Parish Alumni: Boundless Thinkers in Real Time

paul_ephesians4

The Apostle Paul faced quite a challenge.

A dutiful follower of the crucified Jesus, and a leader in his own right, Paul had discovered a fractured and fickle community of early Christians. Those Paul sought to lead to the teachings of Jesus kept falling back into old habits. Paul penned the people of Ephesus a letter meant to grab their attention. In it, he urged them to “take off” their old self, consumed as it was with worldly attitudes and actions, and put on a “new self” tailored for a relationship with God – one which reflected Jesus’ dispositions of compassion, kindness and meekness.

My First Monday letters and chapel homilies typically emerge from a theme. This year, that theme is “boundless;” more specifically, what it takes to embrace a mindset of possibility, hope and growth. I used this verse from Paul in my opening chapel talk to students in September, imploring them to envision how they might put on a “new self” by the conclusion of school in May. Successive homilies have extended the theme, looking in part at how boundless thinking reflects an attitude and how it requires us to forge a working relationship with fear.

My First Monday letters have offered complementary riffs on the boundless theme. In August, I shared insights derived from my summer reading. Each book reminded me why unleashing limitless possibilities for each child is a center-point of our Reimagine initiative. In September, I wondered what milieu produces individuals who lead boldly around and through obstacles. And last month, I highlighted a handful of the boundless thinkers who inspire our entrepreneurial work.

homecomingOur recent homecoming presented me with the precious opportunity to engage firsthand with living examples of the boundless theme: our alumni. As I move deeper into my tenure at Parish, spending time visiting with, learning from and continuing to mentor our graduates represents one of the most fulfilling aspects of my job. In their emerging life narratives, these young people (remember, the oldest Parish Episcopal graduates are only 26!) demonstrate what leading lives of possibility and growth look like. Quite often, they can trace their boundless disposition to their time at Parish.

Beginning with this piece on a recent graduate still in college and continuing later this spring with the profile of an “older” alum already tackling the “complex global society,” I’ll highlight how our alumni have answered Paul’s challenge to “put on a new self.”

Parish graduates presently in college share common experiences. Navigating new relationships – whether with a freshman roommate or through the fraternity/sorority system, for example – present opportunities for self-definition and value identification. Of course, the exploration of new ideas and exchange of perspectives with bright classmates and thought-provoking professors expand their horizons as well.

But increasingly, the most differentiating and liberating experiences for Parish graduates in college happen outside the classroom. Particularly in their choice of global travel opportunities and the verve with which they pursue internships, our alumni demonstrate their acumen as boundless thinkers.
colej14_textFor Cole Jones ’14, global travel has amplified his learning experiences post Parish. Cole spent the final three months of his sophomore year at USC studying in New Zealand. Of course, studying abroad represents a rite of passage for many college students. Cole, however, differentiated his global experience by embracing a boundless mindset. He constructed a self-directed excursion for himself and a travelling companion which took them to Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia in the weeks preceding their arrival in New Zealand.

Cole’s unique experience, one in which he charted his own journey, chose what he would see when and who he would meet along the way, proved to be formative. By stepping adventurously and curiously beyond the known, Cole discovered a worldview he will carry into his future as an impactful leader. “Understand first, judge second,” is how Cole explained it to me; his journey, he noted, “shattered the preconceived notions created by the boundaries of my own city and country of upbringing.”

colej14mtntopIf his horizon-broadening experiences beyond Parish have taught him anything, it has been the very relevance and applicability of the “balanced, thoughtful” mindset which Cole says Parish instilled within him. He sees now how “daily chapel and mentorship opportunities,” both with adults within the community but also between students in activities such as Legacy, sharpened his reflectiveness and relational skills. Such attributes, Cole is already learning, will benefit him in a complex global society fueled by collaborative thinking and flattening hierarchies.

Cole returned from his global travel to an internship experience at Stanford University this past summer. He leveraged his USC network – once again demonstrating the importance of the relational capacities cultivated at Parish – then learned how to “communicate with scientists who were a lot smarter than me” as he did heat and structural testing on the largest digital camera in the world. It will be used in the Large Synaptic Survey Telescope which will deploy in Chile to study the transient night sky.

We are so proud of Cole and our other alumni whose journey and discovery of becoming their new selves unfolds before us in such inspiring, exciting and boundless ways!

From Where Our Inspiration Comes (in part…)

Among the questions I am most frequently asked by those intrigued by Parish’s entrepreneurial culture are “who are your sources of inspiration?” or “who do you follow in the world of education?”

Indeed, Parish exudes a boundless mindset readily perceptible to those introduced to us. Our expansion story of the last decade exemplifies it; the radical hospitality and warmth people feel when stepping on our campuses conveys it; and our audacious vision to reimagine the dimensions of school as we’ve long known them to be derives its energy from it.

But we do not walk alone along the explorer’s path. We solicit guidance and draw inspiration from voyagers on their own innovation expeditions. Such crusaders can be found in a variety of locales – at public and private peer schools (both nationally and globally), in the world of higher education, and even outside of education in the corporate sector. This month, I’ve chosen to highlight just a few of the boundary-breakers we admire.

hightechhigh_sandiego

Inside High Tech High School in San Diego: Open, collaborative work spaces and student demonstrations of understanding (such as this student designed and constructed “Stairway to Nowhere”) reflect the learning culture

Student work and glass: these are the first things you recognize when you enter High Tech High School in San Diego, as I did during a September visit.

 

This reimagined high school, which began in 2000 and has since morphed into a network of multi-grade schools, has broken with many of the predominate philosophies of present day schooling –there are no AP courses; curriculum engages students using projects framed from real world issues rather than sprinting through volumes of content. Learning leads students off campus to learn from and present findings to community members beyond the doors of the school building.

hightechhigh_sandiego2

A vision for teaching drives instruction at High Tech High: students connect learning to the real world and student products reflect “voice & choice” in their uniqueness

I visited High Tech High as one of four Heads of School serving on the National Association of Independent School (NAIS) Commission on Accreditation – the body composed of leaders from 20 organizations which accredit over 3600 schools worldwide. On school visits such as these, I look for a unifying vision which drives innovation.

High Tech High clearly has such a vision. If you follow my writing or speaking, or that of our other academic leaders, you know Parish does as well.

 


Beyond a compelling, forward-looking vision, I’m moved by institutions successfully driving innovation throughout their entire system. Our Reimagine vision is comprehensive. At present, driven by our mission’s charge to guide “creative learners” and by our “why” statements, our work focuses in several key areas:

reimaginewhy

Parish’s quest to Reimagine the use of time, learning spaces, and texture of teaching and learning is driven by a clear vision

  • Articulating curricular content and skill mastery targets; these will open pacing pathways for students.
  • Reconfiguring our time model; this will maximize student engagement and promote flexibility.
  • Identifying a robust technological infrastructure to support the guiding, documenting and assessing of student learning.

Atop my list of most admired educational explorers is Paul LeBlanc, President of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). In 2011, on a 21 hour flight from Kuala Lampur to New York, LeBlanc penned a thought paper which set Southern New Hampshire University on a course to be a recognized leader in competency based learning. In short, this model uses the results of assessment, not seat time, as an indicator of a student’s proficiency.

snhu_web

“This recognition from U.S. News and World Report reflects our commitment to reinvent higher education,” said Paul LeBlanc, President, SNHU. “We push the limits of the status quo every day through innovation, creativity and risk taking, to find new delivery models and ultimately, better serve our students.”

Not long after his initial musings on the topic, LeBlanc and SNHU launched College for America which now offers online degree programs for $3,000. And last month, SNHU was once again named one of the country’s most innovative universities. LeBlanc’s influence has had an extended reach. The entire public school system in LeBlanc’s state of New Hampshire has embraced this learning model which helps students reach new levels of mastery as they are ready. Read the full story “How New Hampshire Transformed to a Competency-Based System.”


As we bring our own Reimagine vision to life, we are watching and learning from
colleagues in the Granite State. Over the last 18 months, New Hampshire-based consultant Rose Colby – who has worked closely with many schools there on the redesign of their models – has teamed with Parish academic leaders to articulate curricular pathways in each subject from PreK -12th grade. This exhaustive undertaking will continue over the next 18-24 months, positioning us to launch our Reimagine model fully in August 2019.

But we know grand visions do not become realized at once. As such, identifiable prototypes of our Reimagine program can be found on both campuses:

rose-colby

Former New Hampshire principal, and college professor and consultant, Rose Colby has partnered with Parish, building our Reimagine curriculum model

  • Personalized math programming in all three divisions features learning centers, problem sets, small group instruction and “adaptive” software like Dreambox designed to challenge students optimally. These models will inform how we balance the collaborative, hands-on learning we value with opportunities for more individualized learning.
  • New Academic Support Teacher positions serving our 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades offer flexible, and smaller, groupings of students for more tailored learning. These positions may teach us lessons about new staffing configurations for our Reimagine model.
  • Our most recently launched signature program, ParishBridge, remodels the final five weeks of senior year to feature student-directed learning on campus, online and in the community through a professional experience. This tailored, 12th grade capstone may present scalable features we can use in our Reimagine high school design.

Prototyping like this serves as a proving ground to better understand which vision-aligned, new strategies work well and can be brought to a larger scale as we Reimagine our total program. We take our lead here from corporate bastions of innovation, such as Google and Amazon, where the consistent prototyping of new concepts is endemic to the culture.


georgetown_bass

Georgetown’s Vice Provost and professor of English, Randy Bass, leads the Unversity’s “Designing the Future of the University” initiative

But even some of the country’s most esteemed – and tradition-rich – institutions like the University of Virginia and Georgetown University have begun to model this disposition. Georgetown initiated its “Designing the Future Initiative of the University” in 2013 and located it in a red townhouse adjacent to campus. In what has become known as “The Red House,” Vice-Provost for Education, Randy Bass, and colleagues have launched a series of pilot initiatives.

 

mwmoct_uva_cropThe goal? To fundamentally rethink “the structures of the traditional higher education model: including courses, credits tied to seat time, the 15-week semester, the four-year bachelor’s degree,” and the divide between curricular and co-curricular learning experiences. (Read more about the exciting pilots at Georgetown here.)

It all sounds very similar to Reimagine Parish.

There are many more sources of inspiration beyond the ones cited here. Any explorer embarking on an ambitious journey is wise to gather tools and insights from as many fellow travelers as he can. Our journey will be our own, however, and the Reimagine model we launch in 2019 – and tinker with almost daily in the interim – will indeed prepare our students to “impact the complex global society” in which they lead and serve. In doing so, it will be a model from which future educational innovators will gain inspiration.

Trying to Make Sense of a Senseless Summer

brown_rawlingsAt our recent Parent Nights, I projected this picture on a screen. While it might seem an unusual picture with which to welcome parents back to a new school year, the summer we just experienced was anything but usual. Woven with the joyful moments of relaxation we enjoyed were disorienting and disturbing images of violence, divisiveness, and incivility.  Our city experienced this firsthand, and Chief Brown and Mayor Rawlings leadership in the wake of the July 7 shooting contributed to my reflections on the turbulent three months gone by.

The summer’s events compelled me to speak to the home/school partnership. In particular, how we cooperate to guide young people in our community to be “bold leaders prepared to impact our complex global society.” This phrase from our mission statement– “complex global society” – has been on vivid display in the 90 days since school released for the summer in May.

MissionStatement_finalTwo other words from the phrase – “bold leaders” – explain my picture choice. As a student of leadership and a citizen of this city, I watched with interest and admiration the police chief and mayor in the wake of last month’s shootings.  I was impressed to see these two men – one black, one white; one a fourth generation Texan, the other born and educated in the northeast; one a career public servant and law officer, the other a career businessman turned local politician –  transcend these evident differences and lead.  In the midst of harrowing violence and loss, they projected assurance, other-centeredness, and hope for a better tomorrow.

But the “bold leader” phrase from our mission statement and the example of these civic leaders also begs the question: from where do such leaders come? What type of parenting and school culture consistently yield individuals with the intelligence, skill set, and disposition we associate with credible adults whom others follow willingly?

These are certainly questions too big to address in a blog post – they form the basis for excellent leadership courses. But as a father and an educator, this summer left me feeling powerless.  I wondered what was within my reach to influence amidst this seemingly endless news stream communicating unspeakable hatred, puzzling justice, random violence, and vitriolic politicking.

Among other things, I want my sons and the students who graduate from Parish to live and lead with a boundless spirit, unencumbered by fear; I want them to modulate ambition and empathy; I want them to be guides to the middle ground where solutions, compromise, and steady – if at times deliberate – progress is made.

I knew I could ensure intentional programming exists to build such disposition in students. Our ParishLeads framework – woven through advisory, homerooms, experiential trips, and our daily chapel – contributes to it.  Our intentional work around diversity and inclusion, led by our Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Tyneeta Canonge, develops our skills in this regard. As the November election approaches, we will intentionally engage our students across each division in activities and discussions to heighten their awareness of our civic responsibility to be an informed and passionate electorate. We will also teach and model civil discourse and celebrate it as one of the most cherished and honorable characteristics of our unique democracy.

familymatters1But I’d propose there are two additional things we can do together, home and school. I would like to suggest we have the power in this milieu of uncertainty to make a shared contribution.  And I would like to think what it requires of us is not that difficult.

First, we can promote awareness.   An understandable tendency in the face of what we’ve experienced would be to shield our kids from it.   In most cases, the blessings of our resources afford us the opportunity to stay comfortably tucked in our enclaves insulated from the messiness of our world. When you travel – locally or globally – move off the beaten path.  Help your children understand what a food desert is; drive them to South Dallas and wonder with them what it might feel to live at great distances from a supermarket. Put challenging issues before them at a level appropriate to their age. Text them editorials on contrary sides of an issue; share informative video clips. Discuss all of this at dinner. Do what you can to help you children become aware that they are part of a larger, complex global community – not above it, apart from it, or absolved of responsibility for it.

Finally, remember this.

Love beats back fear every time.

Not the overprotective, shielding, and indulging kind, but the type of love that – with consistent application by parents and caring adults like us – research has proven produces the well-adjusted, resilient, hopeful, and capable adults our complex global society needs. Author and psychologist Robert Evans has provided perhaps the most cogent compilation of this thinking in his framework of nurture, latitude, and structure. I think Parish provides just this type of love for our students. When we regathered in August following this complicated summer, I asked our faculty and staff to recommit to offering our students boundless doses of love. I hope parents will take account of how their home environment features nurture, structure, and latitude.

In the end, as a dad and a school leader I’ve determined there is indeed something I can do. I can help shape the next generation of Mayor Rawlings and Chief Browns. Young people who become adults possessing a civic awareness and aptitude both in mind and heart.

In my August post, I cited Reimagine Parish, our plan to provide boundless opportunities for learners featuring greater personalization and student engagement. As much as our program continues to evolve, though, one commitment will remain.  We will be a school where, no matter how dark the world may seem at the moment, no matter how predominate the constraints and limitations of incivility, ideological thinking, and divisiveness may be, kids will feel loved. They will know we walk through this complex world with them, committed to equip them with the skills and character they need to make it better.

A New Year, A Unique Path

An exciting year lies before us. In the Monaco household, this is especially so as we face transitions of significance for two of our boys.  T.C. ’16, of course, is off to college; we leave him in College Station at Texas A & M later this month. Meanwhile Robert ’20, begins his journey through the Upper School in just a few weeks.

As a parent, we face junctures like this in the lives of our children with a range of emotions: pride, disbelief, sadness, wonder and a dash of anxiety. For me, I would cite wonder as my prevailing state of mind. What life-shaping experiences will these two men have in the next four years? Which people will enter their lives and leave an indelible impact on the men they will become? Our life narratives are unique: how transformational will this next four year chapter be on T.C. and Robert’s life stories?

If a quarter century in the school business has taught me anything, though, accurately answering questions like these is nearly impossible. That’s the magic of it all: watching our kids forge their unique paths.

Still, whether your experience is – like Mollie and mine – crossing the threshold of a significant academic transition with your child or, as is our case with Sam ’23, readying to begin another year, we arrive at the first day of school with a sense of hope and wonder. We want our children to have every opportunity their God-given intelligence and hard-earned effort can afford them. We aspire for them to experience life unbounded, flush with limitless options and opportunities.

Such aspirations, while well-intended, can present problems. Our hopeful aspirations, if we are not careful, can become – in the minds of our children – a set of unending and seemingly unattainable expectations.

LoveThatBoy_quoteRon Fournier’s Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About A Parent’s Expectations, a touching memoir about his experience parenting a son with Asperger’s syndrome, captures this parental dilemma perfectly.

The source of our dilemma, most often, is that our expectations emerge not from a fair and true assessment of our child’s unique skills, interests and gifts, but rather from the backdrop of what society (read: the media; our friends; other “experts”) paints as “successful,” “exceptional” or “above average.”

EndOfAverage_quoteOne of the most compelling books I have read in a long time, Todd Rose’s The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness, seeks to disabuse us of our tendency to fixate on how we or our children compare to the group. In it, Rose details the emergence of the exciting and relatively new interdisciplinary “science of the individual,” which centers on one big idea: “individuality matters.” Ability, talent and intelligence, Rose argues, are “jagged” (not one-dimensional), manifest differently depending on the situation, and emerge on a pathway and timeline unique to the individual.

We are wise to consider the implications of Rose’s premise as we ponder our children’s futures. What we know about the “complex global society” referred to in our mission statement is that the pace of change is fast, its rate constant, and its orientation directed to personalization and customization. The world of work is just one example. According to Cathy Davidson with MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions, 65 percent of today’s students will end up in jobs that have yet to be created: Big Data Doctor, Meme Agent and Microbial Balancer, to name just a few. Indeed, the possibilities in the emerging “gig economy” of today – where one fits his or her unique skills to needs in the marketplace for a short period of time – seem limitless.

Increasingly, we are coming to understand that the path to a life of meaning, fulfillment and success in this complex world is rapidly becoming less linear or formulaic. In recognition of this reality – and our belief that each of the approximately 1100 students soon to start the new school year are gifted by God distinctly and uniquely – we are deep in the process of our Reimagine School vision for Parish. The core principles guiding our Reimagine effort, which is on track for full implementation by fall 2019 but being beta-tested and planned for even today, reflect our awareness of individuality.

  • Honor student voice and choice in learning;
  • Meet students where they are and help them reach new levels of mastery as they are ready;
  • Help students develop enduring habits of mind which are transferable to a lifetime of learning and excelling;
  • Create learning conditions which engage students in authentic meaningful work.

As the new school year starts at Parish, my hope and expectation is that each of our students has a rich and full experience, one which propels them to a future of unbounded possibility.

What to Make of Summer Break

The midpoint of summer will soon be upon us. At this juncture, the final days of last school year represent increasingly distant memories. The change of pace afforded by the break from classes has likely taken hold and restored some energy. Yet, as I write, close to seven weeks of summer break still remain.

Now, I embrace summer’s more leisurely pace as much as anyone. Yet, as my career in school leadership has evolved I have increasingly found myself wondering whether summer break represents too much of a good thing. In this day and age, it puzzles me that a school like Parish would take an 85 day hiatus from pursuing its mission to prepare young people for the complex global society that awaits them.

Of course, most schools like Parish do stay somewhat engaged in the business of education during the summer months. Through ParishVirtual, our blended education program, close to 30% of our US students take for credit courses in subjects like religion, health, and history. They come to campus during the summer for 7-10 face-to-face engagements but otherwise complete their 6-8 hours of weekly coursework on their own schedule.

Our EXTEND summer program welcomes close to 500 young people to campus each week for a variety of courses, some academic, others not, but all offering students the opportunity to build skills, self-awareness, and confidence.

And through ParishAbroad, our global travel program, our students have journeyed to places like Peru, Spain, and Mexico to experience a new culture, hone leadership skills, study a foreign language, and/or engage in service activities.

 

Increasingly, though, I’ve wondered how Parish might play a larger role enriching the lives of students in those 85 days when they are “on summer break.” Is this something our families even desire? If so, what type of programming might engage students? What new expenses would it introduce to us as a school? What would it cost our families? How sustainable would it be for teachers and students with finite stores of energy, campus facilities which absorb added wear and tear, and administrators who need planning time to launch the new school year?

Beyond these questions, there is the reality that for a student population like Parish’s summer is anything but languid. Students attend camps or special programs – my middle son just returned from a two week backpacking trip in the Tetons with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), for example – pick up valuable work experience (as my eldest is), or broaden their global and cultural competency through travel with their families.

Clearly school as we offer it and students experience it for 9 months will not compete in the summer. I don’t believe our teachers, students, or families want 85 more days of “school as usual” in June and July. But it seems there might be a middle ground. While I do not have any immediate answers, an audiobook I am listening to this summer has provided a useful stimulant to further thinking.

SusanBlumIn I Love Learning, I Hate School: An Anthropology of College, author and anthropologist Susan Blum offers a commentary on the state of higher education, a system she believes needs “radical transformation.” A decade of research – including 300 student interviews and another 200 surveys (many done at Notre Dame where she is a professor) – has brought Blum to a conclusion: Our system of compulsory education – replete with its adult-curated and delivered curriculum and incentivized by grades and competition rather than student interest or engagement – has made schooling transactional. The learner does it because she has to while her more relevant, connected, and engaging learning occurs elsewhere.

Blum presents a framework befitting her identity as an anthropologist and informing to ruminations on what role, if any, school might play during the summer. Blum characterizes higher education as “Learning in the cage.” This term, which could aptly extend to educational institutions below the collegiate level, describes learning environments where students sit still in chairs; comply with the predominate expectation that they listen quietly; and complete the “schoolwork” prescribed to them. Schoolwork is just that – “work” to be tolerated until learning which occurs more naturally and engagingly can begin, often away from school.

“Learning in the wild,” on the other hand, Blum characterizes as “learning by doing, learning through play, observation, imitation, trial and error, guided participation, and apprenticeships, in which young people or novices are assigned to an expert to learn a craft or a trade.” When I think of what kids do during the summer, I think “learning in the wild.” If school is ever going to penetrate the mindset of “summer break,” we best consider Blum’s paradigm.

At Parish, we want our whole program to be more “learning in the wild” than “learning in a cage.” We are presently trying to reimagine school at Parish to infuse it with learning experiences which reflect the voices and choices of students, which engage them in meaningful, authentic work, and which focus more on building powerful habits of mind than warehousing endless volumes of content. Maybe once we complete the design of our reimagined model to reflect these outcomes, students would find the notion of being disconnected from us for 85 days as bewildering as I do today!

 

 

One Month, Two Hats

What a whirlwind May proved to be!

Of course, the final month of school always tests a teacher’s stamina. Final learning experiences, exciting culminating programs and awards ceremonies, and the unbridled anticipation of summer infuse our hallways with uninterrupted electricity!

This May, however, presented a different dynamic for me as two of my three boys celebrated milestones on their respective academic journeys. My second son, Robert, completed middle school and is on his way to his upper school experience at Parish.

My oldest, TC, concluded his journey at Parish along with his classmates in our 10th graduating class.  He is excited to begin his studies at Texas A & M in August! As the relatively quieter summer days on campus begin, I am finding time to catch my breath and gather my thoughts.

As you might imagine, I was asked often if these graduation ceremonies felt differently to me. The answer has been at once an obvious yes and a more nuanced no. Like our fellow 8th and 12th grade parents, my wife, Mollie, and I were filled with a range of emotions in the shadows of these ceremonies: pride, disbelief (not that our sons graduated successfully, just that time had moved so swiftly!), sadness, wonder, and a dash of anxiety.

While I felt these more intensely and personally this year, though, they were not unfamiliar to me. Each May for 25 years, as I’ve looked at the faces of 8th graders or seniors with whom I have worked, I have felt similar emotions: Pride in what the students had accomplished; disbelief that the youngsters I once knew were now high school or college bound; sadness that graduating seniors would soon be gone from my daily routine; wonder as to what life might hold in store for these young people; and a dash of anxiety that they would find their way.

If anything, this past frenetic month reminded me of this: For better or for ill, my roles as head of school and dad are inextricably intertwined. The words and lessons I share with Parish’s students are spoken by a Head of School but crafted by a father. My commitments and responsibilities to my three boys are lifelong and unconditional, but my prayers for all of the young people in my life are uniform:

  • That they recognize that God has bestowed gifts upon them which are uniquely theirs.
  • That with zeal and purpose these young people will discover what these gifts are and that with a discerning eye and ear they will look and listen for the people, places, and causes which need them most.
  • And that one day when they take account of their lives, they will well with fulfillment borne of having left their impact doing the purposeful work they were called to do.

Come next May, I will return to wearing just one hat – that of the head of school. I will carry with me, though, terrific memories of a frantic month of May in 2016 when, with excitement, I proudly wore two hats – that of head of school and dad.

Pondering a Moment in Parish’s Time

We human beings love round numbers and clearly demarcated period of times. To wit, we monitor the developmental stages of our infant child in months or even days; chart the height of that child annually on a doorframe in the house; or return at rounded intervals of five or ten years for reunions at the places from where we have graduated. Marking time brings order to an otherwise random and unpredictable world.  These points in time also provide a perch, a momentary resting place from which we can both take account and dream ahead.

The Class of 2016 provides Parish a round number of its own: our 10th graduating class.  On May 22, 2016 our 841st graduate will cross the stage at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center. With this year’s conferral of diplomas, our school community receives a gift – a moment to catch its collective breath. From this perch, we should remind ourselves what we have accomplished together this last decade and affirm our belief in tomorrow’s limitless possibilities.

10 year_final

Our school’s story is remarkable. After existing for three decades as a respected PreK-6th grade school of 400 students based at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration, our church and school community chose the bold course. In order to meet the Metroplex’s need for an additional PreK-12 independent school option, Parish Day would expand. But anyone can dream. To turn possibility into reality, however, requires a unique combination of skill, fortitude and good fortune.

Indeed, since 2002, Parish Episcopal School has done what some might have considered impossible: nearly tripling our size to offer our college preparatory program to over 1,100 students; retrofitting over 350,000 square feet of the I. M Pei-designed, former Mobil International Research facility in Farmer’s Branch; adding 20 million dollars to our endowment; and sending talented graduates in our first 10 classes to colleges and universities across the country.

Looking back from the perch afforded by our 2016 graduation ceremony, a distinctive feature dominates the view: Parish’s pioneering spirit. The 46 students in the inaugural class of 2007 entered a new high school in 2003, where classes would be staged in a corporate space renovated for their arrival only in the preceding eight months, with only five faculty members and a division head as their guide. Together, fueled by faith and hope, they built a quality school program and successfully transfused a larger Parish Episcopal School with the uniquely inclusive and joyful culture of the more intimate Parish Day School.

Some 10 years later, though Parish has evolved in ways the class of 2007 could never have imagined, they would recognize the pioneering spirit embodied in the class of 2016. Among this year’s 90 graduates are:

  • The second cohort of scholars in our Academy of Global Studies, who have spent three years studying a global issue of interest to them through an academic’s lens and producing a scholarly and artistic capstone to evidence their thinking.
  • The first graduates of the Leadership Institute, who have spent three years learning about and practicing leadership through coursework, workshops, a professional mentor and a community based capstone.
  • One of the first cohorts of students to help develop, learn and teach in the more than 14,000 square feet of STEM, maker and robotics spaces on our two campuses, all part of Parish’s national regarded PreK-12 ParishSTEM programming.
  • The student cohort who launched ParishBridge, which engaged each of these 90 students in a five week learning experience unique to them. Through their online course, personally designed academic project, and 15 to 50 hours of real world professional experience, these young people haven’t wiled away their final days on campus. Rather, they’ve learned more about themselves and about the complex global society in which they will lead and serve.

Yes, the Class of 2016 represents the latest generation of Parish pioneers!

As we pivot on the perch provided by this year’s graduation and look ahead, we are right to wonder: “What’s next for them?” “What’s next for Parish?”

Of this I am sure, the graduates of 2016 will return to Parish at some time marker in the future. Maybe it’s a six months from now at the holidays, or a year from now to see their friends graduate, or at their five year reunion in 2021, or when we celebrate our wonderful school’s 50th anniversary in 2022. Whenever it might be, they will encounter a Parish as unimaginably different to them as the Parish of today is to those 46 graduates in the class of 2007. We understand the world changes relentlessly. Consequently, we believe the way school works needs to change as well. Emboldened by our pioneering past, we are at work even today reimagining the Parish of tomorrow.

And of this, I am hopeful. That the young men and woman who cross the stage on May 22 carry with them not only the content knowledge they’ve secured and the warm memories of rich relationships with faculty and schoolmates, but also the pioneering spirit Parish has imbued within them. Our world needs solutions. Our city needs bold leaders with big hearts. Our communities need those who see limitless possibilities.

May God guide Parish and the class of 2016 as we journey forward.