team focuses on our students – who they are and their individual stories. Our counselors, Kristen Kaczynski and Lizzy Giffen, are experts in their field. They know colleges, understand the application process, advocate of behalf of our students and thoughtfully counsel students and parents. First and foremost, they are teachers. And as teachers they focus on student growth and student outcomes.

Kristen and Lizzy work with our students so that students learn to articulate their individual stories. One might argue, that at 17 years old, how does one know their story? It is clearly still in process of being written. Our counselors are wonderfully adept at helping students look inward, question and examine, and take and retake inventory. Our students, thanks to the confidence, trust and connection they have with our counselors, learn to dig in, invest and work through the various questions that are presented. They learn to weigh options, consider schools that were not on their radar, work methodically and with maturity.

I’m convinced that our students’ stories are more complete, have more texture and are more compelling because of their years in our Upper School and the very real impact of their College Counseling journey.

Over the years, students, parents and alumni have defined the strength of North Shore’s college counselors to be:

  1. They know our students. They know their strengths, interests, personalities, families and really know each and every one as a student and as a person.
  2. They know colleges. They know more than just the size, departments of strength and location, they know the personality of the school, the profile of students who attend and the admissions offices.
  3. They guide students and parents through the process. They listen to the desires and dreams of both, and delicately navigate the application process, all the while advocating on behalf of the students’ best interests.
  4. They prepare students with tools and resources. They have compiled a handbook for North Shore students and parents. They take a group of juniors on a weeklong, spring break Bus O’ Fun trip to expose students to a range of colleges. They hold a College Boot Camp for rising seniors in early June inviting college admissions officers to give students and parents an insider’s view of the application process. And they invite some 150 colleges admissions representatives to campus each fall to meet with interested students.
  5. They are accessible. There is no denying that the college-application process is complicated, challenging and stressful. Students know that they can confide in Kristen and Lizzy with questions, worries, strategies and even tears. But in the end, students also share their excitement of getting into college.       Some even return a year or two or three later to share their accomplishments in college and just to stay connected.

With all that said, we are quite proud of the class of 2014 – who they are as people, how positioned they are to contribute and confident that their journeys will be meaningful. We also think that the colleges they will be attending are very lucky indeed to have them.

For the complete 2014 College Matriculation List, click HERE. 

North Shore Country Day is a private, college-prep school for high school, middle school and elementary school students in Winnetka, IL, a suburb of Chicago.

 

School’s Not Over Yet!

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Last week, we had an opportunity to see teaching and learning happening at North Shore from an outsider’s perspective. A cameraman was on campus filming students and teachers on a “typical day.” His purpose was to record the School in action for our website. Our hope was he would see teaching and learning happening — that there would be visible evidence of problem solving, critical thinking and high levels of involvement and engagement. We didn’t set up the day any differently than any school day in early May. We wanted him to see the real us. The day went very well with the biggest surprise being the day didn’t feel like early May — he didn’t get the sense that there were only four weeks left of school. Throughout all divisions, students were fully immersed in learning – individuals or classes coasting to the finish were not to be found.

In the Lower School, 1st graders were in awe, asking questions and making observations of the progress ants had made in creating tunnels in their new home — an ant farm made by Science Department Head and Lower School Science Teacher Annie Collins’ husband. After studying the ants’ movement and environment, they recorded their findings by drawing the ant tunnels in their lab journals.

In Middle School, the 8th graders were concluding their study of genetics by working in small groups to extract DNA from strawberries. (Who knew that strawberries had DNA?) Following instructions from Science Teacher Lee Block, the students mashed the strawberries, mixed them with common household products like dish soap, salt and rubbing alcohol, strained the mixture and pulled long, thick fibers of DNA out of the test tube — clearly visible to the human eye.

In Upper School, Biology 10 and 15 students were constructing a phylogenetic tree of life based on pictures they took at the Field Museum. On a recent field trip students were asked to take pictures of things that intrigued them and, when combined with their classmates’ photos, created a visual representation of the history of life on Earth. First, the students classified the organisms into Kingdoms and thought about the similarities and differences between the Kingdoms. Next, they designed the layout of their phylogenetic tree, accurately portraying the relationships between species, and predicting what environmental pressures could have caused change over time. Finally, they were challenged to dispel some of the misconceptions of evolution by using a model/representation of data. All this took place not in their Science Center classroom, but in the very public Upper School “V” for all to see.

At the end of the day, the videographer commented it had been a lucky day to catch these three classes, and others, in real and very meaningful learning scenarios. Our response was that he had, in fact, seen a typical day in the life of North Shore. Great kids – curious and able – steered by talented, dynamic teachers “doing school” the way it is done at North Shore.

The video that is being created will be shared on our website in the fall.

North Shore Country Day is a private, college-prep school for high school, middle school and elementary school students in Winnetka, IL, a suburb of Chicago..

“Mr. Doar…”

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Walking next to me in the corridor that leads from the Lower School to the Conant Science Center one day last week was a second grade student who looked up at me and said, “Mr. Doar, Mrs. Whalley will be back on April 28th and once she is back you and I will have a meeting because I am going to be the Lower School Head-for-the-Day.  I can’t do it now because I need Mrs. Whalley.  I think we’ll have fun.”

I was aware that at the recent Benefit Board Party and Auction in April, the traditional “Lower School Head-for-the-Day” had been auctioned off.  But I wasn’t aware who was going to be the lucky recipient.

Clearly, this second grader knew.  He not only knew that a special day was in store, but more importantly, he seemed to know himself.   His sense of confidence, his sense of self and his overall awareness really struck me.

In many respects, it made my day, not because I am looking forward to replacing Mrs. Whalley for a day, but because it reminded me of the great kids we have enrolled at North Shore – whether they are in the Lower, Middle or Upper School – kids who bring their own identity, sense of self and positive engagement.

North Shore Country Day is a private, college-prep school for high school, middle school and elementary school students in Winnetka, IL, a suburb of Chicago.

We All Should Be Proud

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Last week, we had three events that showcased our new Auditorium and Arts Center spaces. On April 8, we hosted a presentation by Alice Waters (chef, cookbook author and founder of the Edible Schoolyard) as part of our 2014 Franke Family Fund Program focus on food.  The event was open to the public and was the first time our newly renovated Auditorium welcomed people beyond our School community.  The space couldn’t help but impress visually and technically.

The following day, our 2014 Harold Hines Visiting Fellow Marjorie Agosin (poet and social activist) presented to our Middle and Upper Schools in the Auditorium.  Her life story and her passion served as an inspiration for us all.

Finally, “The Purple Wave” party and auction was held last Saturday night sponsored by the Benefit Board. The primary purpose of the event this year was to come together — parents, faculty, staff, and alumni — to celebrate the completed renovation of our Arts Center and Auditorium.  It delivered on all counts and celebrate we did. (It was almost difficult to remember that we were at North Shore because of the space, the decorations, the lighting.)  The staging of the party in the Arts Center transformed the space and allowed the party to flow from one room to the next and spill out onto the patio.  Many parents commented on the functionality of the space — transitioning from a classroom to a special event.

These three events highlight the thought, planning and creative design that went into transforming these two iconic buildings.  In addition to what is visible, there is more that is unseen.  We organized studios and classrooms by discipline making them adjacent to each other.  We integrated technology into each space.  We increased the amount of teaching-and-learning space for the arts by more than 5,000 square feet.  In addition, we have a new school gathering space that is over 4,000 square feet when glass walls are opened from adjacent studios on the ground floor.

All of us should be extremely proud of what has been accomplished.  Proud of our spaces but also proud knowing that our students — who they are and what they have the potential to become — and our faculty — committed, focused and energized — have spaces that will enable meaningful education.  People. Program. Place.  North Shore’s arts programs are essential to each student’s experience and we now have the spaces to enhance the program even more.

North Shore Country Day is a private, college-prep school for high school, middle school and elementary school students in Winnetka, IL, a suburb of Chicago.

We Need to See North Shore First

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Several months ago, I had a call from Paul Barton who is head of The Avery Coonley School in Downers Grove, IL.  He and some of his colleagues had visited North Shore a year ago to see our renovated Upper School and campus in anticipation of a renovation project at their school. Paul asked if I would be part of a panel discussion at a Community Forum they were organizing to discuss “Enhancing the Learning Environment of Excellence.”

I agreed under the pretense that I am not a design visionary, but have witnessed how changing the learning environment through a series of construction projects changes the educational experience for students and teachers.  For us, it began with the addition of the Conant Science Center and the modernization of our Lower and Middle Schools. Next was the massive transformation of our Upper School and most recently the renovation of our Auditorium and Arts Center.  In doing so, it is clear that we have come to embrace the philosophy of The Third Teacher that prescribes that beyond the importance of students, teachers and program, environment plays a critically important role in education.

The Avery Coonley Community Forum was held on March 22 with some 50 parents and alumni present.  It was a very well-organized and productive day. I contributed a small part by offering my perspective while showing before-and-after images and impressions.

In some manner, I find it amazing that North Shore Country Day School is now seen as a model of how educational spaces can be transformed to better suit teaching and learning. It is clear we have become known as the independent school in the Chicago area that approached major renovation projects in thoughtful, collaborative and creative ways to transform learning spaces that enhance the curriculum and educational experience.  At an Independent Schools of the Central States meeting in late January, the Head of School at St. Paul Academy in St. Paul, MN (where I am a proud alum) said they have exciting plans for renovation projects, but won’t be doing anything until “they see North Shore first.” Word of our new classrooms and collaborative spaces has spread nationally and even internationally — we continue to welcome teachers, administrators and board members from other schools who come and tour our spaces.

Interestingly, as impressed as these visitors are by our renovated spaces, it is what is being done within our spaces that they find most intriguing — students meaningfully engaged, teachers accessible and connected, and an energy that is positive, upbeat and focused.

North Shore Country Day is a private, college-prep school for high school, middle school and elementary school students in Winnetka, IL, a suburb of Chicago.