Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Margins of a Greater Wildness

Some of you may know from the announcement on the GDS E-News that I have written a new book: The Margins of a Greater Wildness: Nature Essays on Stanley Creek and Beyond, which is a collection mainly about Gaston County. I am reprinting Dr. Alan May's foreword to my book below, which I believe is a really helpful introduction. The book is available on Amazon and, locally, at Medical Center Pharmacy here in Gastonia.


Richard Rankin, historian and educator, has written and complied a collection of essays that are both pleasurable and instructive. From the banks of Stanley Creek (Gaston County) to the slope of Bull Mountain (Buncombe County); these are both an enjoyable walk in the woods, fields, and along streams and serious essays of preservation and conservation. Richard outlines his own connection to Stanley Creek with both the historian's eye and an appreciation of family recollection--the Rankin Oak story comes to mind. He also acknowledges the influence of Forney and Jean Rankin and their children in preserving Redlair and the efforts of the Catawba Lands Conservancy to assist with bringing their dream of conservation and preservation to fruition.

Gaston County's connection with French Botanist Andre Michaux and his identification of the big leaf magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) is a journey of rediscovery and study. Charlie Williams' curiosity in this chapter of early Piedmont exploration started first with an interest in Michaux and second a trip to the woods with Jack Moore to see an example of big leaf magnolia although the type site location is eastern Tennessee. Richard writes of Charlie's discovery of Michaux's original notes and combines them with places on the landscape associated with Michaux's visit to the home of Peter Smith to document the first sighting.

Benjamin Franklin was said to have suggested the turkey as the national bird rather than the bald eagle. Having seen wild turkeys in my archaeological surveys here in the Piedmont, I can and do appreciate the sentiment. Richard has factually demonstrated the multiple efforts in several parts of the county: east, west, north and south to reintroduce the wild turkey into Gaston County. Many of the land owners that participated in these projects are well known to me as I have requested their permissions to look for and record the presence of Native Americans in the county. There have been five successful programs to reintroduce the wild turkey, and Richard acknowledges all and adds that cooperation between land owners was essential for success.

Mr. R. M. Schiele was both a Boy Scout leader and naturalist: therefore an important component of the museum is natural history education. Education Specialist James Green working with herpetological specialists in and beyond North Carolina came together to help protect and conserve habitat for the endangered/threatened bog turtle (Glyptemys mulenbergii) found in Gaston County. Upland bog sites are rare in the Piedmont and to find sites and turtles is inspirational to those that are concerned about losing the original Piedmont landscape. Our land clearing and construction activities have adversely impacted both plant and animal ecologies here in the Piedmont. Awareness and conservation are necessary to educate students to the "value" of species to our own well being.

My archaeological interests coincide with Richard's essay on the "Catawba" or Carolina dog. Richard faithfully outlines in a very readable way the several hypotheses about dogs as companions to Native American groups moving through and living in the Piedmont. I have worked around the Harding community for a number of years and suspect that there is more archaeological discoveries to be made in that area, and my hope is to find and identify a native dog in an archaeological context. 

The rise of the textile industry in Gaston County and its leaders are identified in the membership of the Mattamuskeet Goose Club. An area located near the Outer Banks but instrumental in promoting--ultimately--the conservation of waterfowl along the Atlantic Flyway. Members of the club have been instrumental in habitat preservation through conservation and as advocate of natural heritage areas throughout eastern North Carolina. 

The final essay covers some of the few remaining "old growth" forest areas of western North Carolina. There are as many as 79,000 acres of old growth trees in Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests. We are reminded that simply because we are unaware of this "treasure" does not excuse us from conserving and protecting these resources. Advocates like Rob Messick are now concerned that the lack of advocacy for existing old growth trees in Southern Appalachia is "incomprehensible." Indeed our understanding for the need of old growth trees should be made in the understanding (education) of a larger context: local, national, and international. 

Richard has written a series of essays that are both enjoyable and instructive. He is an untiring advocate of wildlife and landscape conservation, and he has written clearly and enthusiastically how we can go about accomplishing the necessary goals of conservation and preservation. It has been a pleasure to be reminded of my neighbors who I know or know of that have shared this preservation and conservation vision. 

Dr. Alan May
Research Coordinator/Curator of Archaeology
The Schiele Museum of Natural History

Thursday, December 4, 2014

My Trip to China

This is the fourth and last in a series of blogs about my recent trip to China.

Sunday, November 9, 2014, Shanghai

The interviews yesterday at the student fair in Nanjing were good. Lots of bright and able students. We arrived in Shanghai about 9:30pm on the bullet train from Nanjing. Arrived at the Marriott Hotel about 11:30pm, and the group gathered to tell stories about the day. Lots of laughter. Our group has become very close. 

More interviews today here in Shanghai. I also make a presentation on Gaston Day School at the student fair. Can't believe that we leave for home day after tomorrow. It has been a fabulous trip and I will miss all my new friends.

Monday, November 10, 2014, Shanghai

Yesterday we got a late start at 11am, followed by an early lunch. The food in southern China is more to my liking or maybe I am adjusting. We had a big, fine meal at another fancy restaurant. They serve maybe fifteen dishes at a standard meal. You sit at a large, round table with a lazy susan in the middle on which food circulates. At this point, everyone in the group is getting pretty good with chopsticks. 

We drove to the Bund around 1pm and went into the Bank of China Building where our student fair was held. The interviews lasted 2 hours. I spoke to about 15 students. The key attribute is their English language skills. If they can't speak, listen, read and write well in English, then they won't be successful in our schools. All take the TOEFL English Language Proficiency Test. A grade of 80 or above for a 9th grader is a minimum for success at Gaston Day. I enjoyed talking to the students. 

After the fair we crossed the street to the river side and walked on the Bund. I bought a small Chinese decorative screen for my daughter, Louisa. Then our group walked about 10 blocks to dinner. Shanghai is twice as big as New York City (20 million). During our travels tonight, we passed through three different locations in the city that each exceed Times Square in terms of glitz, electronic billboards, stores and people. I know the statement I am about to make may seem hard to believe, but here goes. Shanghai may be the greatest city in the world. The skyscrapers are everywhere with bold, cutting-edge architecture--many are designed by leading American architects. The Bund is different. It has western-style architecture from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and reflects Shanghai's European influences during that time. The city is very cosmopolitan. Chinese women are as fashionable as any group I have seen anywhere in the world, including New York City, Paris, and Milan. The whole urban scene in Shanghai is just amazing.

After dinner, we drove through the tunnel under the Yangtze River and went up in the World Financial Center Skyscraper, the tallest in Shanghai. It has the highest observation deck in the world and the floor in the observation deck is glass. I am afraid of heights and this was simply too much! I was relieved to return to terra firma.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014, Shanghai

Yesterday we began with a walking tour that included the site of the meeting of the First Communist Party Congress. Next we visited Yuyuan Garden, a famous classic garden which is characteristic of the architectural style of the Ming Dynasty. We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping in an old part of the city. This is the same place that I got lost eight years ago on my first trip to China. Since then, they have torn down and rebuilt most of the buildings and straightened the streets. It would be harder to get lost there now. I bought my last gifts for everyone.

Our last meal together was western-style. Lots of toast. Back to the hotel to pack for home. We leave for the airport in three hours. What a trip!! I have learned so much about contemporary China, its ancient history, its culture, its people. Most importantly, I better understand our Chinese students at Gaston Day. I have made such strong, wonderful friendships. This has been one of the best trips of my life, and I can't wait to get home!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

My Trip to China

This is the third in a series of blogs about my recent trip to China.

Friday, November 7, Hangzhou

Yesterday morning we visited and took a tour of the corporate headquarters of Alibaba and saw an introductory video from Jack Ma, CEO. Alibaba is China's version of Amazon, eBay and UPS all rolled into one. We watched a real-time electronic screen/map that showed actual sales on Alibaba--it looked like a fireworks display. Sixty Minutes recently did a feature on Ma and his company.

We lunched at a historic restaurant on the West Lake where Nixon and Kissinger dined when they came to China. The food in Hangzhou is milder than in the north and more to my taste. Afterwards we took a boat ride, powered by a Chinese paddler, on West Lake. The lake is a World Heritage site and beautiful--roughly nine square miles. Part of the lake is a series of waterways through wetlands teeming with wildlife. Gardens, paths and bridges dot the landscape. The mountains surround three sides of the lake and the city sits on the fourth side. There are several large pagodas overlooking the lake on the mountains. The whole scenery is stunning. 

Later in the afternoon, we went into an older section of Hangzhou. One of the ancient fortified gates to the city survives there. The winding, narrow streets were only for pedestrians, bicycles and scooters. Shops with upstairs living quarters lined the streets. We went into one of these for a tea tasting. They let us try green tea, black tea, and a flavor intermediate between the two while telling us the history of Chinese tea culture. It was both informative and delicious.

After tea, we shopped. This part of the city is a tourist trap in the richest and most entertaining sense of the word. The group had a ball haggling with street merchants. We ate dinner at McDonald's (doesn't taste the same) to save time. Back at the hotel, I Facetimed Sarah Park, which really is amazing technology. I slept the best yet until 6:45 am.

Saturday, November 8, Nanjing

Yesterday morning we visited the Lingyin Buddhist Temple in Hangzhou. It is an extraordinary complex of five temples on one side of a mountain with a large creek, rock cliff and caves on the other. The temples sit in an old growth forest. Monks are present. The temples contain gigantic Buddhas and statues of lesser deities. Chinese tourist burn incense and make wishes. There was also a grotto in the cliff that I suspect was an original religious shrine dating back to the Stone Age. Each temple sits higher up the mountain and, presumably, higher on the path of Enlightenment. 

After lunch, we visited the Hangzhou silk market where I bought scarves for Sarah Park. We drove back to our hotel to freshen up before going to dinner with a Chinese host family. The group split into three smaller groups. My group's host family live in a beautiful, five-bedroom condominium in a gated community. Four generations of the family under one roof: 94 year-old great-grandfather, 75 year-old grandmother, parents, and only son, fourteen year-old Ben. Ben attends a nearby boarding school and comes home on the weekends. He wants to attend an American school so he can have more free time outside school. He is a computer geek, fine pianist, tennis player, and a labor-saving device inventor. He can do none of these extracurricular activities because of the volume of homework he must do. Ben was likable, respectful and spoke good English.

Grandmother fixed a delicious dinner: pork dumplings, Peking duck and green salad. Both parents work. The mother teaches Chinese philosophy at Hangzhou University. The father designs smart buildings and roads. They are extremely successful. The home had a small porch where we had tea, a small fish pond and a small garden. The family gave each guest a beautiful pottery vase that was created by a relative who practices an ancient pottery tradition. Lovely people and a lovely evening. 

We packed last night and were on the bus at 5:45 am this morning. We drove to the Hangzhou train station which looks like an ultramodern airport to take the bullet train (200 mph) to Nanjing. Our car was luxuriously comfortable: each seat turned into a bed. The ride lasted an hour and we all slept. In Nanjing, we took a tour of the Hopkins-Nanjing Center, a graduate program for Chinese and foreign students established by the Johns Hopkins University and Nanjing University in the early 1980s. Loren Fauchier, Director of the International Program at Providence Day School, is a graduate of the program. We had lunch at the Jinling Hotel and are now getting ready to interview Chinese students interested in studying in our schools.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

My Trip to China

This is the second in a series of blogs about my recent trip to China.

Tuesday, November 4, Wuhan

Yesterday I went with Sean Chen, CEO of New Oasis, and Loren Fauchier, Director of Global Studies at Providence Day, to Wuhan Middle School (a large high school located in the "middle" of the city, hence the name) and discuss a partnership with Gaston Day School. Because I am head of school and they want to have a partnership, the administration at Wuhan Middle treated me like a visiting head of state. Huge, award-winning school with an enrollment of 2600 students. We discussed the prospects of a partnership for over an hour in the school conference room. Although Gaston Day would still like to forge such a partnership with the right Chinese school, neither Sean Chen or I are convinced that Wuhan Middle is the right partner. 

A group of Wuhan Middle school administrators took us to lunch afterwards in a really fine restaurant. They served me a spicy frog dish that is a local delicacy--it literally set my mouth on fire and nearly blew off the top of my head. My hosts ate it like it was candy. They also served another local fish dish that was absolutely delicious, like a combination of good fried calamari and sesame chicken. After lunch we said our good byes and went to visit another school. This one was a private, Pre-K through 12th grade school. Even the kindergartners board there!! We saw their dormitories with all their tiny clothes hanging out to dry. Chinese parents will make any sacrifice, including sending their small children to boarding school, to get them a quality education. As odd as it may seems, the children seemed very happy. They go home on the weekends. In general, the Chinese make many sacrifices to promote their children's success. They expect their children to work hard and commit themselves totally to getting ahead. Several of the high school student showed us where they hid in the closet after the mandatory lights out in the dormitories at 10:30 pm so they could continue to study. As individuals, families and a nation, the Chinese are determined to succeed. Their collective work ethic is superior.

I was asked to give a courtesy speech at this school and also introduce the topic of independent school education in the U.S. The whole group, both Chinese and American, joined the conversation after I got it started. Afterwards, the school principal took us to a luxury, planned residential community where many of his school parents live. The community is copy of one in Southern California. Then we had another exotic meal and exchanged gifts. We headed back to the hotel after supper. It was a full day and I was exhausted. 

Today our group returned to Wuhan Middle School for a visit. We toured, talked, exchanged gifts and had lunch in the student cafeteria. The students are so friendly and love talking to us. We left about 1:30 pm and drove to the airport for our hour flight to Hangzhou. We ate dinner at a hot pot restaurant and then went to a local nightclub, which might have been in any big city in America. 

Thursday, November 6, Hangzhou

Hangzhou is a beautiful city with a population of 10 million. Yesterday morning we drove to Hangzhou Two School, a high quality public boarding school. Students toured us for over an hour without any administrator present. This tour included lunch in the cafeteria. Each of us was paired with a student host. Mine was Alan, a bright, handsome, cheerful young man. He was delightful. The students were amazing, spoke great English, and were incredibly gifted. Among their many accomplishments, they demonstrated a drone, equipped with camera, that they had built. They flew it all around the soccer field and we could see ourselves and the entire campus on a monitor that they had set up to receive the video transmissions from the drone. 

We met the principal in a conference room afterwards. He used students to interpret although he had administrators present who had better translation skills. He had a great sense of humor and really is a remarkably progressive educator. His approach to education is holistic--very unusual in China--with no homework on the weekends. He said he wants his students to have a life first and an education second. It is the best school in Hangzhou and full of gifted students. But the spirit of the place was remarkably positive and encouraging, reflecting the temperament and vision of the principal. We were very impressed. We exchanged gifts and he gave us each a lovely porcelain tea set. 

We returned to the hotel about 3 pm and had a one-hour meeting to evaluate our trip thus far. Sean Chen and Kathy Freeman, his assistant, have done a fantastic job. They welcomed our constructive criticism out a desire for future improvement. Afterwards, we drove on the bus about an hour to attend a play in a local theme park. The park was built to look like a late medieval Chinese town (think Renaissance Festival on steroids), with scores of shops selling tourist junk. The play was four acts of traditional scenes, themes and legends, but the presentation was high tech and the costumes were elaborate. Think Las Vegas meet Broadway. The lights and special effects were fantastic. We sat on the second row of a 5,000 seat auditorium, and our section moved around on rails during the performance to give us a different and more dramatic perspective. I have never seen anything like it. At one point, the stage was completely flooded, rain poured from the ceiling, and two waterfalls cascaded into the stage!! The cast included about 40 women attired in fantastically colorful, traditional costumes. There was an equal number of males who were all acrobats. It really was some show and we left with our jaws dropped. 

This trip has been transformative for me. I understand our Chinese students so much better than before. They sacrifice personal security to come to our school in hopes that it well lead to a better life. In China, everything--literally your future prospects in life--hinges on how well you score on the national exam in your senior year in high school. Our Chinese students are taking a huge chance in coming to Gaston Day. They don't take the national exam. They are breaking away from their culture although they plan to return to China once they have graduated from an American college or university. If successful, they have extraordinary opportunities for advancement, wealth and success. So the goal is the same as those students who stay in China. But the Chinese students who come to the United States are extraordinarily brave. They abandon the familiar path of Chinese education in hopes that an American education will rocket them to success. If they fail in America, for any reason, they cannot go back to China and start over. The Chinese system neither gives second chances, nor allows students to return to it once they have gone abroad. For Chinese students who come to the US, it is all or nothing. Knowing all that they are risking, I admire them so much more than I did before, and I am more deeply committed to helping them succeed at Gaston Day.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

My Trip to China

This is the first in a series of journal entries that I kept on my recent trip to China.

Saturday, November 1, Beijing

Yesterday we visited the Study Year Abroad School for American students who want to learn Chinese and experience Chinese culture in an American-style educational setting. We sat in on a Chinese language class. The students were so welcoming and friendly. 

From there we drove to the National Museum just off Tiananmen Square. Each member of the group was paired with a Chinese student. Mine was a fourteen-year old boy named Toby. He was a typical teenager. Hopes to play in the NBA some day. He is about 5'6", very bright and spoke great English. He wants to go to high school and college in the U.S.

We had lunch at a noodle restaurant near Tiananmen. Then back on the bus for a 2 hour drive to the Great Wall. This section of the Wall is in the mountains and we took a chair lift to the top. The Wall is truly spectacular. Toby had been there twice previously. It was the second time for me. You can't help but be impressed with the Great Wall. 

Our trip back was in awful traffic--the worst I have ever experienced in my life, and we did not arrive at our restaurant until 9 pm. Their specialty was Peking duck, which was delicious. I am getting better with chopsticks. 

The air pollution in Beijing yesterday was awful. Some in our party chose to wear air masks. I didn't because I am not convinced it really helps very much.

Today we are leaving the Crowne Plaza Hotel to visit New Oriental headquarters. They are a huge educational consulting firm and traded on the New York Stock Exchange. They help Chinese students prepare for tests in their country and, also, find schools for those interested in study abroad. Last year they placed 20,000 Chinese students in international schools. 

[Later the same day] We held our student interviews at the Peninsula Hotel, Beijing, all afternoon. Some of the students spoke great English. Others were weak. We are looking for the best students to come to our schools. Other schools involved in the fair were Charlotte Country Day, Providence Day, Ravenscroft, Westminster Academy, St. David's (Raleigh), Augusta Prep (Georgia), and Greensboro Day. One of the Beijing newspapers interviewed me after the fair. We drove to the airport for our flight to Wuhan, later that night. 

Beijing has a population of twenty million. The scale and pace of Chinese life and enterprise is startling. The economic transformation even since I was here 10 years ago is remarkable. 

Monday, November 3, Wuhan

Wuhan is a city of 7 million people about 500 miles (my estimate) southwest of Beijing. After an early lunch yesterday, we travelled to a local conference center for more student interviews. These students' English was generally not as good as those in Beijing. We met with parents afterwards and answered questions. Our 5-mile bus ride to the restaurant took 2 hours. The volume of traffic is unbelievable. The roads are bursting with vehicles. The restaurant was worth the wait. It was built on stilts in a lotus-filled wetland. There were boardwalks between different parts of the restaurant. It is known for its regional cuisine, particularly a local fish dish. It was delicious. Afterwards back to the Wanda Realm Hotel. I caught up on messages and was asleep by 10:30 pm.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fall Festival Fun

Caroline Letts and all the other incredible Parent Association ladies (and probably some men too) have staged another fantastic Fall Festival. I hope you were able to attend this past Saturday (October 4). The weather was spectacular--a bright blue sky and a hint of fall in the air with temperatures in the high 60s. There were probably thirty to forty booths, stations, and rides for kids of all ages. 

Let me tell you what I did and didn't do. I started at the basketball court and, for a little while, I had the record for most buckets hit (seven) in a 30 second period. Davis Spencer came up to me and told me that he had tied me after about thirty minutes. Then Leslie Coffey hit eight shots and unseated Davis and me from the lead. It didn't surprise me because Leslie is a really good basketball player. Leslie and I both attend the same church, and she sat only one row behind me yesterday. I passed her a note during the service that said, "I hear you beat me in the basketball shooting contest yesterday." Her big smile as she read my note made me happy. I consider it an honor to be beaten by Leslie.

I slid down the power slide on a burlap blanket, which was very exciting, but not too scary. Most of the other sliders were lower schoolers. Then came my moment of triumph. Coleman Efird dared me to get on the mechanical surf board. If you have never seen one, it is the surf board version of a mechanical bull. What was the worst that could happen? There was plenty of thick padding to receive my tumble. So off came my shoes. The hardest part was getting up on the board, and I did have a moment of terror as I contemplated the humiliation of not being able to even get on the surf board!! Relax--I made it. Here we go!! Let the gyrations begin!! I simply let my body go limp and my hips swing free. Amazingly, they couldn't throw me off. (Don't believe Coleman Efird when she tells you that the operator went easy on me.) After what seemed like five minutes, but in reality was probably 30 seconds, the operator told me to dismount because I was invincible! (Well, actually he said, "You're through" without much emotion or feeling. But deep inside, behind his feigned apathy, I am sure he was thinking, "That old guy has still got it!") Better yet, Dr. Dustin Letts video taped the whole thing!! How do you get video footage on YouTube?

After the mechanical surf board, I figured any involvement in challenging physical pursuits would be anti-climatic. Again, Coleman Efird in her role as agent provocateur tried to get me to scale the climbing wall. No way! I don't care that they have you harnessed in. I had nightmarish visions of falling and having those safety ropes snap like thin fishing line. Then some middle schoolers tried to get me to paint a dolphin on my face or dye my hair purple--"Don't worry Dr. Rankin! It washes out easily." Again, better judgment prevailed.

What a glorious day!! Watching little children ride ponies is the best! Another one of the ride/torture devices tethered young children into a harness seat with springy ropes, and then they tried to spring themselves into somersaults. There was a lot of happy squealing coming from that contraption.

And there was food galore. FLIK had hamburgers and hot dogs. Parents Ben and Tangela Hinton volunteered to sell drinks. Volunteers were everywhere! Happy kids were everywhere!  It really was a great day to be a Spartan!! Thank you, Parents Association, for another joyful Fall Fest!! This is one of the reasons why we love Gaston Day School!!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What's Happening

I have been involved in a number of important meetings and events over the last two weeks that involve Gaston Day.

Last Tuesday, September 9, we held our annual GDS Board Retreat. This year our focus was administrative plans for 2014-2015. Josh Lutkus (Dean of Students), Kim Schneider (Interim Head of Middle and Upper Schools), Jennifer Newcombe (Middle School Coordinator), Marianna Davis (Lower School Head), Casey Field (Athletic Director) and I all presented. Mine discussed this year's budget, the status of the strategic plan, and other areas of emphasis this year. The budget is balanced for the twelfth year in a row, although it has a smaller surplus than last year. Several items of the strategic plan have been completed, including the new security system, the iPad rollout, and the new Dean of Student's position. Others have been partially funded or delayed to make sure that we stay within budget. We funded faculty raises at a 3.2% increase, rather than the 5% which the strategic plan called for, to stay on budget. We also delayed the increase to the continuing education budget for at least one more year. The iPad roll out has been an area of special interest for me, and I am happy to report that program is going well. 

Josh Lutkus reported to the Board on his plans for improving student discipline and student life. He also outlined plans to contact all parents to inquire about their children's progress and satisfaction. Interim Middle and Upper School Head Kim Schneider talked about the technology initiative and also her plans to increase and improve classroom observations and teacher supervision. Lower School Head Marianna Davis presented new STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs in Lower School, including an exciting new robotics program. Middle School Coordinator Jennifer Newcombe talked about student culture and academics. Athletic Director Casey Field reported on Gaston Day's successful transition to the new Metrolina Athletic Conference (MAC). 

The Board of Trustees is responsible for the strategic oversight of the school and for hiring and retaining the Head of School. They are a self-governing body that chooses their own members. Marsh Spencer is in his second year of service as Chair. Charles Heilig is the new Treasurer. Gaston Day School is extremely fortunate to have these two Board leaders and all the other dedicated, talented Board members. The Board remains excited about the Strategic Plan we adopted last year and pleased with the school's direction.

Thursday morning, we had a reception for New Parents in the Pamela Kimbrell Warlick Lobby. About fifteen parents attended, and we had a wonderful question-and-answer session for about thirty minutes. Coming into a new school is confusing and complicated. Hopefully, our answers will help our new parents navigate their way.

Thursday afternoon, I attended a meeting at Palisades Episcopal School (Lake Wylie) to welcome all new Heads of School in the western half of the North Carolina Association of Independent Schools (NCAIS). As a member of the NCAIS Board, I serve as mentor to two of the new heads: Mark Earwood (Statesville Christian Head of School) and Kurt Telford (Charlotte Catholic Interim Head). Several of the other new Heads are old friends of Gaston Day School. Bob Shirely, who was Interim Head here in 2000, is the new Head of the Woodlawn School near Davidson. Gene Bratek, for many years the Providence Day School Head and an old friend, is the new Head of Davidson Day School. Whenever I am with other Heads of School, I benefit both from the fellowship and the opportunity to find out what is going on at other schools. Being with other Heads is great continuing education.

Last Friday, Martha Jayne Rhyne (Director of Admission), Carolyn Senter (Director of College Placement), Kim Schneider (Interim Middle and Upper School Head) and I visited the Hammond School in Columbia, SC, to study their housing for international students. Hammond is a little more than one-and-a-half times bigger than Gaston Day. But the schools are remarkably similar in many ways. Associate Head Bob Davis met with and toured us. I enjoyed learning about Hammond and inspecting the two houses that they rent and own to house Asian students at Hammond. I am so grateful to Bob Davis for his time and expertise.

These are just some of the things that have been happening at your school over the last week. Let me know if I can answer any questions or help you. Thank you for caring about Gaston Day!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

"We May Never Pass This Way Again"

 I  am Richard Rankin, Anderson Davis Warlick Head of School--and those of you who are new may not know it--but I am a Gaston Day School graduate, Class of 1975. Recently I have been thinking a lot about the 1970s when I attended school. The other day my family and I were driving back from my nephew's wedding in Birmingham, and I heard Seals and Croft's "We May Never Pass This Way Again," and it sent me flying back in time. For those of you who don't know "We May Never Pass This Way Again--which is practically everyone at convocation--it is a song about how fast time passes and how important it is to live life fully and with courage.

 Other aspects of the 1970s also fascinate me again. I bought a really wide, polyester, vintage necktie off Ebay about a month ago. My wife Sarah Park thinks it is extremely unattractive. But I think it looks cool. Be on the look out and see if you spot me wearing my 1970s tie at school one day. They say fashion runs in cycles. As far as I am concerned, 1970s ties are back--the wider, the more geometric, the shinier the polyester, the better!

Finally--and this is really is sad but true--one of my Gaston Day classmates and teammates died recently. He was far too young, and his life was always hard and troubled. I am choosing to remember how kind he was and what a wonderful jump shot he had. I hope my friend rests in peace.

Part of the wonder of being an educator is that we get to participate in the lives of you students. We get to watch you grow up and become beautiful young adults. Get to see you hit or miss the winning shot or goal. Get to hear you read the Gold Key essay. Get to see you be kind to a Lower Schooler. At times, I find myself wishing to tell you just how precious and wonderful your high school years are. How amazing it is to be young and have the whole world unfolding around you! But you can't understand that, and it is not fair to expect you to. You are too caught up in it all and lack the perspective of age to appreciate just how magical high school is. When you are as old as I am, you too will know how fleeting life is. At one level, we really do never pass this way again.

At another level, we really never leave this place. Or, maybe more accurately, Gaston Day never leaves us. I am living proof. Deep inside me is that eighteen-year old listening to Seals and Croft, wearing wide ugly ties, and passing the ball down into the low post so Knowles can lay it in. The same is true for you. These lessons, these experiences, these friendships, these teachers, these coaches, this school--all of them will endure in you character and become permanent and indelible. It really is irresistible!

Who knows? Maybe in thirty-five or forty years, you will be reminiscing about your years at Gaston Day back in the 2010s. You will be wondering to yourself, "Should I wear a bow tie again? Man, those things rocked back in the day!" Our hope and prayer is--on the other end of the long arc of your lives--you will be older and grayer, but still safe and healthy. Further, we hope and pray that you will remember Gaston Day School as a place where you came into your own, had happy times, and became better people. Just like I do.

It is the start of a new school year. Students, here is what your teachers and coaches desire from you: work hard, learn much, have fun, and stay safe. All we really want is for you to succeed, and that includes learning from your mistakes.

Enjoy this moment in time, Gaston Day School. We are all in it together in ways that are mysterious and enduring. Let's have a great school year.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My Strange Convergence with Three Seemingly Random Video Clips

This is not a typical blog. Instead, I hope it will be entertaining account of the way in which three seemingly random video clips recently came to my attention, and how each of the three was strangely--and in very different ways--all related to Gaston Day School. Several weekends ago (April 20), a Gaston Day School parent emailed me the link to an electronic Gazette article with video attached that she thought might be of interest to me because it was about my hometown, Mt. Holly. I had missed the article which was about the recent discovery of a newsreel film of everyday life in Mt. Holly from the 1930s. During that time, a local filmmaker from Lexington, NC, travelled from small town to small town in North and South Carolina filming local citizens in their daily routines. He then would show his piece in the local theater and charge 5 cents a ticket. This is how he made his living, and one of his stops was Mt. Holly.

The film was recently discovered in the Mt. Holly Historical Society Archives and in very bad shape. Only a small portion of its 15 minutes was viewable. Duke University is restoring the rest. The web address to the viewable segment of the video was embedded in the electronic article. Obviously interested, I clicked to watch it.

As the film began, I wondered if I might see someone I knew. My father's family is from the Mt. Holly area for many generations. The end of the film footage was of the Mt. Holly High School football team--both shots of them practicing and assembled together as a team and posing. As the film panned across the group of young, sweaty, smiling boys, there was my fifteen-year old father, smiling, waving his hand, and pointing his finger in the air emphatically and dramatically. To my eyes, he was beautiful--youthful, happy, and alive. He died almost six years ago, and I had been thinking about him more than usual because April 21 is his birthday. At this writing, I guess I have viewed the film of him at least twenty times. Every time a wave of joy washes over me. Receiving the video seems like a mysterious gift.

After viewing the clip of my Dad for the first time, I noticed that it was linked to two other Gazette videos. The first was a film of Forestview High School's Taylor Hampton playing the xylophone. It accompanied an article about her recent acceptance into the highly prestigious Julliard School of Music. The video clip showed Taylor's incredible dexterity and musicianship, and I watched it with great satisfaction and pride. Taylor learned so much of her musical knowledge under the tutelage of Rick Fischer while she was a student at Gaston Day for her first eight years of school. She transferred to Forestview several years back and has continued to grow there as a musician. The article made only one small mention of Gaston Day School. But I watched her and knew that Gaston Day, and Rick Fischer in particular, had helped shape her in formative ways. I am so happy for Taylor!!

The third video clip was taken at the Run for the Money Race and Event. Because I attended the Run, I wanted to see what was captured on film. There was Upper Schooler Kiernan Hodnett doing a line dance and Director of Instructional Technology Kim Schneider running in the race. Other Gaston Day student, visible only because of their Gaston Day t-shirts, also flashed across the screen. Last year, the school had more runners and walkers than any other organization. This year, I think we had second most. Again, it made me proud to think about the ways in which school members support this community.

These three video clips were the only three featured on the Gazette website. Was it an accident that all three were tied to Gaston Day? The last two most directly. But even the first through me and the parent who sent it to me. I don't think so. When something vital, exciting or important happens in Gastonia, Gaston County, Lake Wylie, or the surrounding area, often there is a connection to Gaston Day. This school is a part of the fabric of this community. We should celebrate what a difference we are making.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

SAIS-SACS Re-Accreditation, 2014

Since 2002, the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS) has partnered with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) to accredit and re-accredit eligible independent schools in the southern states. According to the SAIS website: "Accreditation is a voluntary process of self-evaluation and continuous improvement that reflects compliance with required standards/indicators; involves a self-study; and includes a peer review by educators from outside your school." The accreditation process is thorough and rigorous. So much so that many private schools either are unable to qualify for or choose not to apply for SAIS-SACS accreditation. SAIS-SACS has accredited Gaston Day for many years, and the school is currently involved in its 5-year re-accreditation. As I write this blog, the visiting team of educators is here on campus completing their peer review.

Gaston Day's practice is to complete a new strategic plan the year before re-accreditation and use that plan as the road map for our self-study. Those who are members of the Gaston Day community are well aware that Independent School Management (ISM) oversaw a strategic planning process here last year that resulted in our new and exciting strategic plan. We shared this plan with the community at an open forum last fall.

Also as a part of the process, each school must respond to a list of standards and indicators of institutional health and responsibility. The written responses are sent to the chair of the visiting team who then studies them and decides whether or not the school is in compliance.

This fall, J.P. Watson, Head of the Heritage School (Newnan, GA) and the Chair of our visiting team, made a preliminary visit to Gaston Day. He returned to campus this past Sunday (April 27) with his other team members: Michael Heath, Head of Heathwood Hall (Columbia, SC); Jason Ramsden, Technology Director at the Ravenscroft School (Raleigh); Pat Sams, Lower School Head at Westchester Country Day (High Point); and Carter Sturkie, Finance Director at the Summit School (Winston-Salem). Members of the visiting team inspect different areas of school life and meet with different school community representatives. The culmination of their visit and work is the writing of a report on Gaston Day School with commendations and recommendations. The visiting team also recommends whether or not Gaston Day School will be re-accredited. We are grateful to team members for their time and expertise. Their service is voluntary.

As noted above, the process of accreditation is continuous. Gaston Day is committed to improving those areas of weakness identified by the visiting team. We must submit an interim report to SAIS-SACS in two years that outlines ways in which we have done just that. Soon enough, another two-years of improvement will pass, and the School will begin another five-year cycle of strategic planning and re-accreditation.

Today we are eager to receive the visiting team's report and anticipate formal re-accreditation of Gaston Day School in the next several weeks. Later this afternoon, the visiting team will leave to return to their own schools. But their work in the form of the final report remains as a living document guiding our future efforts. Accreditation is more than an event. It is an expression of our determination constantly to work and to plan to be better.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Vocabulary of Educational Reform

In my last two blogs, the topic has been 21st-Century Skills. This blog will make a homework assignment to conclude that subject and, also, introduce the reader to two more terms relevant to contemporary education: the STEM disciplines and the concept of blended learning. All of these reflect the growing importance of technology in the contemporary classroom.

The remaining set of 21st-Century Skills not discussed previously were Information, Media and Technology Skills, and Life and Career Skills. These categories include a broad array of technical and social skills and personal values. Rather than list them all in this blog, I encourage my followers to go to "The Partnership for 21st Century Skills," a web site that comprehensively treats the subject.

Now let's turn from 21st-Century Skills to another theme of contemporary learning: the STEM disciplines. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. These disciplines are related to each other and reflect a growing concern for and commitment to the physical sciences and higher mathematics. The United States and other Western European countries dominated these fields early in the 20th century, but our nation has not retained its preeminence in the last half-century. STEM disciplines are essential to manufacturing and the aerospace and defense industries. The iPad initiative at Gaston Day is an important expression of our commitment to these branches of learning. The iGEM program is another example of the way in which advanced scientific research is taught here.

The concept of blended learning is an outgrowth of the explosion in personal technology. Blended learning combines traditional teaching styles and practices with online learning. Teachers assign students at least part of their work to be done independently online. This means that students have more control over the pace, path, and place of study because they do it on their own computers. Again, Gaston Day's iPad initiative insures that there will be more blended learning as personal technology becomes a basic feature of learning here.

In my opinion, the technology revolution unites all of these educational reforms: 21st-Century Skills, STEM disciplines, and blended learning. I once believed personal computers were tools that would enhance learning, but not transform it. No longer. At the most fundamental level, personal computers are changing the way we humans interact with our environments and becoming extensions of our brains. Small children embrace personal technology practically as infants. Young people--the students of today--use personal technology (laptops, iPhones, etc.) to interpret the world and relate to others. If Gaston Day School is going to remain relevant to and for our students, we must embrace the creative possibilities of personal technology. Meanwhile, the task remains to teach our students how to use that technology responsibly and what it means to live a good life.


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

21st Century Skills, Continued

 In my last blog, I introduced the topic of 21st Century Skills as one of great relevance for education at Gaston Day. What are the skills that a well prepared student needs to be successful today? This piece continues that subject, focusing on the Learning and Innovation Skills as a subset of the broader array of 21st Century Skills. Learning and Innovation is further divided into three different groups of skills. These are Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, Creativity and Innovation, and Communication and Collaboration. I know all these categories can quickly start to become a hodgepodge of concepts and words that may appear to lack coherence. But I am convinced the subject of 21st Century Skills really is important and germane to the best contemporary education. Further, I think these are things we care about and intentionally cultivate at Gaston Day. So I share them with you in the hope that it will stimulate and strengthen a shared framework for discussing and considering our children's education here.
Critical Thinking involves the ability to reason inductively and deductively, to understand the ways that constituent parts of systems (whether abstract or material) are related, and to form judgments and make decisions. Problem solving is a practical application of critical thinking. Students apply what they learn to overcome real life obstacles and challenges.

Creativity and Innovation are attitudes that Independent Schools do a particularly good job encouraging and cultivating. We applaud students who think outside the box and challenge assumptions. We reinforce and congratulate creativity, not only in the fine arts, but in all disciplines. Two of our core Community Values at Gaston Day are "Curiosity and Creativity." Beginning in Pre-School we strive to nurture a spirit of innovation and creative expression in our students. We put their art of the walls and publish their writings. We enter them into contests--National Scholastic Writing and Art, Science Fairs, iGems--that challenge them to be creative and innovative at the highest level.
Communication and Collaboration start with basic skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking and incorporate the use of visual symbols, power-point and other multi-media presentations. They also must extend beyond the language arts to math and science. Well educated Gaston Day students must understand the scientific method and basic and more advance mathematical concepts. Students must develop the ability to think across and between disciplines because so much of life happens in totality, not in discrete disciplines. Finally, students must work learn to work with others and communicate for a range of purposes: to inform, to instruct, to motivate, and/or persuade.
The philosophy of 21st Century Skills informs pedagogy at Gaston Day. So do other educational theories. Our desire is to give our students the best possible education within the limits of our mission.
My next blog will conclude my introduction of 21st Century Skills. Thanks for your interest.