From the Headmaster's Desk
I once gave a speech at my own high school graduation for about 500 graduates and about a thousand guests. Four years later, I gave another speech at my college graduation, with about three thousand graduates and about six thousand more guests. Nobody comes to graduation to hear the speeches, but they can still have an impact--bad or controversial ones, especially, can forever taint the memory of a special day for thousands of people.
This is why it surprises me that administrators at both of my graduations allowed me to address thousands of people without any discussion/review of what I was going to say. I didn’t have a written speech for either graduation—just a broad idea of what I hoped to say and some key phrases and bullet points jotted down on a piece of scratch paper. I resisted too much preparation or thoughtful deliberation on word choice, aiming instead to be genuine, to “speak from the heart.” (Fortunately, both speeches turned out fine, though I’m certain the only person who remembers what was said is me.)
Now, twenty years later, I have far more mixed emotions about offering unprepared, unscripted “speaking from the heart” remarks. With age comes wisdom, they say… which I think is true because with age come years of mistakes. And I’ve made lots of them. I’ve made spur-of-the-moment jokes that were funny to me but offensive to others. More than once, I’ve gone off on impromptu rhetorical tangents and then completely missed the most important points I needed to share. As a school leader, I’ve used ill-considered language that demoralized colleagues, and in parent meetings I’ve said thoughtless things that were understandably considered hurtful, condescending, or judgmental. The vast majority of these times, my “from the heart” words didn’t accurately reflect what was truly in my heart at all. Other times, they did—moments of personal failure when I was unkind, ungenerous, unsympathetic… and then, unfortunately, unfiltered.
Words matter. I think this is why our elected leaders often stick to the talking points and avoid straying from poll-tested platitudes in the era of 24/7 news, weaponized outrage, viral videos, and social media that can reach millions in seconds. A single moment of unguarded candor—either clumsily misstating true feelings, or accidentally revealing them—could instantly derail any good that a leader hopes to accomplish. The irony is that as a result of their over-corrections, we then distrust what they tell us—skepticism escalates into cynicism and a belief that leaders’ words are always meaningless and actually don’t matter after all. We yearn for “straight talk,” vilify “political correctness,” and are tempted to tolerate (or even to celebrate) language that is inflammatory, disrespectful, or offensive because, well, at least it’s genuine.
Since those graduation speeches all those years ago, I’ve come to now believe that we don’t have to choose between being respectful and being candid, between being thoughtful and being genuine. The solution isn’t to stick to timid, insincere, or non-controversial talking points any more than it is to be recklessly unfiltered and inconsiderate in the name of “telling it like it is.” We can be respectfully candid and thoughtfully genuine, even (and especially) during our most profound disagreements. While I’m very far from perfect in this regard, I want to acknowledge my earnest commitment to this type of communication in our St. Timothy’s community, even (and especially) during our rare moments of disagreement. Our children are in the absolutely crucial stages right now where what they experience in our community--what they see and hear from their families and their teachers each day--will shape a worldview they’ll hold for the rest of their lives. We owe it to them to model how to be respectfully candid and thoughtfully genuine, with no trade-offs necessary.
I’ve got a few blogs I hope to offer this year that I’m mentally composing at the moment. They’re about potentially controversial topics—like bullying, where I have been in conflict with parents perhaps more often than on any other topic in my decade-plus as a school administrator. My hope with these blogs is not one-sided preaching, but to offer a (hopefully) respectfully candid and thoughtfully genuine context for why we do what we do and say what we say, and encourage discussion on those terms. Hey, maybe we can go viral… stay tuned!
It’s a great day to be a (thoughtfully candid and respectfully genuine) Titan!
Periodically, I’m asked whether we take our summers off like our students. And while I personally will take a nice two-week vacation/”Griswold family road trip” through Arizona, Utah and Colorado this summer, there is still a lot of work to be done at STS even in the summer months. Here’s a sampling of what we expect in Summer 2017:
Just before they depart for the summer, our Academic Council of teacher-leaders meet with me to debrief on the past year and to recommend any policy/handbook changes for the upcoming year.
On the first day after teachers leave, our Administration Team gathers at my home for our year-end Administrators’ Retreat. All morning long, and into the afternoon, we review the previous year and discuss what went well and what we might improve upon—helping us set our goals for the summer and next year.
Then, about a dozen of us who are year-long employees go to work for the rest of the summer finalizing class schedules and course offerings for the new year. We complete all hiring, budgeting, and ordering supplies and furniture as our enrollment numbers become more certain. We make updates to the handbooks, and prepare for our June and July summer mailings to families. We plan meetings and professional development goals for the new year.
Our development office will be very busy as we make significant alumni outreach efforts, organize a Grandparents’ Council, and recruit chairs and retain consultants to help us move ahead with a capital campaign for a new field and play space as soon as possible.
Summer is always the busiest time of the year for Facilities Director Frank Morey and Custodian Bill Jones. It’s a time for locker maintenance, desk repair, carpet and floor cleaning, painting, and more. Just one small example from our facilities “to-do” list each summer: cleaning every light fixture in each classroom, hallway and office. Additionally, this summer—thanks to Founders’ Day funds and additional support from Friends of St. Timothy’s—we’re excited to install air conditioning in the gymnasium. And, thanks to great Annual Fund support, we’ll be replacing all of the floors in our first and second grade rooms and making some big upgrades to the Ham Playground.
Mr. Cobb, Mr. Bogumil and a “tech crew” of many STS alumni will do annual computer maintenance and Chromebook replenishment. Thanks to a generous gift from Friends of St. Timothy’s School, this crew will also be installing printers for each classroom in grades 1-8 this summer. We’ll also be installing a new phone and intercom system—our first in over 10 years.
Cathy Clement keeps busy in our Admissions Office all summer, as we welcome and work closely with new and prospective families. Last summer, we admitted over 20 new students... we’re excited to see what 2017 holds! Our Finance Office stays busy as we close out the fiscal year that ends June 30 and begin processing the first July tuition payments for 2016-17.
And let’s not forget our summer camps! Several hundred children participate in our camps on campus offered all summer long.
In late summer, we finalize plans for all of our back-to-school activities of mid-to-late August... new teacher orientation, new student orientation, PK/K playdates, new family breakfast, “Meet the Teacher” nights, first day Convocation, and more. Our 15 administrators that began the summer looking back at the year that was ends the summer with another off-campus retreat looking ahead and outlining each of our goals for the new year.
As you can see, a lot of valuable work happens over the summer. There is never a day when we don’t have at least a few items on our “to-do” lists! That hard summer work is always rewarded on the first day of school when we get our students back—smiling, happy, and energized for another exciting year ahead. It’ll be here before we know it, I’m sure!
It’s a great summer to be a Titan!
Traffic slows to a crawl on the highway because of construction blocking the right lane, and I dutifully merge left. But then I see one car speeding down the right lane to zip in front of everyone at the last second. All of us are trying to get to work… to family… to the next exit because our child in the back seat just announced he needs to visit a restroom ASAP… and yet this guy zooming past me on the right thinks he’s special. He thinks he should be first in line. This is one of those “me-first” moments that really frustrates me (as my children in the back seat can confirm).
But there’s another, subtler kind of “me-first” (or “I-first,” technically) behavior that I’ve been thinking about lately… and I think it’s a good thing. It can start with a simple choice of how we phrase a sentence. Consider these examples:
“That test was confusing.” vs. “I was confused on that test.”
“My computer isn’t working.” vs. “I can’t get my computer to work correctly.”
Each of those pairs of sentences basically conveys the same fact, but how we choose to phrase it—what comes first in the sentence—can have a big impact on whether we’re inclined towards blame or responsibility.
“That test was confusing” can pretty quickly lead to “My teacher doesn’t know how to make tests,” or “The study guide didn’t prepare me well,” or “My teacher never taught me that material.” It’s about blame. Sometimes blame can feel reassuring. “It’s not MY fault.”
If I'm honest, I have to admit that I'm often instinctively drawn towards blame in difficult moments. Blame is easy. When we blame, we don’t bear responsibility ourselves. And because responsibility normally involves hard work, blame means less work for us.
The problem with blame is that it’s a dead-end road. If our goal is for things to get better, then we need responsibility, not blame. Someone needs to step up, roll up their sleeves, and commit to the work required to make things better. But saying “someone else ought to do something” doesn’t get us much farther than blame does.
“I was confused on that test… so I ought to do something about it.” What can I do? Maybe I can go see my teacher to explain my confusion and seek help. Maybe I can study more or differently next time. Putting myself first in this sentence opens me up to more work, yes, but it also empowers me and reminds me that I have the ability to make things better. I’m not helpless in this situation. There are lots of possibilities before me that I can control.
With this in mind, I’m going to recommit to paying close attention to how I phrase my sentences in difficult moments… those times when I’m frustrated, hurt or disappointed. And I’m going to try to help my children be more attentive to what they say and how they respond in their own similar moments. The difference between whether circumstances improve or not could be the difference between whether we pursue the path of blame or the path of responsibility… and that could all be set in motion by the very first word of our sentence.
It's a great day to be a (responsible) Titan!
Anecdotes are important. Many of the meetings, email, and phone calls I handle on a daily basis are anecdote-related. A student has a good experience, and a parent sends me a message of gratitude and praise. A student has a bad experience, and we receive constructive criticism. A couple of parents may have a discussion about something they’ve seen or heard and want to bring it to my attention. These are all anecdotal—stories about particular experiences that merit careful consideration and thoughtful response.
While anecdotes are important, it’s vital to reflect on them in the context of broader, more comprehensive data. We spend a lot of time at St. Timothy’s School collecting and analyzing data—student performance data, enrollment and inquiry data, financial and fundraising data, and separate surveys every year of alumni, faculty, students, and parents.
In the annual STS Parent Survey, each October/November, we ask families over one hundred questions about their current St. Timothy’s experience. The full results, including every open-ended response, are reviewed by senior administrators and shared with our St. Timothy’s Board of Trustees. Detailed responses are also sent to all teachers and discussed at a faculty meeting. These parent survey results help us identify (and thereby support/protect) the areas our families like best about STS, as well as focus on areas where we can get better. What follows is an executive summary of our (very strong) annual STS Parent Survey results from October/November 2016:Of the over 300 survey participants…
- 56 have a child in our Early Childhood Program (Pre-K and Kindergarten)
- 139 have a child in Lower School Grades 1-4
- 179 have a child in Middle School (Grades 5-8)
We asked parents to rate each of the following items on a 1 (Very Poor) to 5 (Excellent) Scale:
Average Number of Students per Classroom
Co-Curricular Programs (clubs, etc.)
Degree of Protection from Harm or Negative Influences
Development of Age-Appropriate Life Skills
Development of Fine Motor Skills (Early Childhood Only)
Development of Leadership Skills
Development of Social-Emotional Skills
Faculty Care and Concern
Head of [Lower or Middle] School
Integration of Technology
Opportunities for Play
Quality of Faculty
Quality of Written Comments from Teachers on Progress Reports
Relations with Peers
Responsiveness of Teachers to Your Suggestions/Concerns
Service Learning/Community Service Programs
- Our top survey result among Early Childhood parents was Faculty Care and Concern, which earned a 4.81 average, with over 96% of parents rating it a 4 or a 5. Other top scores were Head of Lower School (4.8 average), and Opportunities for Play/Development of Social-Emotional Skills/Development of Age-Appropriate Life Skills (each at a 4.78 average).
- Every one of the 29 items in the Early Childhood survey averaged at least a 4.47 or higher. Areas of notable concern were not immediately apparent in the Early Childhood survey results.
- For grades 1-4, Faculty Care and Concern was the top result, averaging 4.76, with 98% of parents rating it a 4 or 5. Other top scores were Average Number of Students per Classroom (4.69 average), Quality of Faculty (4.67 Average), and Responsiveness of Teachers (4.60 average).
- Every one of the 34 different items in the Grades 1-4 survey averaged at least a 4.17 or higher. (“Facilities” was our lowest average, at 4.17, with 79% of parents rating it at a 4 or 5.)
- In the Middle School, Middle School Head was the top result, with a 4.57 average and 92% of parents rating it a 4 or a 5. Other top scores were Academic Program (4.51 average), Faculty Care and Concern, Integration of Technology, and Quality of Faculty (4.46 average each).
- Middle School parents rated 40 different items, and 38 averaged a 4.0 or higher. The two items below a 4.0 average were Personalized Instruction/Differentiation (3.94 average, 75% of parents rating it a 4 or a 5) and Religion (3.95 average, 71% of parents rating it a 4 or a 5).
- We also asked parents what was most important to them in selecting St. Timothy’s and choosing to remain enrolled. They rated items on a 1 (Not at All Important) to 5 (Extremely Important) scale. Faculty Care and Concern (4.87 average; 100% of parents rating it a 4 or 5) is the most important item to STS families. Also very important are Quality of Faculty (4.86 average; 98% rating it a 4 or 5) and School Atmosphere/Culture (4.82 average; 99% rating it a 4 or 5).
- On a series of communication questions, our highest averages were on Frequency of Communication from School Leadership (4.57 average; 93% rating it a 4 or 5), School Newsletters (4.54 average), and Quality of Communication from School Leadership (4.43 average). All items averaged at least a 4.09 score, with Frequency of Fundraising Solicitations averaging a 4.09 and 78% rating it a 4 or 5.
- 96% of survey participants said that they were Extremely Likely or Likely to recommend St. Timothy’s School to another family.
Overall, when over 300 parents complete an optional survey and nearly every item averages over 4 out of a possible 5 points, we know that what we offer resonates with and is valued by our STS families. These strong survey results are in line with the consistently positive feedback we receive each spring when students and faculty are surveyed, and the 90%-95% of families who re-enroll at STS year after year. However, we know we’re not perfect; we’re always trying to get better, and survey data helps us find opportunities for improvement. But when the areas for improvement are identified because “only” 7 out of 10 or three-quarters of parents rate it as a high score, we know we’re at a wonderful starting point!It’s a great day to be a Titan!
During this season of giving and gratitude, I want to share my gratitude for the incredible community of giving we have at St. Timothy’s School. We know the importance of outstanding preparatory academics in equipping our students with skills for success. I think equally (and maybe even more) important in preparing our students for a lifetime of meaning and impact is helping them to regularly think beyond themselves.
St. Timothy's School is a place where we help our children not just to be smart, hard-working, well-rounded students, but also to be good people. I’m grateful for all of the hard work of so many in the St. Timothy’s community that inspire our students (including my own three sons) to have a lifetime commitment to making a positive impact on others.
Here are just a few highlights of our students’ service over the last year:
- Middle schoolers packed 10,000 meals for Stop Hunger Now.
- Students of all ages and their families provided two truckloads of Christmas gifts for five local families through the Salvation Army.
- Student Council raised money for hurricane relief in eastern North Carolina.
- Our spring 2016 “Social Entrepreneurship” class made and marketed dog toys to raise money for the SPCA.
- Students gave up their break time to pack hundreds of lunches for the Raleigh Rescue Mission.
- Eighth graders did a day of service at the Salvation Army in Durham and the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina to commemorate September 11.
- Sixth grade classes read poetry and sang with Alzheimer’s patients at Brookdale Memory Care.
- One of our students launched a winter clothing drive for a Title I school in Connecticut where many children didn’t have warm winter coats.
- Fifth graders made Thanksgiving cards for home-bound seniors receiving Meals on Wheels.
- After a class discussion about Thanksgiving and gratitude, second grade students organized an impromptu food drive for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina.
- Writer’s Workshop students corresponded with veterans who are in the Harnett County Veteran’s Court system for minor offenses, often related to post-traumatic stress disorder. The coordinator for the program visited with us on Veterans Day this year and told our students their words of gratitude and encouragement have been transformational for veterans who are trying to get their lives in order.
- After two different trips to Haiti in 2016, STS faculty and staff brought back stories and experiences that have inspired our students. As a result, Friends of St. Timothy's outfitted St. Timothee’s in Boucan-Carre with new pews and school benches, and we provided over 200 children there with three days of school lunches. Our fourth and sixth grade students partnered to send friendship bracelets and alphabet books along with our teachers this October, and they were received with profound joy and gratitude.
I’ve likely neglected to mention a dozen or more additional ways our students have “thought beyond themselves” this year to serve others in our community. However, I hope the point has been made: St. Timothy’s students are making an extraordinary contribution in this world. And, in turn, I sincerely hope these experiences at STS will leave a profound and lasting impact on our own students’ lives, too. As a parent and as a headmaster, I continue to be grateful for St. Timothy's School!
It’s a great day to be a Titan!
All of the talk about the upcoming presidential election has me reflecting on President Reagan’s iconic question: “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?” Regarding STS, here are some thoughts:
- In 2012, our opening day enrollment was 427. Opening day 2016 enrollment was 503.
- In 2012, we raised $85,000 in the Annual Fund, with about 40% parent participation. Last year, we raised over $215,000, with almost 70% parent participation.
- In 2012, we identified instructional technology as a critical need in our school. In 2016, every middle schooler has a Chromebook, and iPads, laptops, and Chromebooks are available for every Lower School class, in addition to our exciting new Imagination Lab.
- In 2012, parents were requesting that the school “bring back Spanish” after its absence for a few years. In 2016, we now employ two full-time Spanish teachers to promote language acquisition in Lower School and offer Spanish to complement the outstanding Latin program in the Middle School.
- Fine Arts participation and distinction has exponentially increased in the last four years. In 2016, we have more bands than ever (like the wind ensemble, who earned their first “Superior” distinction in 2016), thriving choral programs (who earned another consecutive “Superior” distinction in 2016), new drama classes and exceptional new productions, and a record number of Scholastic Art gold/silver key awards that have distinguished STS as a regional leader in visual arts.
- With the addition of our softball team, several new junior varsity teams and development teams, the explosion of our cross country program, the creation of lower school running club, the new strength club and the addition of our training room, in 2016 we are engaging more student-athletes, and in more ways, than ever before.
- Thanks to visionary new funding in the last three years by the Dr. Albert Joseph Diab Foundation, St. Timothy’s has sent teachers to fossil studies in Colorado, culture and language classes in Spain and Costa Rica, poetry programs at Oxford, writing courses at Columbia University, NASA’s Space Camp, and so much more.
- Thinking globally… this fall, we’ll welcome our fifth group of Guatemalan exchange students since the program’s inception in 2012, and 2016 kicked off with a new partnership with St. Timothee’s School in Haiti (with a second STS delegation visiting Haiti this fall).
I could go on, but I’m afraid it may appear self-congratulatory, since many will recognize that my arrival at STS also occurred in 2012. However, this is not about me; I didn’t accomplish anything on this list—our entire community did. Yes, St. Timothy’s is better off than it was four years ago, and I’m so grateful to have witnessed and participated in this wonderful growth and continuing excellence of our school.
But as we rightfully celebrate some incredible successes in 2016, it’s important to point out two crucial facts:
(1) St. Timothy’s School was already an outstanding, exceptional place in 2012… and in 2008… and 2004… and for decades before that. The “Hale years”, the “Evans years”, the “Bailey years”…. our STS community worked hard and experienced wonderful successes and incredible accomplishments during those times, as well. The successes of 2016 are their legacies, too, and wouldn’t be possible without the work and dedication of those communities in previous times. Unlike in elections, we don’t need to introduce distinctions to try to make one “term” look better than a previous one. All of us—students, parents, teachers, administrators—are caretakers of a legacy of excellence at STS that predated our arrival, and, God willing, we can only hope to maintain and contribute positively to that legacy in our time together so that it may be enjoyed by those who follow us as they celebrate even greater successes.
(2) Over the last four years, there have been a lot of changes at St. Timothy’s School. But I worry sometimes that those who celebrate these changes, as well as those who lament them, might forget that there were lots of changes at St. Timothy’s School over the four years before that, and the four years before that, etc. St. Timothy’s has always been changing. Education is changing. The workforce is changing. The world is changing.
The Chromebooks or the “Imagination Lab” we add this year are just extensions of the changes that happened years ago when STS added computer labs for the first time and “new” Technology and Keyboarding classes were introduced. We offer Spanish and Latin now… there was once a time when “Madame Lord” (now second grade teacher Mrs. Lord) was our French teacher. As we look at a new master plan with fields and beautiful new buildings, don’t forget there was a time when our main classroom building that I’m sitting in now was also just an illustration being shared with families while their children attended classes in Sharp, Tracy and Stuart Halls. There was once a time when St. Timothy’s only offered kindergarten, and no other grade levels (because kindergarten wasn’t available in Wake County Public Schools). St. Timothy’s history is a history of change.
At its core, though, St. Timothy’s identity has never changed, and will never change. Carolyn Hale, who founded STS along with her husband in 1958, says that STS was “based on the ideas of love of God, the highest level of scholarship, discipline in the daily school life, good manners, and fun … a wonderful school where learning and fun go hand in hand!” Reflecting on Mrs. Hale’s vision, I’d say St. Timothy’s of 2016 is the exact same school it’s always been, and that’s a very good thing for us all.
It’s a great day to be a Titan!
It’s been another great year at St. Timothy’s School! We head into summer with Lower School math classes ranked among the top in the state in “First in Math”, with music and art programs earning awards that put them among the best in our region, with national distinction for our Latin students, and with an STS student earning a top spot in the state science fair for the sixth time since 2010. Our athletic programs' student participation is stronger than ever—nearly 85%—with more teams offered this year than ever before, and we were recognized among the top 3 winningest overall programs in our conference for the fourth consecutive year. We had unprecedented parent support in our Annual Fund—with two out of every three families participating, supporting our school with a record-breaking $210,000. Enrollment continues to strengthen—with 480 students already enrolled for 2016-17—approaching our all-time enrollment record set in 2008. And we’re taking our first steps forward on an exciting, visionary, and ambitious campus master plan that will ensure we offer our students an unsurpassed learning environment for generations to come. It’s a GREAT day to be a Titan!
With so many great things happening, it’s tough to keep track of them all. One item that I haven’t spoken about recently—but that continues to be very important—is the effort that has gone into health and wellness initiatives at STS this year. My first blog of 2015-16 shared our rationale and aspirations for offering a healthy community for our students. The result was a dozen “working groups” of mostly parent, but also several staff, volunteers who examined our lunch offerings, our snacks/treats policies, our good behavior rewards, the Learning Garden use/curriculum, health resources we make available to faculty, students and families, and more. I’m so grateful to the many people who gave of their time to research best health and wellness practices at other schools and prepare reports with recommendations for me.
This is a marathon, not a sprint. Our health and wellness initiatives and focus are not something that confine themselves simply to the 2015-16 school year. Thanks to one working group, we’ve been connected to experts at the Poe Center who will speak with our faculty next year about connections between wellness and academic performance. Another working group collected many curricular resources from award-winning learning gardens at other schools that I’ve been able to share with our division heads to explore here at STS. Another group connected us to three alternative lunch vendors/programs used in peer schools around the state. Discussions with them—and with Campus Cuisine—will continue next year as we evaluate our lunch options for ensuring affordable, convenient, healthy choices for students. One group’s work on assessing our overall health and wellness and compiling resources for families was so impressive that I’ve asked for permission to share it--available by clicking here.
Another important outcome of our efforts this year was a school-wide survey on health and wellness. We had as much parent participation in this survey as in any survey we’ve administered in my time at St. Timothy’s School. The results are available here, and they offer us all a valuable context in which we make policy decisions about our children’s health and wellness, now and in the future. Fundamentally, it tells me that our STS philosophy I shared back in the fall is appropriate—we’re a community of moderation, not extremes, and maximizing each parent’s ability to shape his/her own child’s nutritional choices is very important. I very much look forward to taking thoughtful steps to continue to offer a healthy environment for our children in the context of this broader STS philosophy.
As we head off for summer, please know that lots of work will continue to be done at STS even with our students’ absence. We’ll meet, we’ll plan, and make all necessary preparations to ensure 2016-17 is the best year yet for St. Timothy’s School. Enjoy your summer! Let the countdown to August 17 begin! It’s been another great year to be a Titan!
In my last blog, I shared the most powerful lesson I learned in Haiti: joy, faith, hope and love can—and do—abound in the midst of poverty, hunger, instability and uncertainty. However, there were many other lessons learned, too— “wow moments” I called them, because when they happened, I always seemed to catch myself shaking my head and whispering “wow” under my breath. I probably said “wow” more than any other word during my time in Haiti. Here are three of those memorable moments:
Moment # 1 – What does a traffic jam look like with no lanes or stop lights?
It didn’t take long to be amazed by Haiti. Just after arriving, as we turned out of the airport in our SUV, the first thing I noticed: there were no lanes painted on the road, and no traffic lights or road signs (yield, stop, etc.), either. The road was wide enough for four lanes, and there were two “lanes” of traffic moving in our direction, and two “lanes” moving the other way. But then—and without any warning—there was an oncoming truck speeding directly at us in our lane. We slammed on the breaks, moved to the right, and suddenly we became one lane of traffic in our direction, with three lanes full of traffic moving the other way. Then the reverse happened—someone passed us on the left, and someone passed them at the same time, and we were three lanes in our direction and oncoming traffic was quickly moving to the side.
And then, all traffic stopped.
For the next 90 minutes, we moved less than a mile. People drove up on sidewalks to try to get around. They parked their cars in the road and walked away. Gradually—winding our way around parked and non-moving vehicles—we began to progress up to a four-way intersection (remember, with no stop light). Multiple lanes of cars coming from four directions just slowly engaged in a game of “chicken”, each coming within inches of each other until someone finally stopped to avoid a collision and let the other car go through. We think there may have been an accident at the intersection earlier that precipitated the slowdown, but there were no signs of it when we made it there.
Full disclosure: Upon returning to Port-au-Prince at the end of the trip, we did actually see about 3-4 traffic signals and some lane markers. However, the vast majority of our driving in this sprawling city of over 700,000 people occurred without any lane markers, traffic signals, stop or yield signs, etc. Imagine driving down Six Forks Road at rush hour with no lanes and no traffic lights.
Here’s a video of us driving through the central marketplace of Port-au-Prince:
Moment #2- My new appreciation for trash collectionOne of the other things you’ll notice in that video above is the litter in the marketplace. This was evident everywhere we went—in the city and in the countryside. We walked to a beautiful waterfall in the mountains, but the experience was diminished by the litter floating in the pools at its base. When we attended the annual Feast of St. Timothy at St. Timothee’s Church, many congregants—a few hundred, probably—simply left their plates and cups on the ground or threw them into the woods when they finished eating.
In observing all of this, I realized something else I take for granted—municipal trash collection. It’s not that Haitians like litter. The people at St. Timothee’s weren’t thoughtless or trying to be environmentally reckless—there were just no trash cans anywhere in or around the church. But what good would trash cans do if there’s no dumpster where the trash cans could be emptied? And what good would a dumpster do if there’s no trash collection trucks, no recycling plants, and no landfills? In a country that’s five times more densely populated than North Carolina, there is little to no waste management. I had a trash can in my hotel room, and I saw one trash can at the airport in Port-au-Prince. I have no idea where they emptied these trash cans—but I’d guess it was into the woods. I literally saw no more than three trash cans, in total, in my entire week in Haiti.
Moment #3- “Do they take showers in Colorado?”
Eudras, our partnership program liaison, often travels with school partners when they arrive in Haiti, as he did with us. He was an invaluable help, both as a navigator and as a translator. One night after dinner, Eudras shared that he would be traveling to Colorado the following week to visit a partner school—his first time ever going to America. He wanted to know what to expect. For example, he’d never seen snow before, and he wondered how much he’d see in Colorado in January(!). The ensuing conversation went like this:
Eudras: “So is it always very cold in January in Colorado?”
Me: “Yes. Definitely. You’ll want to have lots of warm clothes.”
Eudras: “It is so cold... do they take showers?”
Me: “Um, yes. It’s cold outside, but the showers are indoors... so... they’re fine.”
Eudras: “So even though there’s snow outside all winter, they still take showers every day?”
Me: “Um... yes. It really shouldn’t be a problem. Why do you think it... oh wait! Taking showers in Colorado won’t be a problem because all of the places you go will have hot water. Your shower will give you a choice of hot water and cold water faucets.”
Eudras: “Oh, yes! Hot water. Everywhere?! Wow. Great!”
I reflected on that conversation a lot when I returned back to my hotel that night and took a shower with one faucet and no choice of hot-vs-cold water. And I remembered that even that cold-only shower was a luxury, as 75% of Haitians don’t have access to any kind of plumbing.
These were just three of my many “wow moments” on this incredible trip, and I hope they help remind us that the little things—stop lights, trash collection, hot water (or any running water, really)—that seem so natural and trivial to us are things that millions of others exist without ever day.
Fr. James and I spent a week in Haiti in January 2016 as we explored a partnership between St. Timothy’s in Raleigh and St. Timothee’s Church and School in Boucan-Carré. In my blogs this spring, I’ll share some of my experiences in a bit more depth. I hope my photos, videos and stories convey what an extraordinary place Haiti is, and help preview the benefits that might come with our partnership.
Throughout my trip to Haiti and even after my return home, one of the things I reflected on most was the contrasts and contradictions I’d experienced.
For example, we came at a time of political instability—with protests, accusations of electoral fraud and abuse, and fear that the current president would refuse to leave after he canceled run-off elections. We received between 5-10 email notices from the State Department every day with safety warnings like this one:
The Embassy has received reports of road blocks and general sporadic incidences of violence on Route One from Cabaret to Gonaives. Travel for embassy personnel is restricted to essential, official travel until further notice, and all such travel must be approved in advance by the Embassy security officer. All American Citizens are advised to avoid this route. Please keep in mind that demonstrations in Haiti, even peaceful ones, can escalate quickly and even turn violent, so the Embassy urges all U.S. citizens to remain vigilant, be aware of their surroundings, and avoid this area as much as possible. Should you find yourself among or near protesters, depart the area immediately.
Fr. James and I received an email from our Board Chair, Joe Diab, checking on our safety. He had seen news stories about protests, vehicle fires, and even fatalities, and he shared via email this photo he’d seen in the New York Times:
Fr. James and I witnessed firsthand one of the kinds of “road blocks and general sporadic incidences of violence” the Embassy regularly warned about. It was on our trip from the mountains down to Port-au-Prince. A series of obstacles—boulders, piles of rocks, a parked truck—were placed at various points to prevent cars from making it through. At two points, we found groups of men—some with masks on—patrolling the road blocks. Pere Alphonse, the Rector of St. Timothee’s, was with us in the SUV and negotiated with the men at one road block to let us through. Two of these (fairly intimidating) men squeezed into the SUV with us and shouted at the others to clear the first road block and reconstruct it when we passed. When we got to the second road block, though, no negotiating or shouting would get us through—and masked men on the cliff above hurled rocks down at anyone who got too close.
We ultimately waited for about two hours before national police and the United Nations came through and cleared the roads.
And yet... normal life seemed to go on for the vast majority of the people while all of this happened. While there were moments of road blocks and men hurling rocks in the mountains, or periodic protests and vehicles on fire in Port-au-Prince, children went to school. People went to church. Stores were open for business. Life carried on.
After finally making it out of the mountains where St. Timothee's was and down into Port-au-Prince, I visited another Episcopal School. On the way, we had to make a quick U-turn in a blocked road with a pile of burning tires and protesters shouting. However, while this continued only about 2 miles away, at school, the only disruption the students experienced was the visit of these three strange foreigners.
Hundreds of children and teachers were happily learning, singing and playing in their daily routines. If this was Raleigh, we’d be in lock-down. And yet, here I was, feeling perfectly safe, having a wonderful time meeting new friends. While the Associated Press carried stories of protests and violence, and while the State Department issued warnings every few hours, I was visiting the main marketplace in Port-au-Prince, going to a wonderful art studio and gallery a bit later, and stopping by the artists’ co-op to buy souvenirs for my family. We felt perfectly safe and welcome, and the hundreds of Haitians we saw that day were all going about life as usual.
Two recent February 2016 issues of The New Yorker have featured articles about Haiti, where they’ve accurately reported facts like the following:
- “Haiti remains the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Some sixty per cent of its ten million citizens live in poverty. Nearly half are illiterate, and only one in four has access to a toilet.”
- “... 1.5 million Haitians are at risk from severe malnutrition ... In some parts of the countryside, farmers have experienced crop failures of as much as seventy per cent, and in one of the worst affected areas scores of children have starved to death.”
Fr. James and I learned about this ourselves when we visited St. Timothee’s. Tuition to attend the school is $10 per year. Many students receive financial assistance. Even so, enrollment has declined as families have been unable to afford tuition due to the drought. Pere Alphonse told us that St. Timothee’s teachers had been working without pay since September.
And yet... we attended two services at St. Timothee’s Church that were standing-room-only. 30 people were baptized. A beautiful processional brought in a joy offering of fruits and vegetables from nearby farms and gardens. Three choirs performed. Children laughed and played in their dress clothes as we enjoyed the Feast of St. Timothy together (and I ate goat for the first time). The joy, gratitude, faith, hope and love that I experienced was unforgettable.
There is so much we might offer our new partners in Haiti. And yet, there is probably more that they can offer us.
It's a great day to be a Titan!
I thought we'd kick off the new year with one final story on how and why someone found their way to St. Timothy's School. Here's Mr. Nowak's story:
How do we end up exactly where we need to be? Divine intervention? Preparation? Procrastination? Good ole’ solid luck? Chance? In no way that I can easily explain, I simply know, for certain, that I have ended up in exactly the right place!
This entire process was planted, deeply planted, during the summer of 1981 in Wilson, North Carolina. The big kid’s name was Reggie. Big eyes, big ears, long arms, longer legs, tremendous hands, and huge feet – Reggie was a camper where my mother was the director. Even though I was a little tyke, I was still fascinated with basketball and just knew Reggie had to be a player…I was mesmerized by his height. I watched him walk in the first day, filling my head with visions of him dunking a basketball in the gym. However, we didn’t get in the gym that day: much to my dismay, we went to the pool…to swim.
Looking back, I know it was during this time I witnessed – truly witnessed – the brilliant teaching skills of my mom. You see, Reggie couldn’t swim. My mother was no swim teacher – in fact, she was never a certified teacher, though she had gained the proper requirements to run an early childhood/daycare facility which she did later in life. But I watched that day as Reggie learned to trust her, trust the water, and finally trust himself – all because my mother first trusted him. She trusted him to try – to try something terrifying – and allow her to help him learn. I most likely giggled at the sight of a little woman of about ninety pounds assisting a large, six-foot, five-inch man as he bobbed in the water with a nose plug in his nostrils and a swim cap on his head. I know I was laughing because I figured someone who appeared to be so athletic should be able to swim…but Reggie could not. My laughter ceased as my mother explained to me that Reggie was a special kid who had both special talents and special needs.
I did not fully understand until three summers later when I was mature enough to comprehend the impact of my mother’s camp for kids with special needs. I simply thought she was just a teacher – a strong little lady who helped kids learn whatever they wanted to learn. Just a teacher…that’s funny…just a teacher. My mother demonstrated to me how listening to a kid, of any age, can open up conversations, opportunities, outlets, abilities, and countless other possibilities. Working with kids was in my DNA; my mother was living proof of what I could do to have a rich life through education and coaching.
It took some time to arrive at St. Timothy’s in the fall of 2004. Laboring through college, struggling to fulfill a 16th century British Literature requirement, and wondering if I just wanted to coach hoops were all “opportunities” which made me better. God helped me throughout the journey as I endured the losses of multiple family members including my wonderful mother, my basketball coach, and my older brother. Sadness came in waves, but also reminded me of my true destiny, as a few guardian angels poked and prodded me to do the right thing…get in the classroom!
My career at St. Timothy’s happened because of the late Lisa Ham. I met her years ago at the YMCA and heard she needed some ASC help in the fall of 1996. I lasted two months – basketball season came calling and St. Timothy’s-Hale needed a 7th grade basketball coach. Former STS teacher Ruth Miller told me to get involved and I did. The Athletic Director at Hale, David Helwig, gave me a shot, and Nolan Reedy (yes, that Reedy) was on our first team. The next four years were awesome!
Resignedly, I left Hale in 2000. After running an indoor sports facility in Raleigh, coaching some big time AAU basketball, and once again, “dodging” my destiny for four years, I called Mr. Bailey to check on an English position at STS. He responded, “Don’t dress up, just come see me tomorrow.” Three days later, I was blessed with the opportunity to reconnect with Lisa Ham, Lori Reedy, Ruth Miller, Judy Whitley, and Mike Bailey by joining the St. Timothy’s community.
Twelve years later, and all is well. My daughter will walk into the rooms of Marcia Hall in August and little Lincoln will be a little Titan in three years. I come to school each day incredibly eager to listen to and trust our kids! Each day, honestly, is an emotional experience for me as I watch our Titans grow. Our kids, their education, their future, the fantastic conversations, serve as the great motivators for me to roll into room 128 each morning. Our community has given me a home and for that, I am incredibly grateful.
So, yes, mother - I am in the pool, swimming, and swimming, and swimming!
Continuing our "blog series" this fall, here is the story of how School Counselor Melanie Savage came to STS.
It is always an interesting feat to complete an assignment that you have required of your students. A journey of self reflection is an excellent Social Emotional Learning assignment for students. We spent the first quarter of our middle school SEL classes focusing on identity, learning about who we are and how we got there. It only seems fitting for me to share my journey.
My story begins in the small eastern North Carolina town of Tarboro. Tarboro is the type of town where everyone knows everyone and everything about everyone, but a kind of town that always takes care of its own. Looking back, it is easy to see the strong sense of community and familiarity that a town like Tarboro provides. However, with my high school graduation approaching, all I could see was a one-way opportunity out.
As a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill, I was truly a fish out of water. One of my classes had more students than my entire high school. However, after a few weeks, I was beginning to find my niche and becoming comfortable out of that water. With my junior year approaching and the pressure of choosing a major, I once again became frightened, as I had no idea what I wanted to do. Several friends in my sorority were applying to the School of Education, and I thought that sounded interesting.
During my time as an early childhood education major, I was blessed to have some unbelievable and life-defining opportunities. My first student teaching assignment was at the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Center, a pioneer in the study of best practices in early childhood development. I was able to work with students of varying abilities and behavioral patterns. Then, during my second student teaching site in Hillsborough, I had the opportunity to shadow the school counselor for several weeks. I was hooked. I immediately started applying to graduate programs to become a school counselor.
For many reasons, I chose to complete my Master’s in Counselor Education closer to home at East Carolina University. There, I was able to intern as a school counselor at a middle school in my hometown. I enjoyed every moment of it. I also took an internship counseling at a local psychiatric and substance abuse hospital. This was an invaluable experience, but one that showed me that my true passion was in the schools and not in an agency setting. During this time, my soon-to-be husband Scott (also from Tarboro) was completing his PharmD in Chapel Hill and getting ready to head to Columbus, Ohio to do a residency and master’s program at The Ohio State University. So, after completing my master’s, I followed my heart to Columbus, Ohio.
In Columbus, my career (which had just started) took a bit of a turn. Ohio does not have reciprocity with North Carolina and I was ineligible to work as a school counselor in the public schools there with my current status. So I took a job with a grassroots settlement house teaching GED and job training classes to individuals on government assistance. I also worked with “latch-key” kids after school providing tutoring and counseling. This was an eye-opening and humbling two years of my life. Working with this population was both the most difficult and rewarding experience I have had.
After finishing his residency and master’s at Ohio State, Scott took a job at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. There, I was able to return to counseling in a school setting at a K-5th public school in Martinez, GA. Being a school counselor at Steven’s Creek Elementary solidified that I had chosen the right career path for me. School counseling provides a true balance of both of my passions: teaching and counseling. Having the opportunity to not only work with students in large group settings, but getting to work with them individually to help them through whatever they may be experiencing, is truly rewarding. Also, during our time in Georgia, our first daughter, Lila, was born. Having a child certainly changes one’s perspective and priorities. After Lila turned one, Scott and I decided that we wanted to be closer to family, so we moved back to North Carolina.
After arriving back in North Carolina, I took a year off to spend some time with Lila. After staying home for almost a year, I was ready to get back into the schools. I was on the eve of accepting a job with Wake County when I had a conversation with Mike Bailey, the previous headmaster at St. Timothy’s. He convinced me to come interview and see the school. Private schools had never really been on my radar. However, during my visit, I could really see myself here, and more importantly, I could see Lila here. Having the opportunity to do what you love at a school where your children could thrive is impossible to turn down. That was almost eight years ago. Now, I have two more children, Susanna and Hill. Susanna is in first grade and Hill will be coming to STS next year. St. Timothy’s School gives not only me, but my family as well, that sense of community and familiarity that I had growing up and never realized that I missed.
Continuing our "My Story" series of guest blogs, please read below for Lower School Head Alison Gammage's story of how and why she came to St. Timothy's School.
When I was asked to share what brought me to St Timothy’s, I was uncharacteristically silent -- I don’t like to speak about myself; it seems immodest. I am also someone who rarely looks back. How did I come to STS? By Grace. I am blessed that God has interrupted my life a number of times, and that I have been able to recognize this once I got out of the way. Here is another reason I don’t like sharing… I was not a good student, nor did I attend school as much as I should have (I learned these things often go together.) From grades 7-12 I attended a state school as diametrically opposite to STS as is possible; in short, it was “To Sir with Love” without the love. There was no teacher who reached out and inspired us. Rather, our potential was measured by our zip codes. But during those years a resolve grew in me to return to that same school and teach the way we deserved to be taught, to respect and empower students to overcome the lot they had been dealt.
During a high school “careers interview” I was informed that I was not “college material.” Although I didn’t entirely disagree with this, I was determined to prove the school wrong and at least get an interview with a college. My plan backfired. I not only got an interview, but I was offered a place to study Theology at Oxford. It was frying pan to fire. Only 3% of the population went to college in the UK, and 99% of my fellow students came from private schools. All my professors were men, and the majority didn’t hide the fact they felt education was wasted on a woman. The class system was not easy to beat. God interrupted. I survived by playing college basketball. Everyone else on the team was American. They were the finest group of folks I had ever met, and the education I received from my teammates was as valuable as any lecture: an American perspective on education as empowerment.
It was during this time my passion for social justice found a practical application; my interest in the phenomenology of religion coincided with the UK national curriculum embracing world religions. For the next six years I taught Religious Studies in the poorest schools of East London. 60% of the students were Pakistani and Bengali, and I did not speak Urdu or Sylheti. But then God interrupted again -- I realized that many students who passed the national exam in Religious Studies, and constantly demonstrated excellent academic skills, were not entered for any other exams -- my colleagues did not see them as being able to get a passing grade. Despite being part of ‘think tanks’ that designed curriculum with national acclaim, and having an excellent degree in education from a renowned university, I did not understand how students learned. I was failing my students because I didn’t know how to mend a broken system. Then I read an article in the Times Educational Supplement about Sally L. Smith, American University’s Lead Professor in Learning Disabilities. I took a one year sabbatical and came to Washington, DC in 1995 to complete the MA in her program.
Professor Smith hired me to be an elementary teacher at the Lab School of Washington, which she founded and directed. I fell in love with the school and stayed for 13 years. Sally Smith was an inspirational leader; the school was her vision and existed due to her strength of will. Every facet of the school was designed for the students. The demands on the teachers were high, but it was a rare gift to actually see the difference you could make. When education was just beginning to understand learning disabilities, we were remediating them with research- based interventions. My time at Lab validated three central beliefs: IQ is fluid; teaching must always be innovative and creative; and all children can and should feel successful.
Then God interrupted again. With the passing of Sally in 2007 the Lab School would need to change, and I knew I would never be OK seeing someone else behind her desk. Writing now I still feel the loss of my mentor. I decided to prove what she had taught me –teaching should diagnostic and prescriptive, developmentally paced and constantly responsive to a child’s need. I took a position to create the Teaching and Learning Center at one of the most prestigious and rigorous schools on the East coast, The National Cathedral School for Girls. For the next five years we explored what brain research really meant for teaching in the 21st century, and created a new way of challenging students to understand how they learned. I was genuinely surprised by the ‘buy in’ from parents and faculty alike. The Learning Center met a deep but previously unexpressed need. It was a rewarding time, but the lure of having one of the best offices in DC overlooking the majestic Cathedral was not enough. I would often marvel at the architecture, reminded of my college days, but a nagging thought began to build -- working with Middle and High school students who struggled too long and missed out on remediation meant we were too late in solving the problem.
I resolved to return to elementary education, not least because I also missed teaching this age. The magic of working with little children every day is a constant reminder of the best in each one of us. Here, God not only interrupted, but I believe showed me the fulfillment I could not have achieved alone -- the phone rang, and it was Tim Tinnesz. It was just a conversation, but I knew I was speaking with someone who shared my vision for excellence and child-centered education. I had met a professional who had the skill to grow a school while protecting and valuing its traditions. I did my due diligence and researched the school, but nothing could have prepared me for the community that was St. Timothy’s. I never expected to be offered the position as Lower School Head. Accepting would mean asking John and Amelia to leave the only community they had ever known, our ‘forever’ house that took 8 years to renovate, and John a job he loved. But we both knew St. Timothy’s was the right place for us all. I am awed by the Providence that allows a personal dream to manifest itself through the hard work of great colleagues and the witness of a loving and supportive parent community. I am hoping God doesn’t interrupt any time soon.
Choose groups to clone to: