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Notes from Tad

Recent writings and talks by our Head of School.

As Our Thoughts Turn to the Opening of School....
Liz Torrey

Dear Parents and Guardians,

It is an honor for me to welcome you to the 2019-2020 year at St. Andrew’s. All our preparations for the year (including the opening of Amos Hall and a number of other campus improvements) have reached new levels of excitement and intensity over the past few weeks. We look forward to the energy, optimism, and spirit of the Opening of School.

Over the course of the United States Women’s Soccer Team’s march to the 2019 World Cup victory, I not only watched each game; I studied the skill, spirit, versatility, and resilience of a team that successfully confronted every challenge. 

New York Times writer Rory Smith wrote a particularly good essay following the World Cup Final. He brilliantly connected the success of 2019 to the historic 1999 World Cup team. He writes:

The 99ers are widely credited with creating the atmosphere that young players find when they first enter this team: ‘not intimidating or inhibiting‘, according to Tierra Davidson at 20, the youngest member of the current squad, ‘but close knit, resilient, incredibly uplifting... The type of person this team attracts is resilient, gritty.’

That can be traced to the United States National Team as the 99ers envisioned it, as they defined it. These characteristics that were inculcated in this program two decades ago are the same that swept this edition of the team to glory in France: a willingness to run harder, faster, further than anyone else; a refusal to countenance the idea of defeat; a ruthless defiant streak.

We learn a lot from Davidson and Smith’s descriptions and insights. First the cultivation of strong cultures takes time, focus, and discipline. The spirit of the 2019 team essentially continued a twenty year project of collaboration, generosity, and resolve. The example, sacrifices, achievements of the past formed a powerful foundation for the way the team of today approached the tournament. Members of the 2019 team spoke passionately about the influence previous generations of players had on their own and their team’s success.

Secondly, the ethos of the team for twenty years embraced respect, hospitality, and affirmation for new members. US Women’s Soccer rejected hierarchy, exclusivity, and division among its players. Playing with these women, training with these women, committing with these women felt “incredibly uplifting”, a beautiful phrase suggesting that great cultures serve to ignite new goals, new aspirations, new possibilities.

Thirdly, the ethic of the team quite clearly taught all its members that hard work, determination, and endurance were essential commitments for the team. From an exploration of fitness, discipline, and rigor, the team formed the confidence and resilience to advance.

I am a student of culture, and I believe that schools, colleges, and universities have the potential and responsibility to create an inspiring ethos and abiding spirit within their communities. I am surprised to see so many schools and colleges forfeit the opportunity to create cultures of generosity, inclusion, integrity, and excellence.

Building school culture is demanding, exciting, and transformational. That is why it has been the central obsession of my work as St. Andrew’s Head of School. As we strive with all our might to be the best boarding school in the world, we explicitly identify school ethos as the foundation for our pursuit of excellence. I see striking similarities between the model created here and the one on display this summer in France with the US Women’s team.

St. Andrew’s relies on the powerful example of students, faculty, and staff who have preceded us. Our seniors this year quite intentionally model their approach to learning, to leadership on the examples set by their own senior mentors in their earlier years at the School. Even as our faculty seek to create new teaching and learning opportunities this year, they honor the example of creativity and professionalism set by their mentors. As Head of School, I try to build on the courage and hard work my predecessor Jon O’Brien displayed from 1977-1997.

We welcome new students to the St. Andrew’s family immediately, without hesitation or precondition. We deplore and reject hierarchies of student power, privilege, or presumption that can often influence older students’ attitude towards and treatment of younger students. We seek to create a community that is close knit in its many forms and expressions of diversity and excellence.

Above all, we want the School to be “incredibly uplifting” to the minds, character, and leadership of our students. To achieve this goal, we literally have to disrupt so many educational patterns that plague schools today: teachers who lack passion, inspiration, vigor, and dedication; student fear, docility, fragility, passivity; technology that effectively distorts our ability to sustain analytical thinking, reading, research, and attention; rising rates of anxiety and depression among adolescents; a pursuit of perfectionism that destroys student initiative and exploration. 

It makes so much sense to me to construct a culture that helps students discover possibility, engagement, and the responsible good work our world needs and deserves. Here, finally, is a community not based on fear, compliance, conformity, fear, or cynicism. At St. Andrew’s anything and everything is possible.

I will be writing you throughout the year on the work and aspirations of St. Andrew’s, including a letter in early August with specific information about the new year, policies and procedures, and new faculty.

For now, let me close by saying how much I appreciate parental support of St. Andrew’s culture. I see two kinds of models of parenting in secondary education today. One group believes the School serves as the private and exclusive firm or agency representing the advancement by any means necessary (think of the college admissions scandal) of their child. The other paradigm believes that parenting involves trusting in the art of education and joining with the School in a collective effort to create character, leadership, integrity, and grace for all students. I rejoice that you all make St. Andrew’s a place of expectation, joy, and possibility.

Daniel T. Roach, Jr.
Merrill M. Stenbeck Head of School

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