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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.

A Hero’s Windows and Mirrors

Like any parent, I hold lots of hopes and dreams for my three boys.  If you asked me what I pray for the most for them, though, besides their continued vitality and good health, it would be that God places before them influential mentors. Especially as my boys age, I realize that much of my important work with them has been done.  While I will remain unconditionally loving and supportive, as they steer their own life journey more independently, it will be others who impact their course in significant ways.

Recently, I shared a chapel talk with our students at the Midway campus about the important individuals who will help them on their quest – be it the journey they are on this school year or the larger one which is their life story.

Utilizing excerpts from the Book of Exodus (18: 6-7; 14-19; 21; 23-24) telling the story of Moses and his father-in-law, Joshua, I tried to convey to students what mentors do and how I hoped they might broaden their perspectives on what mentors look like.

Here are some excerpts from that chapel message:

So, today, with the conclusion of the first trimester just a few weeks away, I do not know whether you have even heard a call to take up a quest, never mind answer it. I hope you have. In class; on the stage or court; in your home or church –  hopefully you have resolved to pursue a new you.

If you have, I offer you travelers your next piece of advice: your journey will be hard.  You will need help and you will find it in the form of valuable mentors.

Hero's Journey

One of the questers to whom you were introduced in September, Moses, returns in our reading today with a mentor.  Jethro is Moses father-in-law; Moses worked for him as a shepherd for 40 years before hearing and answering the call of his life – the one which came from the burning bush. In our Exodus verse today, Moses is leading the Hebrews on their journey out of Egypt. He has assumed enormous responsibility for thousands of people.  As such, Moses is constantly being asked to judge or solve all the problems presented to him by his tired, scared people.  Moses is overwhelmed and fatigued. So much so that the very success of his quest might be in jeopardy.

Jethro & MosesJethro travels to see Moses and they enter his tent to talk and there Jethro demonstrates the two gifts a mentor provides: mirrors and windows.

A mentor, you see, is one brave enough to pace a mirror front of you and then invite you to take an honest look at yourself and your actions.  Sometimes our quest consumes us and, without even knowing it, we get thrown off course.  We need the help of a trusted advocate to help us restore our sense of direction.

How does a mentor’s mirror do this? Most often, the mentor promotes our self-reflection the same way Jethro did for Moses: he asks good questions. “Why are you the only judge?” Jethro asked Moses.  “Why do people come to you all day?” he wanted to know.

A mentor’s personal example represents another powerful mirror.  As we watch our mentor from afar on her own hero’s journey, we reflect on how we might travel with the same sense of purpose, the same alignment of words and actions, and the same selflessness.  Moses clearly had watched, admired, and respected Jethro as – when Jethro arrived to visit him – Moses “bowed down before him and kissed him.”

Windows & Mirrors

Jethro also demonstrates how mentors offer us the gift of windows.  A mentor’s fresh perspective, hard-earned wisdom, or comforting counsel help make pathways visible before us when we face the inevitable hardships, setbacks, and tough decisions which accompany any worthwhile quest. The help us see rays of opportunity where before we saw only the clouds of confusion.

Jethro gave Moses sage advice: identify other trustworthy leaders among your people who can help you make all these decisions. In doing so, Jethro suggested, Moses would feel less overwhelmed and fatigued.

Mirrors and Windows. Two gifts mentors offer you as a hero on a journey

But, at times, I think we hold a narrow view of mentors.

Like Jethro, you might think mentors only come in the form of a family member – like a parent, grand-parent, or aunt and uncle.

Or, maybe you think mentors look and sound like Obi-Wan Kenobi: gray and wise from years of experience. He offered Luke a window see how the Force could guide him in his quest to defeat the Empire. But must all mentors be older than you? 

Or maybe you think mentors look and sound like The Good Witch of the North, Glinda. She protected Dorothy and offered her a window to see her way back to Kansas via the Yellow Brick Road.  But must mentors have magical, fairy Godmother-like qualities?

No, mentors are not always older than you; they are not always family members; nor are they possessive of magical powers.  Some may be in your life for just a short period of time while others travel with you for many miles on your journey. 

They will appear like my best friend from high school, Hank, did when I moved to Louisville, KY right before my freshman year of high school; he became my guide as the New York native that I was entered a whole new world in the south. Or step forward, like Mr. Tony Barnes did when I moved to New York City to go to graduate school.  He was my 8th grade social studies teacher at a school in Manhattan, but he opened his apartment to live in for the year while at school; he held up mirrors to help me think about what kind of teacher I wanted to be.  Or invite you in, as Mare Kalin did me in 1993, when she inspired me join her quest starting an education program for underserved students. The experience impacted my life and career in ways to significant to list.

So, don’t worry, travelers.  Your mentors are out there ready to help.  Seek them out.  Use the mirrors they place before you to stay on course.  Accept the view from the windows they provide and be grateful for the perspective they offer.  And, when you have the chance, be a mentor yourself. A hero right nearby is counting on you.