Gathering of the Greats

For many years, the Gathering of the Greats has been an important spring event for our 2nd graders. It represents the culmination of their biography unit, a unit that requires each student to identify a famous person, read books about him or her, research his or her life and then write a report about their famous person. It all leads up to the moment when a parent or adult friend comes to school dressed as that person to be interviewed by their 2nd grader in front of their peers and other parents. Critical to the interview is the 2nd grader working with and teaching their parents about their famous person, so that the information shared in the interview is both accurate and informative.




It should be no surprise that parents throw themselves into their roles with great enthusiasm, often looking more like the famous person than the actual famous person does. The students’ sense of pride to be the experts, combined with having their parents or close friends in the spotlight with them is very real. As I walked away from the presentation this morning, it occurred to me that the Gathering of the Greats might instill excitement about seeing famous and accomplished people on North Shore’s campus, but it also speaks to the remarkable potential and inherent “greatness” that is a part of each and every one of our 2nd graders.


One of my motivations as a teacher, coach, advisor and administrator has always been recognizing that each of my students has the potential to do great things. Knowing students as well as we do at North Shore and seeing them in so many situations, this potential is often evident and consistently resonates. This morning was one of those times. It was clear that our 2nd graders have the potential to have an impact, to make a difference and, in fact, to become “Great.”


Good education is about positioning young children—and adolescents and teenagers—to reach their enormous potential and grow to be all they can be. How fortunate we are to be a part of the process through which their greatness can emerge.

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

A Visitor’s Perspective of NSCDS

“This is the school that every school should be. I know that it is unrealistic, but it is nice to know that it exists.”

tomsblogcommencementThe comment above was made by an applicant for an Upper School teaching position. He was here recently; taught a class, met students and teachers, and saw us “up close and personal.” Meeting with me was the final stop on his schedule. While one might be skeptical that someone interested in being hired was telling me what he thought I wanted to hear, I didn’t take it that way. He struck me as a very thoughtful and measured person—one who took great pride in being a teacher, a person very at home in schools.

Later, I thought about his comment and, while very pleased, found myself wondering a bit about what he really meant. The rest of the interview focused on who he was as an educator and a person—his experience, his strengths and weaknesses, how he might make his mark on North Shore. His answers were good ones; he listened, processed and then responded. But as I thought about his first comment, I second-guessed myself for not digging deeper. What was it that made us “the school that every school should be?”

I can’t help but speculate. Was he energized by our commitment to educating the whole child, and our commitment to the Arts? Perhaps he really liked our spaces, and the size and scale of our small classes. He mentioned being intrigued by our JK-to-12ness and our sense of community. As we all know, programmatically, we are an ambitious place; we have a lot to offer and a lot going on. My sense is that as the day progressed he got the sense of our “big program” and was impressed.

Again, I am speculating, but I would bet that it was our people who stood out—our students, faculty and parents he encountered who were the difference-makers. It’s not just who our people are—talented, curious, fun, smart, diverse and friendly—but how our people connect with one another. At the heart of any school are student-to-student, student-to-teacher and student-to-parent-to-teacher connections. But at North Shore, it’s the way they interact, the way they connect—their spirit, openness and energy—that characterizes us.

Prior to my becoming a Head of School, I worked in admissions and I was often asked by prospective parents what they should look for prior to my taking them on a tour. My reply was they shouldn’t focus on looking to see, but looking to “feel”—the feeling of a place is often most critical.

Our hiring process isn’t complete; we have other candidates for the position to interview and consider. Will we make an offer to this candidate? To be determined. But, I can assure you that the person we do hire will bring a commitment to making North Shore, “the school that every school should be,” even better.

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

“No Hill Too High for a Climber”

When I heard the phrase “No hill too high for a climber” three or four years ago, it resonated. Not that I am a mountain climber, but because I thought it was a very appropriate metaphor for the type of energy and attitude we seek to develop in our students. Yes, we want to develop lifelong learners, individuals with highly-developed academic skills—readers, writers, scientists, mathematicians and artists—but just as importantly, we want our students to be “doers,” to believe in themselves and demonstrate a determination and resilience that empowers them to make a difference—for themselves and others.


Moving forward, willingly taking on challenges, trying, trying and trying again, all describe those students, or people, we hope emerge from their North Shore experience. For we all know that determination, resilience and resourcefulness enable individuals to live fulfilling and meaningful lives.

I am a great believer in the power of modeling; the impact that role models—whether they be parents, teachers, coaches or older students—have in shaping the development of our students. Jim Lumberg, father of Hannah ’15 and Sarah ’17, husband of Traci and our current Board Chair, left town on March 26 to begin a two-month expedition to climb Mt. Everest. Jim is the latest in a number of outstanding Chairs I have been extremely fortunate to partner with—people who have taught me, challenged me, encouraged me to be my best and who led in ways that have contributed significantly to the School.

His trek is one more way he is making a difference for me and for North Shore. There couldn’t be a better example of “no hill too high for a climber.” Jim is leading by example by taking on the world’s highest peak—pushing himself to extremes both physically and emotionally. If we want to develop “climbers,” we need models like Jim to help us understand and believe in the importance of practicing physical and emotional challenges.

Thanks Jim, for inspiring all of us at North Shore, for being a role model, helping us develop “climbers” and developing an understanding that we need to believe in and push ourselves.

Follow Jim’s expedition to Mt. Everest on his blog at

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

Focus on the End of the Season

The winter athletic season has come to an end for Middle and Upper School girls’ and boys’ basketball and Upper School winter track. The teams were successful on a number of levels—our students grew physically and they developed an increased awareness both of themselves as individuals and their place as teammates.


In a conversation I had last week with Athletic Director and Track Coach Patrick McHugh, I heard him say, “So many of our teams played their best at the end of the season. Our coaches really do a great job of building to the end.” Patrick’s comments got me thinking about one of the overall goals of coaching, teaching and, even, parenting—children/students are at their best as individuals and as teammates at the end of a year, a season or even an era or milestone.

Too often, I think, we lose sight that growth and development is a process that can’t be abbreviated or cut short. Learning and development takes time. In this world of “hands-on” parenting, coaching and teaching, it’s easy to fall into the trap of measuring progress and development too narrowly; of “keeping score” or judging student growth based on games won, grades or test scores. While we clearly want what is best for our children every day and we want their growth to be sequential, steady and predictable, it really doesn’t work that way. Expecting it to work like that can undermine and send the wrong message to our children or our teams. My experience is we serve our children and students best if we keep score less and focus more on the process and getting them to be their best at the “end of the season.”

We need to teach, coach and encourage day after day and work to keep our children, teens and young adults aware of the big picture, the long-term. And we need to remember that doing so will help them play and/or be their best when it matters most.

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

It happens very quickly.

With the benefit of modern technology—FaceTime—my wife and I checked in on our two granddaughters last night. Georgia, two-and-a-half, and Stella, seven months. Things were quite busy. Georgia was in search of her two dolls, Amber and James, to show us (they were never found) and in response to my telling her that she was a “true sport,” wanted me to explain what a “true sport” meant. I tried with limited success. Stella was busy smiling and having dinner—rice cereal, sweet potatoes, carrots and mushed ham. (Some of the food actually got in her mouth.)

When we finished our call, I was struck by how much they are absorbing and growing every day—how quickly they are growing up.


This morning, I was in my office early and at about 7:15 said hello to a current junior girl and her parents. They were here to meet with Kristen Kaczynski and Lizzy Giffen, our College Counselors. I have known this girl and family for awhile. In fact, I remember meeting them at an Admissions Open House in the fall of 2008 prior to the year she enrolled at North Shore as a 5th grader in the fall of 2009. I have watched her, her siblings and her classmates grow and evolve over the years and have taken delight from a bit of a distance as she, like her classmates, has grown and contributed. While I know she is a junior and see her in action every day, the reality that she is ready for the college process caused me to pause.

Granddaughters growing so, so quickly and becoming who they are, and a junior girl growing so, so quickly on a similar but different track. The lesson? Enjoy the way, honor the process and take it all in. We all grow up far more quickly than we think.

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

It’s the People

Working in schools is (has been) a very satisfying career. There are a range of reasons that make it satisfying. The single biggest reason became clear to me when I attended an Alumni Event on Monday evening in New York City. That night, I had separate conversations with at least 10 different alums all of whom talked about their North Shore experience and referenced individual teachers and coaches who had made a difference in their lives. “Do you remember so-in-so? Where are they now? I think of him/her often. I’m still in touch with him/her”—were the phrases that I seemed to hear again and again.


Interestingly, there were four former teachers who were also in attendance. In my conversations with them they, too, talked about individuals who had made a difference in their lives—former students who they think of often, some of whom they remain in touch with today.

In my remarks to the group, I updated the alumni and former faculty on our Strategic Plan initiatives, changes on campus that have taken place in recent years, our excitement to welcome Tom Flemma as our new Head of School this summer and how we are beginning to prepare for our Centennial that will take place during the 2019/20 school year. Our guests were polite and interested, asked a few questions and, when I finished, they immediately went back to what is, was, and continues to be, really important to them—people.

My time in New York reminded me what I already know—it is the people in our lives that make a difference. How fortunate we are at North Shore to have such people in abundance, along with a culture that perpetuates the desire for young and old to appreciate each other.

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

“Conversation is gold.”

It’s not a surprise that I receive many, many emails, articles and magazines all related to the subject of education. Typically those that catch my attention deal with best practice in teaching and learning, and child and adolescent development. During the recent Winter Break, I found time to catch up on my reading and was struck by two articles—one dealing with high-school students and the other kindergarten students. I find it interesting that the messages contained in these articles overlap, despite the fact they focus on children and adolescents at opposite ends of our North Shore experience.

2015-2016_Buddies_JK-SK-Sr. Buddy Introduction_891169The first came from Challenge Success, a program affiliated with Stanford University that partners with schools throughout the country. North Shore has been a part of the Challenge Success network for four or five years. The mission of Challenge Success is “to partner with schools and families to provide kids with the academic, social, and emotional skills needed to succeed now and in the future.” We have found the program to be very valuable in helping us guide students to not only manage, but thrive, as they work to take full advantage of their high-school experience.

Madeline Levine, Ph.D., psychologist, educator and co-founder of Challenge Success, wrote in a blog post, “The greatest predictor of academic success (for students) is engagement; the greatest predictor of workplace success is emotional intelligence; and the greatest predictor of emotional health is self-control.”

I would agree. Since North Shore’s founding in 1919, we have remained committed to the development of the whole child and focused on preparing students to be successful adults. While we have a clear and ambitious academic agenda—information to learn, skills to develop and master, habits to establish, work to be done—it is done so in a manner that supports the outcomes that Dr. Levine advocates and serves our students well—done in a manner that contributes to our students engaging, interacting and self-regulating.

The second article that caught my attention was The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids—Today’s young children are working more, but they’re learning less, written by Erika Christakis, author of The Importance of Being Little: What Preschoolers Really Need from Grownups. Interestingly, it was one short, three-word sentence that really stayed with me. “Conversation is gold.” In essence, it is dialogue, discussion, interaction with others—fellow students and adults—that meaningfully advances student learning and is the critical element to the development of students becoming who they are and what they can become.

Engagement, the development of emotional intelligence, emotional health and conversation—all critical, all advance student development—whether the student is in kindergarten or high school.

Not surprisingly, all exist at North Shore—every day and, hopefully, for every student. Clearly, conversation and interaction are hallmarks that define North Shore. It is nice to know that Madeline Levine and Erika Christakis would give us their full endorsement.

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