Friday Letter

February 23, 2018

Dear Parents,

Tomorrow night is the Auction.  I know we will have a great time--and all in the service of helping serve our students.  Don't forget that the silent auction starts at 5:30 pm, and dinner begins at roughly 6:30 pm.  Some of you may ask, "what is cocktail attire?"  My answer: whatever you think that means.  See you then!

Good luck to our boys varsity basketball team as they head to Sub-State competition this week.  Come out and watch them play if you can!

It was a pleasure to watch our touring show performers perform on Monday night.  Thanks to them for representing our school to students in Lawrence.

Our winter upper school productions are designed to showcase particular aspects of student talents: playwriting, directing, and--this year--acting.  Mr. Weaver has directed students who will perform monologues from the play Working (famously adapted from the Studs Terkel book), and I have directed students in the play The Person I Once Was.  We hope you can come out and enjoy the work of these talented actors next week in the Commons.

Spring Sports will begin on Monday 26th.  Students must have their physical forms submitted by that date in order to practice!

You are all invited to the BSAP Parent Night Program: "Talking with Kids about Sex and Sexuality," featuring Vanessa Sanburn from Let's Talk Lawrence and Julia Gaughan from the Willow Domestic Violence Center.  There will also be a panel of students to share their perspectives.  The evening will begin with brief presentations on financial planning from Michelle Hammann on the new education savings plan regulation and from Chip Blaser on "donor advised funds as a tool for bunching."  A brief social time begins at 6 pm prior to starting the program. Please see the attached flyer for more information.

Next week, Ms. Sanburn and Cori Green from Let's Talk Lawrence will be conducting workshops on the topics of Consent and Communication with the ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders in conjunction with the BSAP event.  Please see the attached letter for more information about the content of the workshops and about the facilitators.

Finally, the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school last week continues to weigh heavily on all of us.  Much of what I could say about that situation has already been said--and said previously with other such shootings.  It fills parents with dread and the worst imaginings.  There is something particularly difficult to digest about the killing of children and young people and in a place of learning, and it is hard to fully understand the immensity of that loss.  It should prompt discussion and debate about how to keep children safe.  I won't engage that larger national discussion here, but I strongly support a rational conversation in our community with all parties seeking the health of our students and teachers.

What is common for principals and heads of school during a time like this is to publish assurances or reminders about school security protocols.  However, I want to be clear that--though the general community becomes more intensely aware of the vulnerability of schools with tragedies such as this one--schools are not and should not be reactionary to these events.  We don't wait until there is a tragedy to take this situation seriously.  We are beyond the time when we would say "it is sad that we have to have this conversation."  For as long as I can remember, school security and the imagination of the worst possible scenarios are as much a part of our administrative work as developing curriculum and evaluating disciplinary procedures.  The outside world only catches us with up when there is a problem. 

The first thing that you must already know is that no school is absolutely secure regardless of airtight plans and intensive security systems.  However, protection from a hostile intruder on campus can be increased with annual evaluation of safety procedures, recurring staff training, all-school drills, and the insistence on facility protocols.  (Your children must think I am crazy for my constant warning against propping external doors open.  These simple things matter.)  I will not review every step of our protocols for security because it is unwise to publish those in their entirety, but there is not much you would find surprising.  (And I would be happy to talk about specifics with parents in person, anytime.)

In the last week, I have grown irritable every time I read an article that criticizes the standard "Run, Hide, Fight" procedures that most schools follow, because these critics offer nothing in its place.  School administrators are not stupid or naive.  We know that a common response in crisis situations is fear, uncertainty, and even incapacity.  This is one of the reasons why we train staff and students in a basic method that nonetheless allows for a degree of strategy over hard-and-fast rules.  There is a basic logic to running from danger when possible, hiding when escape is not possible, and fighting back when escape is not an option.  Every year, the staff renews its understanding of our crisis policies which are based on best practices.  We continue to train teachers and direct students on how to become as inconspicuous as possible if hiding is their only option.  And, as hard as it is to say it, we do advise adults and older students to attempt to overcome an assailant if that is the only available option.

Being a smaller independent school such as ours comes with both disadvantages and advantages.  The obvious disadvantage is that our campus is not under one roof.  We have three separate buildings, and students often move between buildings during classes.  Having a singular facility is not itself enough to secure students, but it would be preferable.  As I noted in last week's letter, the board of trustees and I have been examining how changes to the campus might answer this and other concerns.  When the time comes to make those changes, I will be asking parents and the larger community to step up and help us achieve this goal.

The advantage that our school enjoys--and it cannot be overestimated--is that we are a very intimate community.  Everybody knows everybody else.  And students and staff know when someone new or unknown is on campus.  More importantly, our school is designed to look after students and to be aware of social and personal problems.  (This may drive some students crazy, but it has a very particular benefit in this instance.)  Certainly, we encounter instances of ugliness between students and always will, but we respond quickly to those situations and engage both students and parents.  And having our Bert Nash WRAP counselor on campus has been an important addition to our staff.  I heartily believe that the best defense any school can have against school violence is a healthy culture.  The best way to avoid this tragedy is to endeavor to eliminate the conditions that lead to those situations.

Yours respectfully,

Dr. Schawang