Learning to Let Learning Happen


A distinct part of North Shore Country Day School’s method and culture encourages communication and dialogue between parents and teachers and students. Our Founding Headmaster Perry Dunlap Smith promoted this communication and partnership. He often used the image of a triangle, with the three points representing students, parents and teachers, as a metaphor to explain how best to support student growth and development.

I have always found the triangle image helpful. I believe, in some ways, the triangle may be more useful today than ever before.

What is important to understand is that for the triangle to be strong and maintain its shape, all three points must be stable and secure. In addition, each point must be distinct from the other two. For schools to function best, students need to be allowed to be students, teachers need to be teachers and parents need to be parents. If the roles are confused or interchanged, things get complicated and problems occur.

In today’s age of instant communication, hands-on parenting, constant score-keeping and even “helicopter parenting,” I worry students are not allowed to own their agenda, and operate with the autonomy and independence necessary for meaningful learning.

Students clearly do best when teachers and parents play an active role in their lives and their development. However, when the adults in a student’s life are too involved, when they circumvent a student’s opportunity to problem-solve, overcome struggles or even enjoy success without great fanfare, we rob them of critical learning opportunities, rob them of the space and time to be themselves.

From my years of experience as both a parent and an educator, I’ve always found the best outcomes result when we keep that in perspective and let learning happen. The triangle works if we give it a chance.

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. 

Homecoming and Coming Home

Homecoming Week at North Shore has become a highlight for many throughout the School community. Raider spirit is high; the campus basked in purple and white, and our students and parents energized and enthusiastic to cheer on our teams. A sense of belonging and pride seem to carry the weeklong festivities.

In addition to our current students, parents, faculty and staff, we welcome back to campus alumni, parents of alumni and former faculty/staff. They, as a group, recapture their Raider Spirit, and find themselves, again, enthralled by what is North Shore.

This past weekend, we greeted 15 reunion classes ranging from the Class of ’39 to the Class of ’09. While at times sobering to greet a returning student who you remember as a young high school student and be introduced to their spouse (am I that old?), it is always a treat to reconnect. As I think back to the week and weekend, I have a wide range of memories but two stand out.

First, the awareness that: “Time marches on; people do evolve and grow; life is for living – not being stagnant or stuck in the past.” I had countless conversations that reinforced people and places don’t stay the same. Change occurs, challenges are met and while people’s character and values may not change, their life circumstances do. As a school, we clearly need to continue to develop in our students a sense of optimism, resilience and curiosity.

Second, our alumni’s North Shore experiences remain a critical part of their lives. Countless comments were made about how meaningful the education was — from the personal connections to the growth that the North Shore experience provided, all are valued. Seemingly, the further away from North Shore our graduates get, the more valued the experience becomes.

John Howard, Class of ’39 who has an undergrad degree from Princeton and a Ph.D. from Northwestern, looked me in the eye at Homecoming and said, out of all the educational experiences he has had North Shore has stayed with him the longest and served him the best. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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.

500 Words


Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 11.15.52 AM

In the last year or two, it has become my opinion that we adults at North Shore need to be more thoughtful in the way we interact, guide and support our children/students. Maybe it’s my age, but as I look at the world I see greater complexity and more moving parts than ever before. Wonderful families who are committed and invested in one another appear to be more multifaceted than in the past and our children’s lives more busy and fragmented.

In response to this shift, Tura Cottingham, our director of communications, Chris Boyle, our academic dean, and I talked about how we can best raise the level of discourse within the School community. How can we best educate one another about who we are as a school, who we want to be and why we do what we do?  From these discussions, the idea for a new series entitled “500 Words” surfaced.  Our thought is to tap North Shore faculty and others in the School community for their thoughtful input. They will examine and address those areas important to understanding students, and articulate what distinguishes North Shore Country Day.

For our initial topic we thought of the word “community” — a word that is used often here, and we thought of Drea Gallaga, Upper School English teacher and Upper School service coordinator. We asked her to share her thoughts on the topic of community. We chose Drea, in part, triggered by her very thoughtful remarks last June as the Commencement Speaker and also because of her instinctive and broad engagement in our own community.

We hope you will enjoy the insights this new series offers, and gain a greater understanding of the strengths of North Shore, our need to be proactively thoughtful and our need to be truly in tune to our students’ experience.

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.

Remarkable and Inspiring

1409 Hadley - Michael Hingson_031

Last week on September 11, we were privileged to host Michael Hingson and his guide dog, Africa, on campus. Mr. Hingson was in Tower One of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  He and his guide dog at the time, Roselle, led a group of people down 78 flights of stairs to safety. Following the events of the tragic day, he has emerged as an inspirational speaker and author of two books.

While at North Shore, Mr. Hingson met with an Upper School biology class, the 5th grade and spoke at Morning Ex to our Middle and Upper School students. His message was one of courage, resilience, resourcefulness and hope. Interestingly, as much as we were captivated by this 9/11 story and its aftermath, it was Mr. Hingson’s story as a blind person that resonated even more. He challenged all of us to look beyond the stereotypes that impact those who are blind and/or have a disability, and presented numerous examples of the great disservice we do to ourselves and others when we mistakenly impose limitations or preconceived misconceptions. In addition, we heard stories of his life and all that he has accomplished. We learned that he, and others who are blind, have the same abilities for achievement and success that sighted people do, just through different means.

Through his presence, his message, his manner, his energy and his example, I, and others who heard him, will never look at 9/11 the same. The 9/11 event was real and horrific, but the human spirit moves on as exemplified by individuals like Michael Hingson.

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.

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


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



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


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.