It is with deep sorrow that I write to share the news with you that one of our teachers, Marilyn Dori, passed away this afternoon. Marilyn was one of Gill St. Bernard’s best, having taught and served as a dean for almost 20 years at the school. During this time, she touched the lives of countless students, alumni, parents and teachers.
The period of time from the start of classes in early September through the Thanksgiving holiday represents the longest part of the academic year without an extended break. Indeed, the month of November can often bring special challenges, and last week’s surprise snowstorm provided us with a particularly messy one!
The academic year has now moved into the month of October, yet the weather continues to feel more like late summer. The warmer temperatures that are now occurring more frequently in September (and April) have caused us to extend the time that students are allowed to wear shorts. Yes, the school does have a dress code, although in recent years it has become more gender neutral and relaxed.
Mrs. Udoff, members of the Board of Trustees, colleagues, parents, students and members of the Class of 2019; it is my privilege to speak to you today as a part of Convocation. This ceremony marks the official beginning of the 2018-2019 academic year at Gill St. Bernard’s, which will end in June at Commencement. It also gives us the opportunity to formally acknowledge and recognize the seniors, as well as new members of our Board of Trustees.
Honored guests, members of the Board of Trustees, colleagues, parents, grandparents, family, friends and members of the Class of 2018, it is my privilege to open this Commencement.
We are here today to once again celebrate what is the most important event of the academic year. Commencement signals the formal completion of the secondary school experience for these young men and women, as well as their transition from students at, to alumni of, Gill St. Bernard’s. Every senior has followed his or her own unique path to earn the diploma; we hold each one up before the community today in recognition of this achievement.
This past week brought the awful news of yet another shooting at a school in our nation. Once again, senseless violence has occurred in a place where everyone should feel safe. We may feel various levels of shock, disbelief and anger that this has happened. Sadly, when I reviewed my past blog posts and letters on this topic, I discovered that I have written more than six times on the matter since the tragedy at Sandy Hook in 2012. This, in and of itself, begs the question of what will it take to stop such events?
The calendar is now shifting to February and for the news media the focus for a very brief moment shifts to a large rodent. This year marks the 132nd anniversary of a uniquely American institution, Groundhog Day. Many remember that when Punxsutawney Phil "sees" his shadow on that day, six more weeks of winter are supposed to follow. Based on an old Pennsylvania Dutch tradition, it is of questionable value as a long range weather forecasting tool. However, it did serve as the background story for one of my favorite movies, starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell.
Many years ago a colleague introduced me to a very special poem by Wendell Berry. The occasion was the day after September 11, 2001, a moment when our nation and the world had been shaken to the very core by events still difficult to comprehend.
The new year has begun at Gill St. Bernard's and despite the painfully cold temperatures, we are back in session. Unfortunately, a looming "bombogenesis" has raised questions about whether or not we will have classes tomorrow. Forecasting the weather has never been particularly easy and although technology has improved our success rate in recent years, there have been a number of times when the experts get it wrong. For that reason, we almost always wait until we make a final decision about opening, closing or having a delay.
There are some stretches in the academic calendar that are more challenging than others—January to the start of spring break in March comes to mind—yet the weeks from September to the Thanksgiving holiday are actually a longer period of time without days off. In particular, the month of November can be especially draining. In the midst of these final weeks there have been plays and musicals (The Beaux’ Stratagem and Seussical), our major fundraiser of the year (Casino Night and Auction), an admissions open house and the many traditional end of season athletic dinners, among other events. None of these could have happened without the support of our students, teachers and parents.
It is with great sadness that share the news that a longtime member of our faculty, Mrs. Brett Mershon, has passed away after a brief illness. During her years at Gill, Brett worked with countless students, parents and was a mentor to many of her peers.
A service celebrating Brett's life will be held on November 18 in the campus chapel at 11:00 a.m. In lieu of flowers, a donation may be made in Brett's name to the National Kidney Foundation.
As you may be aware, a subcontractor working on campus yesterday in the old theater fell and was injured. Emergency services personnel determined that the most efficient way to transport the individual to the hospital was via medevac helicopter as our campus is well suited for this use. In fact, we have practiced for such an event on an annual basis as part of our emergency response plan.
Mrs. Udoff, members of the Board of Trustees, colleagues, parents, students and members of the Class of 2018, it is my privilege to speak to you today as part of Convocation. This ceremony officially begins the 2017-2018 academic year at Gill St. Bernard’s, which will end in June at Commencement. It also gives us the opportunity to formally recognize the seniors, two new trustees and consider the months ahead.
A number of students and their parents were on campus today for our “new student” programs. These first few days are always exciting as everyone goes “back-to-school.” In fact, the month of September is full of such events and other opportunities for parents to be on campus. I hope all will take advantage of them in the coming days and weeks. Finally, welcome back!
The academic year really begins to ramp up this week with all sorts of programs, meetings and other activities as we prepare for the first day of classes next week. I have received mostly positive feedback on the decision to begin classes after Labor Day, after three years of starting prior to it. However, the decision is ultimately driven by the date that Labor Day falls on as well as when the Jewish holidays occur. Our concern at GSB is to insure a maximum number of academic days, not the minimum. In years when Labor Day falls on the 6th or 7th of September, we will start earlier.
We had a special guest speaker at Upper School assembly yesterday. Rose Stuckey Kirk, P’18 and member of our Board of Trustees, made a brief presentation and then fielded student questions. As part of our regular “speakers series” in the Upper School, Rose spoke about labels and how we all use them in an effort to understand people. She also clearly articulated the many reasons how the use of labels limits or even prevents our ability to connect with, respect and understand others. It was a timely lesson.
Rose is a highly successful executive, currently serving as Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer for Verizon. An accomplished speaker, she was both engaging and clearly got her message across to our students. We are so fortunate to have Rose, her son Connor ’18 and husband, Robert, in the GSB community.
Last night was our annual auction. The theme for the evening was “Moonlit Night.” Indeed, we had a full moon for the event, which demonstrated a wonderful show of support for the school.
In addition to both the silent and live auctions, all in attendance got to see the GSB Players reprise one of the numbers from their recent show, Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. It was great to see them perform once again, though I was a little disappointed that some in the audience were talking and not really paying attention. These events can be noisy at times, and my hope is we will improve in this area next year.
My special thanks go to Julie Bliss Chan, who was the parent chair. Her tireless commitment, enthusiasm and creativity was visible everywhere. The auction simply could not have happened without the leadership of our parent volunteers. Given that the proceeds go directly to fund the programs at the school, our children are ultimately the beneficiaries. As we all know, our children are a great “cause.”
I am in awe of all that our volunteers do at and for Gill at every level. Beyond the auction and other events like the fashion show, there is the Booster Club and theater parents (Friends of the Arts). We have PAN Parents, team parents, room parents and grade level parents. The list goes on, in each case connecting a volunteer to a critical need at our school. Without such support, our school would be a vastly different place, and not for the better.
Perhaps most important, this gift of service given by our parents, further deepens and strengthens the bonds of community at GSB. It extends and expands our programs in ways that may not be easily quantified. For this I am most grateful, as it is this very spirit that sets us apart as a school from the many others in the area.
Kudos to Team Chaos, GSB’s robotics group who placed 8th (out of 38 teams) at the FIRST Mid-Atlantic Regional Competition in Montgomery last week. By virtue of their finish, they participated in the semifinal round of competition, where they placed 4th. They will now advance to competition this week at Lehigh.
This achievement by our students is just as exciting as any other accomplishment we have experienced in sports or the arts. It is amazing to me that the program has come this far in the past few years. Building a functional robotic and then successfully programming it to perform several tasks is well beyond my limited abilities. Everyone involved with the team – students, teachers, advisors – deserves the credit for their progress and success!
After weeks of preparation, work began today on the demolition of the “old gym.” The actual name of the building was the “Hall of Events.” Constructed back in 1962, the facility was intended to be multipurpose in nature and not just a space for athletics. Incidentally, St. Bernard’s first gymnasium (built in 1926) currently serves as our “black box” theater. The old gym was an ever present feature on the campus for more than 55 years. It hosted countless games, concerts, dances, and assemblies as well as other events over the years including our annual auction. In this fashion, the Hall of Events truly lived up to its original moniker.
The campus is closed today and tomorrow, in anticipation of the storm. I have to believe that there are several students, and even some teachers who are a little disappointed that this “blizzard” came during spring break. After all, we only had one “snow day” in January/February. However, next winter could be different. Happily, I am visiting alumni and past parents in Florida today.
It is safe to say that spring break is probably the most anticipated vacation on the academic calendar. Faculty, parents, and students all look forward to this day and the opportunity to get away, sleep late, or just follow a different routine for two weeks.
Last night boys’ basketball game was exhilarating, deflating and ultimately, exhausting. We played Roselle Catholic in the sectional semifinals of the state basketball tournament. It was close from start to finish with the last shot taken by Roselle being the game winner.
I had the opportunity to see “Cinderella,” this year’s Upper School musical, last night in the theater. It has been my good fortune to see every major performance by the program since 2001. In short, it was spectacular.
By now, most people in the GSB community have heard me say that schools are “messy” places. My follow up line to this observation is “both students and adults are capable of doing foolish things from time to time.” Now, it should be self-evident that this is not intended to be either a general indictment or a widespread admission of guilt. It simply represents one of life’s basic realities and attempts to provide a context for events in the daily life of an academic institution. It is also why we have an Honor System at our school.
In the past few years I have come to detest the term “wintry mix.” It seems to have become a catch-all, “hedge-your-bet” easy way for weather forecasters to improve their accuracy in the face of an uncertain outcome. Unfortunately, whenever it is used we are subsequently relegated to trying to determine the exact nature of the precipitation (snow, sleet, ice, rain), and discern its impact on road conditions. Personally, I would prefer all snow to this mixture. Furthermore, it is best when the prediction is for six inches or more!
There are certain times in the year where it is customary for me to address students and colleagues in an extended fashion. These occasions may be formal ones, such as Convocation and Commencement, but they may also happen at other moments in our life as a community, when major events occur that impact us all.
We had our first Admission Open House program today. The weather and turnout were fantastic. More than 60 families toured the campus, interacting with teachers, students and parents. We began with presentations from a few people in Brueckner Hall. Noreen Syed '10 and C. J. Licata '18 in particular, were outstanding. Students and parents led campus tours and they ended in the Matthews Library.
While I have many favorite events on the academic calendar, the annual Trustee/Former Trustee Dinner is quite special. We started this seven years ago in an effort to thank and reconnect past trustees to the school of today. It is always an evening of conversation, laughter, and appreciation.
The Ambassador Choir, under the direction of David Southerland (with Amy too!) performed two acapella songs in the chapel for the group. The music was well received, and I was happy to have the chance to wish David and Amy a happy 21st anniversary!
"Stone Soup" day is a longstanding tradition at GSB. Started more than 30 years ago by some of our Lower School faculty, it was intended to teach our children about the importance of sharing as well as educate everyone in the community of how fortunate we are. Being thankful, giving to others in need, making a difference; all these things are talked about on this day. The youngest student in the school – this year it was Judith Brooks – dropped the soup stone in the pot before the various vegetables were added.
Today marks the formal start of community service efforts at the school, although we have already had a number of such activities taking place since September.
Our Parent Admission Network breakfast was this morning and I was thrilled by the attendance. Our efforts to promote GSB and encourage new families to join our community are largely made possible by the tireless work of many, many parents. The personal stories of our students – their hard work, growth and success – are best told by parents. I could not be more appreciative of our great volunteers. Plans are already underway for the first big Open House on Sunday, October 16th.
The 11th Grade College Night had a huge turnout. Our College Guidance staff does an outstanding job with these types of programs. Highly informational, they are also intended to be reassuring for both parents and students.
It does seem that the college process is becoming more stressful each year for many of our families. The media has not been particularly helpful and the hype over college rankings has done all of us a great disservice. There are over 3,000 colleges and universities in our country and more than 100 are "extremely competitive." To focus on a handful of schools at the expense of what may be better options is often counterproductive. In the end it is all about finding the best "fit."
We are fortunate to have a strong group of counselors and they have an outstanding track record. We have more programs in the next two weeks in this area; for our 10th grade families and for all students interested in playing sports in college.
Many of our Upper School students participated in an apple gleaning up a Riamede Farm. "Apple gleaning" is the process of collecting apples that have fallen from the tree but are still suitable for consumption – apple pies, sauce, etc. – and it is a great way to insure that food does not go to waste. Grow-A-Row is an operation which donates all of their crops to various organizations that feed the hungry as well as those that are homeless in our area. It is a fantastic local charity and I am happy that our students are supporting it. Kim Turse, 10th Grade Dean, organized this effort. Kudos to all involved.
Family Day, first started in 2004, has become an important annual event in the life of our school. Indeed, it now attracts upwards of 1,000 people to the campus. Today’s weather was perfect; cool to begin and warm in the afternoon.
The GSB Classic is an annual Gill golf outing whose purpose is to raise money for the endowment to fund need-based financial aid. In 12 years, we have raised more than $1.2 million. Finally, after 11 years as either chair of the committee or honorary chair, Greg Niccolai P’16, “retired” this year. Happily, he will continue to join us moving forward, but only as a player.
Today was incredibly busy. Again I had the usual marathon schedule of meetings; however, I did have the chance to have lunch with a wonderful group of our 5th grade girls. They were delightful to talk to, and opportunities such as this one are reminders of how special our school is. One of their requests was to add “nap time” in the Middle School…
I always enjoy our opening Parents’ Association Breakfast. It is a chance for me to meet new parents and share a few thoughts as well as my summer reading list. This year’s Parents’ Association president is Cheryl Fritzlo, P ’19, ’21; her comments were very welcoming and set a positive tone for the event.
Our boys’ soccer team played Bernard’s High at home today. It was a hard fought contest, with GSB winning in overtime, 3-2! The game was very challenging and tightly contested. A big crowd was in attendance, and the number of Bernard’s fans was close to our own.
Our girls’ tennis team is off to a fantastic start. They beat Voorhees 5-0 this afternoon and congrats to all the girls as well as Coach Carty and Coach Walsh. The girls’ soccer team is also undefeated and unscored on!
It was an incredibly busy Friday. Starting with the Headmaster’s List Breakfast (by the way, henceforth it will be “High Honors” and not the Headmaster’s List); it was followed by a seemingly endless string of meetings and other events. The day was a blur. Happily, the evening’s Headmaster’s Reception was most enjoyable and the turnout was excellent. However, I think we may change the format next year in an effort to better welcome our new families.
Senior College Night is always well attended by parents and students. This year was no different and Brueckner Hall was packed. My thanks to Kerri Small, our Director of College Counseling, as well as Associate Directors Karen Blair and David Lee for an excellent program.
Convocation is my favorite event of the year, next to Commencement. It is a great way to formally begin the year and allows us to recognize the seniors. This year we also included our new trustees. The text of my address is below:
The first day of classes went quite smoothly. I know that having classes prior to Labor Day is hard for some of our families but it is important that we maximize the number of academic days in the school calendar. This year, Labor Day was late, and both Jewish holidays came during the week. Also, Good Friday comes in April, not during March break. Whenever Labor Day falls on September 5th - 7th, we will start classes the week prior. Next year? We start after Labor Day!
New students and parents came to the campus this morning for registration and a chance to familiarize themselves with classrooms before Thursday. It was hot – it seems like Florida weather – and I hope things begin to cool down as we start school.
We had our opening faculty-staff meeting this morning and I think everyone is happy to be back. The beginning of the academic year is always exciting, although we still have work to do to be ready for next week.
The bad weather did not have any impact on our 2016 commencement ceremonies until the very end, when the skies opened up. Nonetheless, it was a great day for our seniors and their families. Not too many snafus, and we managed to keep things moving. My opening remarks are below:
Graduation practice seemed to go quite well though not all of the seniors were able to attend, as the track team was competing at the state championships. In any case, all seemed to know what to do. At the ceremony, it is usually the adults who mess up…
The “Calendar Committee” an internal group of administrators and staff who meet monthly to review the calendar, had their last meeting of the academic year this morning. Only two people showed; the end of the year is definitely upon us.
The Upper School Unit program has begun. Things got going after the academic awards assembly. Congressman Leonard Lance came by to speak to our students. His visit was facilitated by senior, Sam Zimmer. It must be election season…
The Junior-Senior Prom was held tonight. As I have long held; as nice of an event as it might be, it is always a night of concern for the safety of our students. The teenage use of alcohol and other substances remains a major problem in our society, and I am not sure that everyone in our community is on the same page with this issue. I hope our luck holds out again this year…
Our Board of Trustees had their final meeting of the year this afternoon. They worked through a lot of regular business, including the various committee updates. I am happy to share that they have approved a revision of the school’s strategic plan and our Mission Statement. More on this will be shared in the summer.
The Grades 1 & 2 Concert is yet another sign that the end of the year is approaching. The children are always so excited to sing, and their enthusiasm was obvious. Our music program at the school is a major strength and every concert is a pleasure to attend.
The “Meet and Greet” luncheon, hosted by the Admissions Office is a significant event on our calendar. It is an opportunity for new 9th graders to meet current 8th graders who are rising into our Upper School in the fall. It is a positive experience for all as it begins the process of connecting new and returning students at GSB.
I met with the faculty and staff today. These meetings take place quarterly. In August, before the start of school, we meet for a week. In June, there are two days to “wrap up” the year. The meetings are a mixture of presentations, information sharing and updates. The big focus has been reaccreditation, which we are working on rather diligently.
I attended the annual NJAIS Head’s Conference off-site the past day or so. As always, the topics discussed and presentations were both timely and stimulating. Some of the topics this year included: school security, transgender issues, and admission trends.
The academic year is beginning to pick up pace as we approach the beginning of May. AP exams begin in two weeks. For many of the seniors, their year is largely over. The main challenge is in keeping them engaged and out of trouble as they begin their transition to college.
“Diamonds and Denim,” our annual auction gala was a fantastic event. There were many great silent and live auction items up for bid, but once again yours truly came up short. Auctioneer Bruce Beck, from NBC 4 Sports was enthusiastic and pushed the bidding, aided by a number of parents. Speaking of parents, our own Jim Breuer P’17 helped out with the live auction and certainly amped up the volume. His new album, Songs From the Garage will hit the stores in May.
Although the calendar may indicate that it is spring, the weather recently has felt more like winter. My outside thermometer this morning indicated that it was 24 degrees outside, though with the wind, it seemed much colder! While not great for spring sports, I suppose it will assist us in our efforts to keep our students focused on their coursework in the next week or so.
Security and safety continue to be very much on our minds here at Gill. The presence of several dedicated adults for this purpose (all former police officers) as well as various drills, policies and procedures are a testament to this concern.
Spring break is here! I never know who is happiest at the end of this day – students, teachers, parents – or me! Although the winter was not a bad one (we only “lost” one class day), the period from early January to now is a challenging one. Many will travel to warmer places with family and/or friends. Vacations provide an important opportunity for rest, reflection and recreation. Students and adults alike return refreshed and prepared for the last two months of the academic year. I hope all of our families will be able to take advantage of this break and return in a few weeks with a renewed energy and focus.
Each week, it has been my practice to have lunch with a group of students. Today it was 9th graders and it was, as always, a positive experience. Much of the time is spent talking about sports, vacation plans or current events. Occasionally, school-related questions surface, almost always appropriate in nature. Today was not different, although I think a couple of students might have felt a little intimidated as they did not participate in the conversations. I learn something new in each of these lunches and plan on having them the rest of the year.
Our boys and girls basketball teams each played for the county championship this afternoon. The girls matched up against Rutgers Prep, the boys, Somerville. While the boys were able to come away with a big victory, the girls came up just short of an amazing upset. Three key starters on the team have been lost to injury this season and their season has been a real success. Kudos to the coaches and our student athletes!
The conference wrapped up today with a series of excellent speakers and workshops. Heading home on the “red eye” tonight – lots to think about. It was also a wonderful opportunity to catch up with former colleagues who now work at other schools.
I travelled out to San Francisco today for the NAIS Annual Conference. This event brings together independent school teachers and leaders from around the country to consider innovative programs, emerging trends and best practices. I have always found the conference to be a good use of my time with many “takeaways” to help our school improve.
I met with the Upper School Department Chairs this afternoon to talk about my decision to eliminate mid-term exams next year. It was certainly a good opportunity for me to share the reasons and respond to their concerns. Change of any kind is always hard in schools. In fact, schools have proven to be especially resistant to any kind of change, even those which are connected to their survival. Fortunately, this one is not like that, and I am confident that this particular move will serve as a catalyst for us in the area of student assessment. A system which combines different forms of evaluation such as presentations, group work, research projects, etc. to create a “portfolio” makes much more sense and is a much better indicator of academic progress.
We had a delayed opening today due to the light snow and icy conditions left over after last night’s storm. For once, I actually made the call last night (though my voice was hoarse) as many of our bus companies were choosing to delay. Despite my initial reservations, it proved to be the right decision. The roads were quite poor first thing this morning and with all our student drivers, the chance of an accident was quite high. The day seemed to go quite well though, and by noon, the sun even came out.
For the second day in a row, students woke up to no new snow. Last night there was real hope last night for a snow day or at the very least, a delayed opening. The forecast called for 2-4 inches. However, it was not to be as we got…a dusting. Nonetheless, there are still four more weeks or so to go!
I must confess to being disappointed by yesterday’s Super Bowl. The Panthers were totally outplayed, the commercials were underwhelming and my snacks/spread failed to satisfy. At least my son was happy. Just as disappointing (though not surprising) was the number of seniors absent today with the “Super Bowl Flu.” I could write something about our “culture of entitlement” at this point, but instead I will simply thank those seniors (and their parents!) who were in school today.
Groundhog Day – no shadow for Punxsutawney Phil – spring will be here soon! Not that I really put a lot of truth in this particular annual rite, but climate change and the reappearance of El Nino does support the notion of an early spring. While I worry about the long term impact to our world given the warming temperatures, I very much am at a point in my life where I welcome a shorter winter season.
I was in New York City to attend the CASE-NAIS Conference opening session this morning. This annual conference for development officers and heads of schools is an important clearing house for ideas and best practices in fundraising. My primary reason for attending though, was to help recognize the F.M. Kirby Foundation for their philanthropic contributions to independent schools such as ours over the years.
Unfortunately, on my morning walkabout, I was alerted to the fact that one of the bookcase tops in the library had been vandalized. The wood was scratched, gouged and some words and/or names were visible. There was also a crude swastika scratched into the surface in a couple of places. I was shocked, angry and felt a sense of deep disappointment that anyone in our school community would draw such a symbol of hatred and oppression. The bookcase top was removed and I discussed the issue with our Upper School Dean of Student Life, David Pasquale. He decided to gather the Upper School student body together to share the news of this ugly situation, our position on such things and help in determining those responsible. I attended the end of the meeting and was glad to hear the overwhelming student response: anger, disbelief, and concern. Most commented on the sheer “stupidity” of the action and its thoughtlessness.
February is almost here! There are just six weeks before spring break. In a quirk of the schedule, we also have a number of 4 day weeks coming up with only rain in the forecast. Colleagues made two snowman by the driveway to 3 St. Bernard’s Road. The odds are not good they will survive the rain and warm temperatures.
Unfortunately, GSB was closed today. All of the area schools were closed and we just couldn’t “dig out” from all the snow. Our Operations staff worked all day on Sunday and was back again at 7:00 a.m. this morning. We will reopen tomorrow.
Blizzard Jonas far exceeded any of the forecasts. Last night the prediction for our area was raised to 8-10 inches, then at 6:00 a.m. this morning it jumped to 12-15. By late morning, it was 18-24. We got close to 30 inches on the campus!
I am out of the office for a few days travelling to meet with some alumni and donors. This happens from time to time (it should occur even more often) as I try to raise additional financial support for GSB. Our School has many needs beyond the typical operating costs and every gift helps.
I drove my daughter back to college; she is a sophomore at the University of Richmond. Though the trip is a long one, it is actually a genuine pleasure…at least on the way down. Happily, I have reached that point in my life where six hours of conversation with one of my children is a real joy!
Today is Junie Hockenbury’s 88th birthday. Steve Graham, our CFO, and I along with our Operations Team took him out to lunch. “Junie” has been a fixture here at GSB for his whole life. He began working at St. Bernard’s in 1945 as a farm hand, and never left. He can usually be seen around campus riding a lawnmower or tending to his horses. Hockenbury Hall was named in honor of Junie and his wife Lois in 2009. They are a special treasure in our school community and I am blessed to know them both.
A new year and we are back in school, though I may not be for long as I am a little “under the weather.” Working through it now, but we shall see what happens after lunch. I am also sporting a bit of a beard these days. However, only time will tell how long it lasts…
I had the pleasure of hosting a lunch for all of our employees over at the Head’s residence today. About 30 or so came by after we shut down the campus for Christmas. It was great to be with everyone and a wonderful way to start the holiday.
The Kindergarten performance of “The Nutcracker” is always a “must see” each December. All of the children participate in a variety of roles. It is (for us) an elaborately staged production and never ceases to make the audience smile. The Pre K and Preschool also sang with great enthusiasm. The turnout was so large it was “standing room only” in Evans Hall this morning, and I thank Jill Fedon, Linda Nisky and all of our teachers for such a wonderful performances.
The last week before a break can be very challenging. Most teachers are giving a variety of assessments and the days are filled with activities. Add in holiday shopping and college admissions decisions; it can be pretty stressful. Fortunately, Friday will be here soon enough and the temperatures are well above average. No snow…just yet.
Tis the season of concerts and the Lower School (Grades 3 & 4) and Middle School did not disappoint. Both performances were upbeat and featured the vocal gifts of our students. I have always found the concerts to be very uplifting; this year especially so. Music is one of the things in life that brings hope to us for all that is possible. Each concert program was varied and came together in a very enjoyable way. Kudos to Leigh Seibert and Amy Southerland!
The unseasonably warm temperatures are somewhat welcome as we try to make it to the holiday break without any disruptions. While an occasional snow day might be a welcome respite, too many of them have a negative impact on our academic program. While most (if not all classes) have an on-line component on these days, face-to-face instruction is particularly important, especially in the Lower School.
I really enjoy listening to our Jazz Band. The teacher and band leader is Max Wild. Max’s energy and love of music is infectious. The “Wild Knights” range in age and proficiency, and they have made a lot of progress. The concert tonight featured a number of songs including “Leaves” which was sung by Jessica Abowitz. The evening concluded with “Watermelon Man” by Herbie Hancock, a staple of the band.
During the construction of any building, inevitably there are times of tremendous excitement. For example, when bulldozers and other equipment begin to excavate and move dirt around, it is fascinating to watch. There are immediate visible signs of progress and observers begin to realize that the promise of a new facility is going to be fulfilled. Another moment of such excitement is when the steel is erected. The building then over time begins to take shape and its mass becomes obvious. Although our Fieldhouse project has been subject to a few delays, the work taking place this week is a sign of the good things to come. The mild weather will be an asset to us in the next month as our general contractor works to get the building envelope closed prior to the first snow. It is fun to watch, whether you are a child or adult.
I put some Christmas lights up today around the residence for the Head of School. Palm trees and flamingos have been the choice since my years in Florida. Besides, it adds a bit of levity to life, something that has been in short supply as of late.
The horrific shootings out in San Bernardino, California once again have shined a spotlight on gun violence and raised the specter of terrorism in our nation. Sadly, the vast majority of such incidents are “home grown,” but I suspect that given the religious faith of the two killers and the current political climate, much will be said (and done) in the coming weeks which is both misguided and misinformed. In challenging times people will often seek “easy” solutions; build a wall, ban people from entering the country based on religion, carry guns in public, or even “bomb the enemy back into the Stone Age.”
The Monday after Thanksgiving can be a particularly challenging day. Some families traveled during the holiday break; all are recovering from one excess or another – food, football, shopping – and "re-entry" for our students takes time.
The Thanksgiving holiday is at hand and despite the many unsettling events here in our country and around the globe, I believe that there is still so much for which we may be grateful. In troubling times, it is so important to take the chance to pause and consciously consider the many good things in our lives, as opposed to bemoaning the bad. Family, friends and even freedom are things we all too often take for granted.
I wish all of our families a safe, peaceful and happy Thanksgiving break. Despite the various rumors, there is no shortage of turkey (or turkeys, for that matter!).
"Turkey Day" has become an important tradition at GSB. Established more than 10 years ago, it is on this date that we collect frozen turkeys for the NJ FoodBank. It is a simple gesture, and one that reminds everyone in our community about our obligation to help those less fortunate. The various festivities surrounding this effort make it both fun and more memorable. Over the last ten years, we have collected more than 5,000 of the birds. This year's final tally was 512.
Thanks to all for your support of this important cause!
In addition to everything else this year, I was asked to be the Treasurer of the state association. As an NJAIS board member for many years, I have been able to advance the cause of our school in a variety of ways by serving in this capacity. However, I was always able to avoid one of the “officer” roles. After all, I am a volunteer in that capacity with many responsibilities at Gill to occupy my time. My luck ran out this year; now I am off to my first meeting… and a report as Chair of the Finance Committee. Fortunately, the news is all good…another thing to be thankful for.
Two days in a row – I am pleased to note something that made a positive difference. The Development Office is producing a video (I think for the holiday) in which different individuals express some of the things they are thankful for. I was unaware of this, so when Emma Corbett ’16, showed up in my office with a sign that simply said “Mr. Rowell, Headmaster,” I was pretty clueless. After all, this does happen from time to time – at least the “clueless” part – and I just went with it.
What a day! I had to have a “working lunch” in my office as the number of challenges pile up, so I did a “walk through” during lower school lunch. To my total surprise (and even shock!) one of our second graders came up and hugged me. She was followed by several other children, both girls and boys. No reason was given, but it made the day much better.
It is now clear that ISIS (or ISIL or IS) was behind the attacks in Paris. Although tomorrow will be a national day of mourning in France, the response of the French people will no doubt mirror our own after the attacks on America in 2001.
The Yale Whiffenpoofs performed this morning for our Upper School students in the Old Gym. Their mixture of songs, including some of my favorites, were performed a cappella. It was a wonderful musical break.
The boys’ varsity soccer team lost 1-0 to Newark Academy tonight in the driving rain. The skies opened up literally right after Newark scored. Neither team could do much from that point on, although we had our chances. Many of our students attended, hoping for a different outcome. While the season was certainly successful, our high expectations made it seem like a disappointing one that does not do justice to a senior such as Tyler Kwaak, who did an outstanding job this year as a team captain. For the juniors on the team, they have time to make sure that next year will be different.
The Parents’ Association Fashion Show was held over at Hamilton Farm this year. The various vendors were set up in the mansion and the event was held in the tent.
The turnout was fantastic and all of the tickets sold out. I could not even buy a key for the “pandora’s box,” as they too, were presold. However, truth be told, all of the prizes were purses, so I supposed I lucked out there. Sharon Macak was the Chair of the show and she, along with the Committee deserves a great deal of credit.
Today was incredibly busy …for a Sunday. In the morning and early afternoon I attended the NJAIS Trustee Day down at Rutgers Prep. Afterwards, I headed to Princeton for a Head’s conference. Attending these programs is very helpful as I work to stay abreast of various trends in education. It is also a great opportunity to promote school-to-school relations and solve common problems. I will return to GSB tomorrow night.
Parent teacher conferences are an important touch point for communication in every school. Most of the time is spent discussing a student’s achievements, though for some, attention is paid to areas which require improvement. For many years, at both faculty meetings and presentations to parents I would display a cartoon with two scenes. The first, from the 1950’s (though it could have depicted any time prior to the year 2000) showed two parents holding up a paper with a low mark in front of their son, obviously scolding him. The second scene was from the present day and showed the same parents holding up the low grade and scolding the teacher. The cartoon always drew a laugh, though not so much in recent years. While I do hold that teachers have a level of responsibility to insure that their students are making suitable progress, what constitutes “suitable” and to what degree is the student him/herself responsible?
The Upper School fall production of Murder on the Nile opened tonight. As always, Paul Canada, Shannon Ludlum and everyone in the cast was outstanding. More drama than comedy, the script makes significant demands on the actors and all of our students did a great job.
This morning we had a special “open house” program for families and 16 took the opportunity to visit the campus and hear more about the School. It is always a good thing to give prospective parents the chance to see our School “in session.” Gill St. Bernard’s is a busy place, with a lot happening during the academic day. While our larger Sunday open house programs are well attended, they cannot replicate the activities of a real academic day. A special thanks to our Admissions Team for their efforts to make this happen and everyone who helped out with tours.
Our boys’ varsity soccer team played Princeton Day School at home today for the Prep B State Championship. Many years ago, before we joined the NJSIAA, this game represented the pinnacle of the soccer season. However, now that we compete in the Non-Public B division of the regular state tournament, this game has become a little less significant. In recent years we have had to worry more about injuries or even the occasional yellow card and their impact on the sectional playoffs. Nonetheless, the game is still important for a variety of reasons.
Although today is a Saturday, there was a lot going on at school. From 1-3 pm in the Lower School parking lot, we hosted our first (hard to believe!) Trunk or Treat. Almost 70 cars were elaborately decorated, and there was plenty of candy to share and more! Many parents were dressed up, as well as our children. A good time was had by all.
The day we reserve for Halloween festivities is one I approach annually with a mixture of emotions. There are other holidays in the year which I mark and celebrate with more enthusiasm, yet Halloween has firmly fixed itself in our culture, and is important to many at GSB.
I returned late today from the Peddie School where I was serving as Vice Chair of an accreditation team for the state association. Our team was down at Peddie for four days, meeting with various groups, talking to individuals, and reviewing various documents related to the process. It was informative, helpful and physically exhausting as we worked 18+ hour days to complete the various tasks and compile a thoughtful report.
Our Board of Trustees met offsite today, to discuss a variety of issues related to GSB. A good portion of the meeting focused on current trends and the strategic planning process. These are subjects our Trustees regularly review as they assess our School’s position in the independent school world and the ways in which we might improve.
I was out in California for the past several days, visiting with alumni in Los Angeles and San Francisco. These visits were arranged by Chanelle Walker, who is our director of alumni affairs. In LA, Adam Aresty ’03, and his wife Holly, hosted a reception. Jeff Lager ’86 and his wife Erin were the hosts of the San Francisco event. Both had a nice turnout and I enjoyed seeing both recent and older alums. Jeff is a successful money manager and Adam is a director and screen writer who had his first film shown in the Tribeca Film Festival this year.
I flew out to LA this morning for a series of alumni events. Most regrettably, this caused me to miss the dedication of the Merke Learning Commons in the Middle School. This wonderful new academic space was made possible by a generous gift from Margy and Dean Coscia, in honor of her parents. Kyle Armstrong, director of the Middle School, did a fantastic job in my absence, and his remarks were very much on target. This fabulous new space will promote both creativity and reading in our Middle School program. It is a most welcome addition.
Through the efforts of Jim Diverio, our Director of Advancement, the Raptor Trust released two great horned owls on the Home Winds property. These majestic birds were rehabbed from injury at the Trust, and it was wonderful of them to do the release here. We shall see if either one chooses to hang around…
I had lunch today with a group of 11th graders. No particular reason, except that having lunch with a group of students each week is something I want to do this year. While I can't speak for the students, it was fun for me. Although mostly small talk, it was certainly enjoyable!
Once again, a terrible gun-related tragedy has taken place at a school in our country—one that has left nine innocent people dead and nine others critically injured. While the details of the Oregon-based Umpqua Community College shooting are still unfolding, the only thing that is clear is that this was yet another act of senseless violence, something that takes place far too often in the United States.
Today was the 14th anniversary of the awful events that occurred on this day in New York City, Washington DC and out in Pennsylvania in 2001. We observed a moment of silence at 8:46 a.m. and 9:03 a.m. on campus and the chapel bell was rung more than a minute each time.
Hard to believe we are beyond Labor Day. The temperature is expected to read as high as 97 degrees this afternoon - and it is even harder to believe that fall has started. Our students and faculty have been good sports about the excessive heat. Fortunately today was a fro-yo day.
The first day of classes. Beastly hot. I heard we would be opening up the splash pad for the Lower School. Given the forecast, it may be running for at least another week or two. We have talked a lot about the importance of respect this year. Based on student comments thus far, it appears that they are responding in a very positive way.
Our first group of students (not counting preseason athletes) were on campus today for registration. I enjoyed meeting so many of our new families and I thought both the Middle and Upper School programs were particularly helpful.
Our series of admin meetings ended yesterday, and though a long stretch, I feel good about where we are as a group. One of the administrators had a major tech disaster: files locked up by a ransomeware program. Fortunately, we have multiple firewalls and back up our systems daily. As a result, nothing of significance for the school was affected.
I assembled the administrative leadership group for an overnight, off-site retreat. Each year we always take time to review issues and events for the upcoming academic year. However, this year given the number of new faces and a desire to focus on expectations (as opposed to assumptions) there was a clear need to spend more time together as a group.
Gill St. Bernard’s is a private, coeducational day school for students age three through grade 12, located in suburban New Jersey. Each of the three school divisions provides a rigorous, meaningful and age-appropriate curriculum, and all students benefit from the environmental learning opportunities that exist on our 208-acre campus.