Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Back from the North Carolina Independent School Heads Conference

Each year the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools (NCAIS) holds a conference for heads of school at Mid-Pines near Pinehurst and I attend. Best practice in independent school education is the focus, and fellowship with other heads of school is a side benefit. I find that I often learn as much from casual conversations with fellow heads between meetings as I do from the actual presentations. At this point in my tenure at Gaston Day, I have become friends with many other school heads, and the Mid-Pines Heads Conference is a welcomed opportunity to meet, visit, and compare notes.

Pat Bassett, Executive Director of the National Association of Independent Schools, was the keynote speaker this year. Pat is retiring from his position after a long and distinguished career as an independent-school educator. I particularly admire and respect Pat because he provided valuable advice to Gaston Day School on recruiting and enrollment management during my first years here. Pat Bassett is wise, forward thinking, and challenging. I always learn something from his talks.

This year, here are some of the things that stuck with me and that I will be discussing with my colleagues. First, mobile applications are joining web sites as a way for newcomers to find Gaston Day School. Schools are also beginning to post QR barcodes on printed publications so that readers with cameras on their cell phones can easily access web sites.

Pat noted that he was on a panel recently with two Ivy League college presidents and, as part of their program, they discussed the three greatest deficiencies that they see in incoming students. First is a lack of resiliency. According to the the presidents, schools and parents overprotect their children and, as a result, college freshmen are less adaptable, tough and resilient than those in the past. Second, too many students come to college with alcohol problems. High-school drinking is epidemic. Third, students come to college with poor writing skills. On this last point, I think Gaston Day School has every reason to feel good about how well we are preparing our students. Not only the writing awards we win, but the positive feedback we get from our graduates indicate that they are exceptionally well prepared to write in college.

Finally, Pat shared a survey given to a large number of high school students asking them what their parents wanted most for them. The number one answer was happiness. Followed by success. Being a caring and good person came in third. Bassett found these responses troubling. He suggested that an over emphasis on success makes our students anxious to the point of requiring therapy and medication (according to him 30-40% of all college students have to take medication for depression or anxiety while in college). He believes an over emphasis on happiness prevents our students from accepting the necessity and value of struggle and challenge. What do you want most for your children? After listening to Pat Bassett and thinking about his survey, what I want most for my own children and Gaston Day School students is for them to be responsible.

Living a responsible life requires sacrifice and commitment. Living a responsible life requires hard work and hard study. Living a responsible life requires concern for others. Living a responsible life means taking care of your health and cultivating enjoyable pursuits. I think Gaston Day's mission captures this in its last section. Here is our mission in full: "To educate our students, prepare them for success, and instill a desire to make a positive difference in family, community, and the world." The desire to make the world a better place reflects our sense of responsibility toward others.