Friday Letter

August 18, 2017

Dear Parents,

For new and returning parents, it can be a challenge to streamline school-parent communications.  The Friday Letter is one method I use to reduce some of the glut of communication.  I will assume that all parents will read these letters each week.  To create ease in reading, I bold-face the topics so you can read judiciously, and I will try to keep the wit to a minimum.  Today's is much longer than I would like, but I promise future letters will be shorter.

On Monday, the various departments will have presentations for students on the eclipse, and we will load buses at 10 am to travel to Hiawatha in order to see the total eclipse.  A friend of the school has offered his farm for us to watch the event (students with allergies should bring their inhalers).  Students who eat catered lunch will be provided sack lunches, and students who usually bring lunches from home should do so on Monday also (and should bring food that doesn't require heating and does not require refrigeration).  I ordered eclipse glasses for students and teachers several months ago from Flinn Scientific, and the glasses meet the required specifications.  Also, we will be going regardless of weather.  Students may dress down for the day.

Once we observe the eclipse in its totality (which will last a little over 2 minutes), we will return to the bus and head back to Seabury.  The wild card will be traffic.  We anticipate congestion on the highway, but it hopefully will not keep us from arriving on time.  Worst case scenario: we watch the partial eclipse from the bus.  (Nothing ventured, nothing gained!).  Our hope is to be back to Seabury well before 3:30 pm, and the bus service we are using also services the public schools, so they have good reason to be back on time.  However, you should plan accordingly with your child in case we are delayed.  If for any reason you would rather not have your child join us for this event, that is absolutely fine--but please let Betsy know.  I appreciate in advance your patience.

It is common for schools (including KU) to use a learning management system that helps students and teachers communicate and manage course materials online.  This year, we are adopting such an LMS and it is called Schoology.  Returning students are already used to receiving course materials and submitting assignments online; Schoology allows for more consistency between classes.  Another important feature for Schoology is that it allows parents to see daily and ongoing homework at a glance, using the Calendar feature, as well as student grades.  Ironically, it is easiest to use paper to help parents set up their accounts.  Mr. Kellogg has distributed to each student a page of set-up information and an access code to bring home to parents (as sending these one-by-one would be a laborious task).  I think you will find Schoology easy to navigate, but you will receive further information from Mr. Kellogg about basic tools next week, and you should feel free to contact him if you have any questions.

On Sunday, we will host our New Parent Orientation in the Commons from 4-5:30 pm.  New families, I hope that you can have at least one parent in attendance.  This meeting will be an opportunity to provide you with information about the school year and to answer questions you might have.  At 3:30 pm, prior to the Orientation, Mr. Kellogg with be on hand to provide information on tablets and technology.  This is an optional meeting for parents (new and returning); feel free to attend if you have questions.

Also on Sunday, for your convenience, our parent association (BSAP) will hold a clothing exchange starting before and ending after the orientation, so all parents--new and returning--will have the opportunity to donate or receive Seabury dress code wear and the occasional suit jacket.  All items are free. 

Thursday evening is Curriculum Night. This will be your opportunity to follow your student’s schedule, meet his or her teachers, and learn about course work. Parents often tell me this is one of the most important experiences of the year, and my favorite comment from parents is always the same: “I wish I had these classes when I was in high school.”  I hope you can attend.  I will send more info next week prior to the event.

The Parent Sports Information Meeting will occur at 6 pm in the Seabury gymnasium, prior to Curriculum Night.  Parents with student athletes will have the opportunity to hear from the Athletics Director Mr. Nelson and Seabury coaches about our fall sports offerings, practices, student health, and so forth.  Check out the athletics website for game schedules, and download the TeamStuff App if you haven't already done so.

I expect that students will be picked up (or will drive home) at 3:30 pm each day unless they are involved in an after-school program.  Some parents have difficulty picking up students prior to 5 pm, and that is fine, but please be advised that students will not be supervised unless they are in school activities.  Also, it is crucial that those students be picked up by 5:15 pm, and if this isn't possible, please make arrangements for alternative transportation, perhaps with another family.

Students in grades 6-9 will be expected to use a planner this year to help organize their academic lives.  Ms. Czarnecki asked me to share this Google Doc that overviews the expectations for students.  Parents will play a helpful role in helping with this process.

Finally, I don't always have serious "talks" with students in morning meeting, but often when I do, I like to communicate the substance of my discussion with parents.  As you know, this is the second summer where we return to school with national and world news that is disturbing, and I know even our 6th graders are not immune from what is going on.  Specifically, the violence and fallout from the events last weekend in Charlottesville have to weigh heavily on everyone, and I know I am not the only school administrator who has felt professionally if not morally obligated to speak to students.  (I understand the KU Chancellor sent a message to students and parents yesterday, as did USD 497.)  I will try to capture here what I conveyed on Wednesday morning:

I am a strong believer in cultivating an environment of diversity in our school environment, and this definitely includes diverse political perspectives and opinions.  Quite aside from my professional obligation to serve parents (and subsequently students) of every political, religious, or philosophical perspective and to treat all of those individuals equitably and respectfully, I personally believe that we as individuals and as a community benefit (and will suffer without) a variety of perspectives about life and the choices we make as a society.  Englishman John Stuart Mill said it beautifully:

"The only way in which a human being can make some approach to know the whole of a subject is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind.  No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other matter."

Ideally, all political perspectives--most commonly generalized as "liberal" or "conservative," "Democratic" or "Republican" (which are themselves composed of people whose variety of values and opinions are pressed together under singular labels)--promote ideas that are intended to champion the common good.  (I am not sure everyone believes that this statement reflects reality, but I must be optimistic.)  Put simply, I like to believe that most people intend to improve the lives of all human beings, even if they have different ideas about how to do this with taxes, health care, mandates, education, and so forth.  We injure ourselves by acting without humility in this respect, and I welcome healthy debate among our students for their own good.

I said this to the students before I reminded them that the violence in Charlottesville is not, for me, about competing, honest political perspectives.  It is not primarily about removing a statue.  For me, the concern is what can make an ideology unacceptable.  When an ideology is no longer patently about the common good and well-being of our entire community--and when it requires the dehumanization of other people because of their identity--we have crossed a significant line.  I believe this should be true of our country, and I know it is true of our school community.  As a college-preparatory school and an Episcopal school, we celebrate free inquiry and vigorous but peaceful debate.  And as an Episcopal school, we stand on values that are not negotiable, and our procedures, our beliefs, and our actions must reinforce those values.  As Head of School, I believe it is important for all parents, teachers, and students to understand this position with confidence: we will not stifle debate and we will support one's right to personal politics and beliefs, but our community will not accept ideologies that call into question the value of people based upon their race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, or personal politics.  Speech and actions that are against the dignity of others will be corrected.

I cannot think of a single person in our community who would be surprised by this statement, but for the good of our children, I believe they need to hear it from all adults without qualification. 

One final word on this subject.  At this time in our world, when there is so much well-publicized division in our country, I continue to believe that we need to hold onto the hope that all people can come back from hatred.  I continue to believe it is true that all people can be loved even if they espouse beliefs that we find to be repugnant.

Thank you for your patience and have a good weekend.

Yours respectfully,

Dr. Schawang