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.

Joseph and the Amazing Educational Experience

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The week of March 10 was a landmark in North Shore history. We celebrated the opening of our completely renovated Auditorium with the Upper School spring musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

I think Upper School Teacher and Musical Director Julia Macholl said it best in her Director’s Note in the musical program.  She spoke of having high hopes for a “Vegas quality” program to debut the new Auditorium, but because the space was finished only days before the opening, had to pare back expectations.  If what we experienced was, in fact, pared back, then we are in for a real treat going forward for what the audience saw was remarkable, if not spectacular.

Julia went on to write in her Director’s Note, “The cast and crew were all stars from the very beginning: coming to rehearsal fully memorized, practicing choreography during their free periods, finding open areas in the School to build set pieces and props. This is what theatre is all about. Building an ensemble. Supporting one another for the good of the production. We will continue on with creating historic productions to take place within the Auditorium’s walls, and hope that our imprints will be just as strong as those that have been left from the past.”

Our Athletic Director Patrick McHugh also offered insights in his March 15 blog post.  I encourage you to read it.  In suggesting that everyone should attend the performance, Patrick thoughtfully framed what the North Shore Arts experience is really all about, providing all of our students the opportunity of being involved, helping all of our students understand and experience what can be accomplished with commitment, hard work and a collective energy. The Musical is, he said, “…an opportunity for kids to see themselves differently. To transform themselves. To not be told that they live in a box, that they are a drama kid or a jock or a nerd. That they are unique and that they have talents they never thought they had. And one day, many years after they leave North Shore, that lesson will serve them well.”

I couldn’t agree more.  Measuring student growth based on tests scores, wins and losses, and awards is extremely narrow and only part of the picture.  Real growth, real accomplishments and real learning are better measured by factoring in the value of the process, the range of experiences and the journey.

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.

How to Get a Job at Google

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An op-ed by Thomas L. Friedman published in the New York Times on February 22 has been circulating through educational circles. In the article, “How to Get a Job at Google,” Friedman discusses the company and its criteria for hiring. Curiously, one main point is that Google challenges the value of applicants’ college transcripts and their GPAs.

While all of us who believe in the power of schools recoil at the suggestion that college course work and academic achievement is not a high priority, Google’s conventional thinking is a good wake-up for us all.

Friedman points out that Google focuses on applicants’ attributes involving “leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability, and loving to learn and re-learn.” His theory is that today’s need for innovation relies more and more on group endeavor and these five soft skills.

At North Shore, as we seek to make decisions to enhance our students’ experiences and provide the conditions to develop bright, accomplished, well-rounded individuals, we continue to reference our 2012-2016 Strategic Plan. Interestingly, I am confident Google would endorse our Plan, the energy on campus, and our teaching and learning dynamic that is both ambitious and responsive. We ask our students questions for which we don’t have answers. We challenge all – young and old – to think, debate and collaborate. And we offer a wide range of leadership opportunities while teaching students the important role of being a team player.

Interestingly, I received an email a week ago — A North Shore graduate (and a strong college graduate) has just been hired by Google.

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.

Dedication, Tenacity and Reliability

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You’ve probably heard me say a number of times that it takes a lot of people to support student learning — teachers, staff, parents, and students helping each other.

In the last two months, there has been another group of people who have been just as critical to making day-to-day learning happen.  Our snow-removal crew!  During this challenging winter, they have stepped up with remarkable dedication, tenacity and reliability.

I was here early last Saturday and was greeted by a group of seven men with shovels and smiles.  I was amazed; there was no sense of drudgery, no energy coming my way that made me feel guilty for not grabbing a shovel. I think we can all learn from their example.  There are times when a job needs to get done or a task completed no matter how inconvenient or challenging. Our snow-removal crew continues to do what it takes and all of us – teachers and learners – benefit.

On another note — I hope everyone enjoyed last weekend’s Super Bowl.  Clearly, Seahawks fans enjoyed the game more than Broncos fans.  An interesting fact is that both starting quarterbacks – Russell Wilson and Peyton Manning – are independent school graduates!

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.

Out-of-Office Reflection

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Last week, I was out of the office for several days traveling in Florida, meeting with North Shore alumni. Despite much warmer weather, some sun and a shift of my normal routine, I am happy to be back. While on my trip, I did find myself thinking about school and wondering what was going on. Curiously, from my occasional check-in, it became clear that I wasn’t missed at all. Clearly we have the right people in place.

Thanks to Director of Alumni Relations Nancy Whiteman’s thoughtful organization, it was a productive trip. There were three separate Alumni Events in different cities and venues. Central to all of the conversations with North Shore alumni and parents of alumni were good feelings about the School. While each person has his or her own story, consistent were memories of full involvement in each school day and week, and very meaningful relationships with fellow students and faculty. People were excited to hear a school update, and even more excited to reconnect and reminisce about their time at North Shore. All in all, a very good trip.

As we head into the next weeks of school, I’ve passed along these thoughts and experiences to our faculty so they know the meaningful impact that they make each day and each week. Not that it was necessary, but last week reinforced to me the importance of each individual person — faculty and staff — to the North Shore experience. In classes, in the hallways and corridors, in large group interactions or one-on-one conversations, messages are constantly being sent, and learning and growing happens continuously.

I am grateful to our faculty and staff for continuing to do what they do, and for being so mindful and engaged.

Happy January. Stay warm. February is right around the corner!

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.

When I was a boy…

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When I was a boy growing up in Minnesota, below zero simply meant one needed to dress warmly and inches of snow meant sledding and tobogganing after school.  Note that I said “after school” for there was never a thought of cancelling school.  After all, it was winter and we lived in a place where it got cold and it snowed.  It was actually an adventure to navigate snowy roads and icy covered sidewalks. One just bundled up and went about your daily life.

Times have changed. We’re (I’m) not in Minnesota anymore.  (In fact, many Minnesota schools were actually closed on Monday and Tuesday.)  As Head of School, determining whether there is a Snow Day or not is probably the responsibility I most dread. Yes, I know that calling a Snow Day makes North Shore students happy, but I believe that every school day is precious. My colleagues and I become frustrated when illness interrupts a student’s attendance in class, extracurricular activities, and connecting with peers and teachers.  We’re even more frustrated when family travel schedules pull children out of school.  And while we enjoy the bonus of an unexpected day off, we are frustrated when weather interferes with learning.

Clearly, safety must always be our most important concern.  Know that we try to make school-closing decisions in a timely manner.  We study the forecasts, determine what it will take to get the campus clean and ready for the daily routine and also look to our neighboring schools as barometers for school-closing guidelines.

I was in on Monday — a very sunny day — along with a couple of other colleagues and was convinced we would be back in school on Tuesday. But when I got home in the afternoon and checked the forecast and the school-closing list, I was wrong.

My hope is that the two days of extended winter break didn’t cause too much inconvenience and that they were enjoyed with families being together, a time for reading and relaxing, and even some sledding and tobogganing.

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.