A recent article in The Atlantic argued that smaller private schools are dying out and are gradually being replaced by more affordable options such as public and charter schools. This argument had me thinking about the value of a boarding school education; boarding schools have an opportunity to “double down”—but only if we can articulate what makes us special, a value we all deeply believe exists.
This article’s wake up gong is good for us to consider. And yet, the 24/7 model of a boarding school creates what I believe are hard-to-measure interactions across the spectrum of things we do.
Certain things are timeless. This week, I was reminded of that when I heard about the varsity baseball teams victory over Pomfret and listened to the student council present to department heads. The dance concert tonight is another example of creating an invaluable student experience. In all of these examples, the “doing” means that you have to be there.
The article also had me thinking about how the argument of “turning to families from Asia who can afford tuition” is always, and I mean always, written as a pejorative. There’s a story in that. Schools have always evolved over time. If American boarding schools are a highly sought after experience among an international population, is that so bad?
Until the great social changes brought upon by the Civil Rights movement—I am thinking here of such landmarks as Brown vs. the Board of Education and Johnson’s Civil Right’s Act—boarding schools, and indeed colleges in New England, catered primarily to elite populations. Then the great egalitarian sweep of U.S. geographical distribution occurred. And now we are schools to the world.
While tuition costs may be growing, I believe the world view, rather than the provincial one, will create growth opportunities for building sustainable models. Certainly private institutions need to increase endowments for tuition relief—but most important is that we continue to offer relevant and timeless education opportunities for all.
As we approach the opening night of The Laramie Project, it is well that we remember a foundational value at Williston: Respect. That value was apparent at a recent assembly, when student actors showed this testimonial video. The video, which highlighted the impact that The Laramie Project has had on their world views, is one example of the best that a Williston education has to offer. How wonderful that students, including some previously unfamiliar with the stage, should choose to work on such a powerful and moving play.
Laramie Project Cast © Janine Norton
I am constantly reminded that Williston is a respectful community, where individuals are valued and supported for who they are; it’s a “community of ‘we’” as I like to quote a student as saying.
As I read with sadness the uncivil discourse affecting an Ivy League college in New Hampshire (over issues of inclusivity and fundamental principles of respect and integrity), it is my fervent hope that Williston students will be leaders in their future communities, helping us advance towards the betterment of all.
Seoul, Taipei, Hong Kong, and four more stops before returning to Williston. It has been a fast paced trip to Asia—too fast to see all of the alumni who constitute Williston’s extended global family. But as with our last trip, I (and all the Williston folks traveling with me) have been overwhelmed by the hospitality of our hosts and the eagerness for news. I’ve been talking to many people about the good initiatives underway at Williston, as well as those still to come.
Moving from country to country, I can’t help but juxtapose various meetings. Here’s an example of what I mean: At one point, we met the distinguished citizen of Seoul (and Williston’s first Korean alumnus), Mr. Yun, son of a former South Korean president. He graciously showed us his traditional home. In Hong Kong, we met Ronald Chan, from the Class of 2001. Mr. Chan represents the younger generation of civic-minded Willistonians in his role as political assistant to the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs. Two men, two different eras, both committed to civic engagement and the public good.
Robert Ward liked to quote the poet Robert Frost in saying that Williston instills in its students “doing good well. ” On this trip, we have witnessed that such values have a truly global reach.
I was reflecting upon the rounds that I enjoy making at Williston and two moments coalesced and inspired this post. The first was an English department meeting which only a former English teacher could love. During the period, our department had a deep discussion on the use of the semi-colon. (Actually, much more was happening, too, as those in the group challenged one another’s ideas about teaching writing and how students analyze different texts.) “What a great moment,” I thought. It showed that our adopted schedule has given Williston’s professionals time to do what they do best.
Being peripatetic, I encountered another such moment—but this one the result of considerable labor, time, and planning. The Modern Language department’s curricular review team (the final visit of outside experts in a year-long process) created a report about how we teach languages at Williston. Everything from the use of technology to “backward design” has been discussed, challenged, and tested.
I’m not sure how many of our students know the extent to which our teachers are committed to life-long learning, but Williston’s teachers model the message—the same message they deliver every day in classrooms across campus. Their continuous professional development demonstrates that good teaching is no accident.
Talk about having an engaged Board of Trustees. If work and knowledge are twin pillars of strong boards of trustees, then Williston’s Board showed their mettle this past weekend over long and productive days of work. I have been around a number of boards in my time, but the energy and interest shown by our group was exemplary.
One highlight was certainly “Windows into Williston” and the Board’s exchange with a student panel which focused on the strategic issues exercise of “stop, start, and continue.” Members listened and asked questions as a cross section of students offered their insights about Williston today. As always, Williston students displayed the Purpose, Passion, and Integrity that define our school as they spoke about ways of further strengthening our deep sense of community, developing more Williston Scholars offerings, and increasing opportunities for day students to interact with boarding students.