Gaining Perspective

These two family images capture the Monaco family on roughly the same day nine years apart – I suspect you will recognize the location:


The first photo was taken in July of 2009 on the day we arrived together in Dallas. We recently restaged the photo to mark the beginning of our tenth year in Texas. Seeing the pictures brought to mind an observation shared with me years ago: nothing frames a parent’s perspective on the passing of time more than seeing a picture of his or her children.

As I look at TC ’16 (now 20 and starting his junior year at Texas A&M), Robert ’20 (now 17), and Sam ’23 (now 14) in these photos I am also reminded of the old philosopher’s joke:

“A snail entered a sheriff’s office and said he was mugged by two turtles. When the sheriff asked him what happened, the snail said, “I don’t know. It all happened so fast.”

We each see the world through our uniquely personal lens. Learning and working in the Parish community these last nine years, my family members and I have a much deeper and richer perspective of Parish, for example, than will be the case for the 175 new students and their families joining us in a few weeks. From the point of view of the snail, even the plodding turtle moved quickly. Indeed, our age, upbringing and experience are just a few factors that influence how we perceive the events, the people and the conditions we encounter.

Perspective1

Perspective
the interrelation of which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed; a point of view.

As I pondered an organizing theme for my speaking and writing this year the word “perspective” resonated.

Why?

For one, decades offer a chronological perch from which one can both reflect and dream. As I begin my tenth year at Parish, my perspective captures both gratitude and appreciation for those with whom I have worked and served. Together, we have helped advance Parish’s mission. Looking forward, I remain as energized and optimistic about our School’s future as I did when I began on July 1, 2009.

Secondly, one of the year’s most significant events will in fact feature just this kind of perspective-taking exercise. The time has arrived for our ten-year re-accreditation from the Independent Schools Association of the Southwest (ISAS) and the Southwest Association of Episcopal Schools (SAES). From September 30 – October 3, we will welcome to campus a team comprised of 14 administrators and faculty from various member schools in these two associations. This Visiting Committee has the responsibility to recommend Parish for re-accreditation to the standards committees of these organizations.

This demarcation is important to Parish in both real and symbolic terms; it signifies to external entities (such as the state of Texas and colleges and universities) that we operate both in accordance with expected standards and in alignment to our mission.

The Visiting Committee’s perspectives on Parish will be informed in part by a comprehensive written self-study that we have authored, evidence we share related to our adherence to the standards established by the respective associations, and their engagement with board members, administrators, faculty, parents and students while on campus. We look forward to their visit. We know they will be impressed by what has transpired in this community since 2009. We also will embrace the feedback they share with us as we seek to build an even stronger Parish in the decade to come.

Perspective2.jpgFinally, I have been drawn to the word “perspective” as I have observed the world around me. Ironically, though technology has opened even more channels for us to expand our own thinking and engage others in civil debate, discussion and dialogue, I sense that perspectives have narrowed and hardened.

Social media trolls and talking heads on increasingly partisan 24-hour cable mediums provide the clearest example of such immutable viewpoints. I don’t know about you, but I feel surrounded more often than not these days by people shouting past one another defenses of their minimalist perspectives.

Which brings me to the start of the new school year.

Unquestioningly, education is a powerful antidote to narrowmindedness. As we prepare to welcome 1140 young people back to our two campuses, our purpose as articulated in our mission – to prepare them to impact the “complex global society” – is as vital and relevant as ever. Positioning our students of today to be the thoughtful, curious and collaborative leaders of tomorrow, however, does not happen by chance.

Our teachers, of course, play a central role. They challenge students by presenting them with contrasting perspectives; they help students become comfortable seeing complex issues from multiple angles. The influential teacher, coach, advisor or learning experience also expands our students’ self-perspective, helping them to recognize the unique gifts they might not have realized they possessed.

Indeed, our students have responsibility, too. Albert Einstein said “I have no special talents; I am only passionately curious.” While influential adults can and should cultivate curiosity, the learner has the ultimate choice: see school as something to survive or embrace it as an opportunity to discover. I pray our students return to campus intent on actively expanding their horizons, not just “doing school.”

Finally, our community collectively readies our students for the complex global society. We do so, in part, through the example we set. As we continue to tackle knotty challenges together, we can model what it looks like to honor perspectives that differ from our own. We can engage in civil discourse when our opinions diverge. Stewarding a dynamic school community like Parish’s, we will be afforded ample opportunity to do this. This year, we will embrace questions without easy answers, ones such as what it means for us to live into our mission as an “inclusive Episcopal community;” how we can best enhance the security of our campuses; and how we will evolve our program to keep it at the forefront of educational innovation.

When it comes to evaluating and choosing Parish’s pathway forward in these and other areas, not everyone’s perspectives will align. I hope, though, that we can hold one another accountable to our tenet of Honor. Simply stated, it calls on us to regard the people, ideas and opinions present before us with high respect and esteem.

We look forward to engaging with you and exchanging perspectives on the important work we do here together readying our students to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives. I hope you will choose to learn, share and grow with us.

 

 

The Hero’s Treasure

quoteI penned these words over nine months ago as the journey of the new school year was about to begin. My motives were many. On the one hand, I wished to challenge the Parish community to see the new academic year as a quest, one that offered opportunities to answer the call to grow, explore and discover. My yearlong theme of “quest” also provided a context within which to view the work our school community has been doing since 2014; together, we have chosen to reimagine thoughtfully the type of personalized and dynamic learning experiences that best and most healthily prepare our students for the “complex global society” referred to in Parish’s mission statement.

As school concludes, we heroes return home, so to speak. The somewhat less hectic days of summer provide us a chance to take stock of lessons learned from our journey of the last nine months. Not all that is worth treasuring has been positive; our setbacks, regrets and shortcomings along the way may well offer us some of the richest lessons upon which to build. Yet, as individuals and as members of a school community, we have grown, improved and achieved. Indeed, there is much to celebrate and much for which to be grateful!

Beyond the tremendous work our talented faculty and staff did with our students each day, I am indeed grateful for so many meaningful events that transpired in the Parish community over the last nine months, including:

  • The celebration of our first 10 year class reunion with our Parish Episcopal School class of 2007, a milestone in our school’s history.
  • The opening of the doors to our new Gene E. Phillips Activity Center at the Grand Opening celebration at the start of the school year. This new facility – the first on our campus in over a decade – opened the doors for more opportunities to bring our students and community together throughout the school year – numerous P.E. and athletic practices, Legacy Family events, Christmas Pageants, Rosettes Winter Dance Show, the 6th Annual Parish Dance Recital and the FIRST® LEGO® League robotics competitions, just to name a few.
  • Achieving our 2017-18 Limitless campaign goal. Nancy Ann & Ray Hunt started us off this fall with a generous $3 million challenge grant to incent leadership gifts of $25,000 or more. The community responded, including many who made their first leadership gift ever to Parish. We have exceeded the challenge, raising more than $6 million in leadership gifts this year — an essential step toward making the Performance & Community Center (PACC) a reality on this campus.

In the rhythm of a school year, there is tremendous satisfaction that comes with the conclusion of classes.  I hope you have derived a sense of pride and accomplishment from the journey you have just concluded. I look forward to reconnecting with you in August as we prepare to begin our trip anew!

An Eventful April

Not all of my days are like the ones I experienced between Wednesday, April 4th and Thursday, April 12th. A Head of School’s life often features a wide variety of activities and a dose of the unexpected, but rarely does it pack the type of stimulating public events the Parish community and I had a chance to be enriched by this month.

_WLW9879On April 4th, we welcomed Barbara P. Bush to campus.  This social entrepreneur – who also happens be both the granddaughter and daughter of a President – was honored by Austin College with their Posey Leadership Award.  As part of the events associated with that recognition – and through our partnerships with both the Dallas Fort Worth World Affairs Council and Austin College – we were able to bring Ms. Bush to campus to talk about global leadership.  Though I had never done it before, I survived my initiation as a “talk show host!”  One special facet of the event, held in our new Gene E. Phillips Activity Center, was the presence of over 100 students and teachers from 11 public, charter, independent, and private schools – representatives of their respective schools’ Junior World Affairs Councils.  They were joined in the audience by our Upper School students and faculty.  Ms. Bush’s insights on the powerful influence of early global travel experiences; the fearlessness required to start something, as she did in helping found the Global Health Corps and her core value of love as the fuel for her global service left a deep impression on me and the other audience members.  You can watch excerpts from the interview with Ms. Bush here.

On April 5th, I was one of a handful of local educators asked to participate in “Big Ideas in Education Entrepreneurship” as part of Dallas Start Up Week.  I so enjoyed meeting the entrepreneurs who came to hear 5 minute presentations from me and my fellow educational leaders on our “Big Ideas” for education.  These individuals, many of whom were in the educational technology space, possessed the shining eyes resultant of doing creative work which challenged and inspired them.  These are just the kind of shining eyes I love to see on our students’ faces when I visit the classrooms at Parish!  I also admire the comfort with ambiguity these founders exhibit.  These entrepreneurs have a vision – an idea they believe needs to be brought to life and will serve the world well – but are not entirely certain of what their platform will look like in its final form.  As we explore advancements to our program at Parish –  a new model for independent school education which both prepares students for the complex world while preserving their well-being and love of learning – I recognize that we, too, as a school community, must remain full of wonder.  The “Big Idea” I shared that evening reflected much of what I wrote in my October 2017 blog post.

Finally, on April 12th, our community welcomed author and TED-talk star Julie Lythcott-Haims.  The former freshman dean at Stanford University and author of How to Raise An Adult, helped us launch CenterED, our partnership with The Grant Halliburton Foundation.  I blogged about this partnership in January and our intent through it to marry our school community’s commitment to build an even healthier preparatory academic experience for our students with the Foundation’s expertise in adolescent mental health and wellness.  “Dean Julie,” as she was affectionately known by her students at Stanford, affirmed Parish’s direction; commended the unique partnership between Parish and the Halliburton Foundation; and energized a large audience of parents in her evening keynote to stop trying to construct the path their children will follow.  You can hear the panel discussion between Dr. Lythcott-Haims, Halliburton co-Founder and Executive Chairman Vanita Halliburton, and me here.

Parish embraces our role as a thought leader in the education community – as an institution that contributes to stimulating conversation, discussion, and action around positive change in the learning experience for today’s students. In this context, the week between April 4th and April 12th was an amazing one in the history of our School.

Higher Ed Heroes in Our Own Backyard

Though I lead a PreK-12 school, I spend a lot of time reading about higher education. Be it issues related to governance, economic sustainability, leadership or innovative programming, I see trends and developments on college and university campuses that offer parallels to my experience leading an independent school.

In some areas – like economic sustainability – our challenges mirror one another. Colleges and universities are “canaries in the coalmine” for tuition-dependent schools like Parish when one looks at economic issues like tuition escalation, affordability and value proposition. In other areas, such as the pace of innovation, I have to look harder for points of favorable comparison to Parish. As we seek to amplify our amazing program by adapting our model to a rapidly changing world, I turn to higher education leaders like Presidents Mitch Daniel at Purdue, Michael Crow at Arizona State or Paul LeBlanc at Southern New Hampshire University, among others. I derive inspiration and affirmation from their efforts to shift their respective programs to meet the same demand.

In the fall, I shared podcasts from my visits to Northwestern and the Claremont Colleges, where I had the opportunity to speak with leaders in enrollment management (by the way, later this month I will be doing similar visits at Georgia Tech, UNC-Chapel Hill, Duke and Davidson). Today, though, I am excited to present conversations I recently held with two college presidents. Dr. Michael Sorrell and Dr. Gerald Turner are both distinguished higher educational leaders whom I have had the good fortune to know since my arrival in Dallas in 2009. Parish has benefitted immensely from our partnership with Paul Quinn College, where Dr. Sorrell has been president since 2007, and SMU, which has had Dr. Turner at the helm for an impressive 23 years.

Dr. Michael Sorrell
President, Paul Quinn College
Podcasts: Part 1; Part 2 or watch the full videos:
Part 1: Landscape of Education
Part 2: Innovator’s Disposition
Part 3: Community Leadership
Dr. Gerald Turner
President, SMU
Podcast

I think you will enjoy these wide-ranging discussions about the future of higher education; the challenges and opportunities inherent in educational innovation; and exciting programmatic changes emerging on these campuses. Most of all, I hope you will note that these two institutions – one located in South Dallas and the other in Highland Park – are tremendous gifts to our city. Each lives fully into its unique mission and, in doing so, strives to build a better, more unified Dallas.

Partners with a Purpose

Parish and the Grant Halliburton Foundation recently announced a partnership with a purpose.

Our organizations will together launch centerED , an initiative geared to bring the mental and social well-being of our students to the forefront. At nearly every turn, one can find articles like this one from the New York Times chronicling the mental health issues befalling adolescents today:

NYT_TeenAnxiety

Technology and social media are most often identified as the primary drivers of this spike anxiety, depression, and self-harm seen among our youth.

It is hard to disagree with this attribution.

FragileThoroughbredAs an educator, though, I struggle with how little attention is directed at our school model.  Standardized, structured, and stuck, the school experience for our children today (especially once they reach Upper School) increasingly values achievement over purpose and accomplishment over engagement. One can read my previous posts for more of my thoughts on this.  However one ultimately attributes responsibility, the challenge facing us is clear: today’s adolescents are struggling. As Frank Bruni describes them in his book Where You Go Is Not Who You Will Be, they are “fragile thoroughbreds” – raised and trained to succeed, but susceptible to buckling under the weight of expectation and setback.

Parish is committed to recalibrating the academic experience to ensure it is both robust and healthy for its students. We believe we are asking the right questions and implementing practices which will achieve this vision.  The Grant Halliburton Foundation is committed to supporting students, training teachers, and empowering parents so that adolescent’s mental health is prioritized as much as her physical vigor and intellectual capacity.

I invite you to listen to my recent From My Angle podcast with the Foundation’s President, Vanita Halliburton, as we share our perspectives on adolescent mental health and our hopes for the centerED program.

Different Shades of Light

“You will learn that you see your children in different shades of light as you grow older together.”

A trusted mentor said this to me many years ago when I was a new parent. So many years later, I understand what he was trying to say.

As both an older parent and school leader, I now revel in the different shades of light in which I see my three boys as they grow older and come to know again those students with whom I have worked in the past as they experience new phases of life. During the first week back from the holiday break, the school leader in me had ample opportunity to embrace the radiant glow of such experiences. On Friday, January 5, Captain Drexel King – who I coached during his time at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, North Carolina (2000-2004) – spent a day with me on campus presenting a chapel message to our Upper and Middle School community and engaging students in conversations on the topics of leadership, diversity, and faith. A Naval Academy graduate and football star; decorated solider; man of deep faith; and present Manager of Learning and Development at Baylor University, Drexel had powerful insights to share with our community. Partnering with him to do so and witnessing him shrouded in the light of a respected leader marked a highlight of my year to date. I look forward to sharing a podcast I recorded with Drexel in the near future.

2018alums

A day earlier, I spent an hour with nine recent Parish Episcopal alumni. As can be the case with our own children at home, time and distance can prove to be a potent source of light when it comes to how you see a student you have known for a long time. The graduates who sat before me in most cases looked as they did when they traversed our hallways. But in their eloquence, thoughtfulness, and even their gratitude, I saw them in a new shade of light. It was immensely gratifying to recall them as gangly middle school students or self-absorbed ninth graders tackling their first days of Upper School and see them now in a different shade of light – as young adults tackling new worlds, and well on their ways to leading lives of meaning, purpose, and impact.

Alum_poscast

Talking College Admissions with Andrew Linnehan from Northwestern University

As introduced in my previous post, From My Angle now includes a podcast!  As many of us head to a couple of weeks to relax and rejuvenate, I thought I would offer an episode from the podcast as a source of learning during some quieter moments in the days ahead.

Andrew Linnehan is Associate Director of Admission at Northwestern University. In this edition of the From My Angle podcast, Andrew and I exchange thoughts on issues related to the college admissions process including the anxiety it produces for students and families alike; how decisions are made beyond the published metrics in admissions materials; and how students might navigate the maze of the college admissions process with more peace of mind.

I hope you enjoy this episode, share it with friends, and tune in for future editions of the From My Angle podcast.