Category Archives: Academics at work

Beneath the Surface

Williston is up and running on our one-to-one tablet computers—the Surface Pro—and the results are coming in. Sure there will be some glitches along the way, but seeing students and faculty with the same device and already hearing about the great applications for teachers is music to my ears.

This is not your father’s laptop—and it’s certainly not an old operating system. Here’s an example:  Remember all of those long note taking lectures in college where one painstakingly filled in notebooks, only to return at the end of the term to try and make sense of the long forgotten context?  The school-wide application OneNote syncs the teachers power point to the students’ notes: a student’s notes will link directly back to the teacher’s slides. Donnie McKillop is employing this practice in his ninth grade World Civilization classes. Josh Seamon has also been using OneNote to project lessons, collect homework assignments, and share his own notes. Thanks to both of them for sharing their innovative classroom work!

As the year progress, I look forward to hearing about, and then sharing here, how more teachers at Williston are using the Surface Pros and incorporating all of the new technology into their classes. It’s a brave new world, and I can’t wait for us all to explore it together.

Doubling Down on Boarding Schools

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.

Civil Discourse

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.

Easthampton to Asia

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.

A Novel Novelist

A dream come true. That’s what Maddie Blaise said when she attended the 15th annual Writers Workshop (which she and close friend, Elinor Lipman, founded as Williston parents when their own children attended Williston). The dream was none other than award-winning, first-time novelist, Jennifer duBois ’02 sharing her work and thoughts as this season’s first visiting author.

DuBois’ novel, A Partial History of Lost Causes, has made quite a splash in the literary world, earning her recognition as one of the top five authors to watch under the age of 35.

She fielded many questions from the eager audience at her alma mater—including one from me. I asked her how she would have written this work in the pre-Internet era. She had explained that her research included leaning from the photos of random vacationers to Russia, courtesy of Flickr. (See the Williston Northampton Flickr site here.)

What a treat to see a Williston grad achieve such success and remember her teachers and school so fondly.