Last Friday was a memorable day for my family and me. Knowing I had out-of-town family waiting at my house in the afternoon, I hoped to excuse myself from duties a little early. But a handful of administrators kept approaching me with increasingly detailed questions, preventing me from my planned departure. Little did I know that Erin and Cynthia, in cooperation with many accomplices, had planned a surprise with 247 children as the attraction. Too busy to analyze their ulterior motives, I fell right into the trap of our entire school lining the Lower School hallway, singing a joyous song.
For most independent schools, the busy admissions season is behind us and we finalize the last few details of our incoming and graduating classes. Connie and Kate have nearly completed the work in filling next year’s Kindergarten class and the rare seat in other grades around the school (our retention rate remains excellent at 92%). Attention is now directed toward welcoming our incoming students and families. Incoming parents and our returning mentor parents will meet for the first time at next week’s Parent Association meeting.
Spring is the season for flowering trees, colorful bulbs, and Head of School conferences. In the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to meet with Heads of AIMS schools and the network of Heads from Quaker schools around the country. While it was the last time I will meet with these groups in my current capacity, I was again struck by the creative approaches to the challenges we all face, and the remarkably strong position we continue to hold.
What is the value of a vibrant performance component to a school? Last week, we were reminded once again that opportunities for children to perform bring many unanticipated results. The 6th-grade production of Mary Poppins on Wednesday and Thursday evenings featured our entire 6th grade singing, dancing, and working together on our largest production ever. The resounding success does not simply reflect the talent of our students, but also the deep commitment of the entire community to support such an undertaking.
As a Quaker, progressive school, we want our teachers to model the behaviors and traits that we try to promote among our students. For teachers, lifelong learning should include a deep commitment to ongoing professional development. Like many independent schools, we support teachers as they go to summer conferences and workshops, regional and national teachers association meetings, and even accreditation visits to other schools. Still, there is a place and a significant need for teachers to share practices among themselves, as we encourage each other’s growth. Such an opportunity is happening today at Burgundy Farm School in Alexandria, Virginia.
For many years here, I have hoped to establish a lasting relationship with the University of Maryland’s Department of Education. As their mission is to provide training for educators who plan to enter the public schools, the university initially showed minimal interest. Through ongoing conversations with prospective teachers and some university personnel, it became clear that our progressive approach to teaching the humanities, math, and science dovetailed nicely with the university’s philosophy of teacher preparation. This winter, we were approached by the senior staff of Terrapin Teachers to initiate a partnership.
As I reread our school’s history, I am deeply moved by our Board’s commitment to environmental stewardship. Those who were involved in the design and planning of our current building took important steps to minimize non-essential water consumption and our demand for energy to heat and light the building. Our thoughtful design included incorporating passive solar energy, high efficiency boilers, light sensors, and high R-values for windows and exterior wall insulation.
We ask a lot of our teachers here at FCS. They know that they are expected to design engaging lessons, provide regular feedback to students and parents, mediate misunderstandings among students, incorporate instructional technology and data collection tools, orchestrate our unique birthday celebrations, organize field trips, and grow professionally through connections to regional and national educational associations. We teach because we find this work to be gratifying and fulfilling.
March is an exciting month in independent schools as we announce our admissions decisions. Earlier this school year, I reported that applications to FCS were running well ahead of previous years, setting new records. Based on an excellent return rate of 93% for re-enrolling families, we had few openings in many classes. After reviewing the files of 130 applicants, we announced our offers to many hopeful families last Friday, with a significant wait list. We can expect our school to be filled to capacity again next year.
I remember conversations from years ago around Black History Month. The FCS community has a long tradition of putting considerable thought into celebrating the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday both in school and in the wider community. Together, our Meeting Partners learn about Dr. King through readings, videos, peacemaker posters, and our own protest march. Our school’s chorus has participated in College Park’s annual MLK celebration for over 20 years. But what about the larger picture of exploring African American history intentionally and in much greater detail in February?
The most frequent questions from this year’s prospective parents are about the leadership transition at FCS. Parents hope that our Quaker values, progressive pedagogy, and welcoming tone will continue to be hallmarks of an FCS education. Our community is working to welcome Angela Garcia and to provide opportunities for her to better understand and appreciate FCS’s strengths and areas for growth.
It has been one year since the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. We are reminded that 17 students and teachers lost their lives in a senseless act of violence. Like never before, the students of Parkland rose up to force adults to face the unpleasant facts about gun violence. Parkland students joined with students from around the country to remind us of the impact that gun violence has had on our schools and many of our neighborhoods. Since Parkland, 11 members of the congregation of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh died; seven are still recovering. In 2018, deaths related to gun violence, including suicide, reached the highest level in 40 years.
Sometimes you need to experience something to understand it. Over the last several years, guided by Malathi Rajagopalan, our Director of Learning Support, we have improved our ability to differentiate instruction to address the learning needs of the range of our students. Last week, a hands-on lesson helped me better understand how learning challenges affect children.
Reading the Washington Post is an essential part of many of my mornings at home. The front page gives me a quick summary of politics, stalemates, and challenges to our environment, while the Metro section is mostly local news, thought-provoking columns, and obituaries. Last week, I stopped and read one with interest.
On a normal day at this time of year, I schedule time to meet with prospective parents. I have always found these conversations to be informative, giving both parents and the school greater insight into the admissions process here at FCS. Again this year, virtually every parent has commented positively on the student tour guides, and some also commented on our students who host prospective students on their shadow day.
I was saddened to hear that a very good friend of FCS, Rob Soley, passed away over our holiday break. Many here know Rob as the private tutor who appeared at school at all hours to focus on the learning needs of our students. But Rob’s presence here was so much more than 45-minute segments of skill development. Rob built children’s confidence and gently reassured parents that their child was gaining skills and habits to find their way in life.
Located in College Park, MD, Friends Community School is a progressive Quaker K-8 day school, founded on the belief that every child is a valued member of our community. We offer a challenging curriculum imbued with strong values of equality, integrity, community, environmental stewardship, simplicity and peaceful conflict resolution, rooted in our Quaker heritage.
Friends Community School 5901 Westchester Park Drive College Park, Maryland 20740 301-441-2100