Thursday, November 17, 2016

"How to Cultivate an Excellent Student" A Talk Given at Yinzhou High School, Ningbo, China

On my recent trip to China, I was invited to give an address to Chinese educators at a high school in Ningbo on how independent schools "cultivate excellent students." I think my remarks are relevant for the Gaston Day School community and anyone interested in sending their children here. So here is a summary of my remarks.

1. Great teachers are the starting point for a great education for an excellent student. Great teachers are masters of the content of their subjects, but they are also more than that. They know how to challenge, inspire, and convey meaning tot heir students. Independent schools hire and develop great teachers. If a teacher is poor at an independent school, they are not allowed to remain. So an excellent student learns from excellent teachers.

2. Independent schools provide excellent students with the core subjects they need for college--English, math, science, social studies, foreign language, technology, and fine arts--and with the most challenging course available within those subjects. These include Advance Placement Courses. An excellent student takes the most challenging course available in an independent school and performs well in them.

MS class in Ningbo
3. Independent schools offer a rich variety of extra-curricular offerings and service opportunities. These include sports, clubs, and projects. An excellent student is well-rounded and participates fully in school life outside the classroom.

4. Independent schools encourage their students to enter local, regional, and national competitions in various subjects and fields. An excellent student receives recognition for a high level of performance in competitions open to students from other schools.

5. Independent schools offer strong advice and counsel in the college admissions process. This process begins in the 9th grade and becomes most active in the 11th and 12th grades. Students are prepared for the SAT or ACT tests. Students are advised on the right colleges to which they should apply. An excellent student scores well on college entrance exams and selects a college that best suits his or her educational needs. 

I believe that Gaston Day does all these things well. The success of our graduates in college is the best proof. Gaston Day graduates attend great colleges and universities and they succeed at higher levels of education and in life. 

American independent schools are some of the best in the world. That is why Chinese parents, who can afford to send their children to school anywhere in the world, choose us. They are willing to sacrifice so that their children can benefit from the best education available. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

China Trip Journal, October 25-30

Tuesday, October 25, 2016. Newark, New Jersey. I flew from Charlotte to Newark and arrived around noon. We flew on the west side of the Hudson as we landed and saw the whole New York City skyline. Caught a van to the motel and rode with Carolyn McCarthy, Charlotte Catholic high school counselor, who was on the same flight. Kathy Freeman and Reid Smith, both with New Oasis (our recruiting agency partner in China), who came from Raleigh, were also in the same van. 

At 3 pm, our group of seven educators met for an orientation which included an introduction to New Oasis and a discussion of the interviewing process. We went to dinner at Nico's in the New Jersey Center for the Performing Arts. 

Thursday, October 27, 2016. Sixteen hour flight to Hong Kong yesterday. Slept fitfully for probably half of it. Watched movies and read a book of Gary Snyder essays. 
Friday, October 28, 2016. Eaton Hotel, Kowloon (Hong Kong). Full touring day. I have a much better appreciation for Hong Kong's geography. Hong Kong includes 260 islands, many uninhabited. The population is 7.5 million. Since 1997, Hong Kong is no longer a British dependency, but the Chinese agreed to not change the capitalist system there for 50 years. Hong Kong is a financial and tourist center and depends on imports for all basic commodities. 

We took a bus to the waterfront. Walked past the Peninsula Hotel, one of the finest in the world, took pictures on the waterfront, and the Star Ferry across to Hong Kong Island, the commercial center. Walked to the old market district. The collection of skyscrapers on Hong Kong island is staggering. We hand lunch and shopped early afternoon. Drove up to Victoria Peak at dusk. The view is spectacular in every direction. Out to the South China Sea you see many islands and a long line of ships streaming into harbor. The view of Hong Kong Island below and Kowloon is spectacular at night. We took the tram down the mountain and a bus to dinner. Good food. Back to the hotel. We travel to Shenzhen and Shanghai tomorrow. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016. Shanghai Marriott. We drove from Hong Kong yesterday morning into the mainland at Shenzhen. Shenzhen has a population of nearly 20 million people, is China's high tech center, and had begun to rival Shanghai as a world financial center. Over the last 30 years, the city sprang from nearly nothing. We interviewed students yesterday afternoon in Shenzhen and flew to Shanghai. Here for three days. We interview students all day here. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Gaston Day School Fund, FallFest, and the State Athletic Tournament

This blog will cover three current topics, beginning with heartfelt thanks to you for your continued, generous support for the Gaston Day School Fund. The school is in great shape academically, socially and financially, but your contributions to the GDS Fund are vital to our commitment to you and all our donors to maintain a balanced operating budget each and every year. Your support makes everything possible, from faculty development to facility improvements to scholarships and financial aid. The annual fund keeps everything running smoothly.

As usual, our faculty are at the top of their game and, as a result, our students are well prepared for college. We encourage all of our faculty to be innovative and creative in their teaching methods and classroom management styles. 

We provide as many opportunities as possible for our students, whether it's in the fine and performing arts, athletics, clubs or co-curricular activities.

Your gift to the GDS Fund helps protect the value and reputation of a GDS education. Your son or daughter will be able to look back with pride and gratitude because they will be so well prepared for college and life. This is what the GDS Fund helps accomplish. Thank you so much for your generous support in the past. Please help us out again this year!!

In addition to this being the start of the annual fund campaign, this is also the season when we just completed another spectacularly successful FallFest and sent two of our athletic teams to the state tournaments. FallFest took place on October 1, which really must have been one of the most beautiful days of the year. As I arrived at the event, a GDS parent turned to me and noted, "there is not a cloud in the sky!" I have never seen a bigger crowd at Gaston Day in my sixteen years here. Every parking space on the campus was occupied except for a handful in the front of school. Additionally, cars were parked on the grass in many locations around the School. 

FallFest seemed to have more booths, more rides, and more fun than ever!! Thanks to the hard work and creativity of the PA volunteers who ran FallFest, we raised $45,000, a record amount. It was simply one of the happiest, most successful FallFests in school history. A special thanks to Michelle Kinsley, Susie Marks, and Pam Russell for their leadership. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Parents Association, for FallFest and all that you do to support our school!!

The two Gaston Day School teams that made the state tournament were the boys soccer and girls volleyball teams. Both teams are young, started slowly, jelled in mid-season, and finished strong. Boys soccer lost a tough match 1-0 to Christ the King Catholic School yesterday to finish a great season. Girls soccer will play this weekend. Good luck, Lady Spartans!!

As always, thanks for your confidence in Gaston Day. Please contact me if I can help you or your students in any way. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Start of School and a Fond Farewell

The new school year is almost two weeks old, and it is wonderful to be back. There are already highlights for me. The Junior-Senior Retreat at the YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly outside Black
Mountain was fun, informative, and full of school spirit. Activities included completing a high ropes course and the annual Juniors-versus-Seniors kickball game. The Seniors prevailed in a hard-fought, close match. We have such a strong group of Juniors and Seniors who are responsible, energetic and full of life. It makes me so proud to spend time with them.

Back at school, classes are falling into a rhythm. We have already had Lower School , Middle School and Upper School Parents Nights. Athletics are underway for all our teams. The new Girls Golf team with twelve members is one of the exciting new developments in GDS sports. They had their first match at the Gaston Country Club the other day. The team is young, and it will be great fun to watch them mature and improve. 

Thursday, September 1, we held the annual Gaston Day School Board Retreat. Again, my dominant emotion was pride as various GDS administrators presented their plans for the year. Lower School has adopted a flexible seating style that is so conducive to different student learning styles. They also have adopted a new math curriculum because the one we used in the past has been watered down recently to match the public school's common core curriculum. In Upper School, Mrs. Perlman is using the math department to pioneer a new classroom usage plan that has the math department sharing an office and, thus, freeing up instructional space. This change also paves the way for a new schedule next year that creates classes that are 70 minutes long for optimal teaching and student learning. Dean Lutkus presented excellent research on different disciplinary models practiced at other local independent schools. This information will allow us to improve our own disciplinary plan, making it less punitive and more educational. 

We are so fortunate to have such a dedicated Board of Trustees. Under the leadership of Board Chair Doug Meyer-Cuno (former parent and GDS alumnus), the GDS Board is working so hard to set the right strategic direction for the school. It is such a pleasure to work with such a great Board of Trustees. 

My final observation about the start of school is the sad loss of beloved Officer Jack Brown, who died just before school opened this year. Jack Brown was a remarkable person and an amazing school servant. He kept us safe, and he loved each and every one of us. He also was an incredibly courageous example as he battled cancer for the last seven years. Jack never stopped living or performing his duties here, although he had regular, difficult treatments and operations. He was truly and example of grace under pressure. We will always remember him with gratitude and affection. 

Gaston Day School is a living, breathing community. At times, beloved members of this community depart. New members are constantly joining us. The spirit of the community endures, and the traditions that give form to that community are passed on and upheld. 

It is a new year at a place with a rich history and a vibrant exciting mission. We especially welcome our new students and teachers!! Everyone else, we welcome back to Gaston Day School!! You belong to something special here!!

Monday, May 2, 2016

"Mary Makes Your Heart So Light"

I hope you were able to attend the recent production of Mary Poppins at Gaston Day because it was great entertainment. As usual, Holly Mason directed a fantastic performance. Everything about the show was top notch. Greg Dills, Sue Thompson and other volunteers built a beautiful set. The whole cast was excellent. Maddie Ferguson, as Mary Poppins and Ben King, as Bert, were especially outstanding. The special effects were once again eye-popping, just as was the case with Peter Pan last year. When Mary Poppins sailed across the stage with her umbrella, it really was stunning!

Every show was well attended, and several were sell outs. We also had two days of shows for the community, specifically for some local public elementary schools. Isn't it great that Gaston Day School's drama program is serving the larger community?

Putting on and pulling off a performance like Mary Poppins is a monumental undertaking! Having the whole school involved is such a community-building enterprise. And, yes, it is a tremendous commitment of time and energy from all the cast and crew. Thank you to everyone involved for producing such an entertaining show. 

Every time we produce such a spectacular show, I feel gratitude to so many people. Let's start with Pamela Kimbrell Warlick, whose vision for the performing and visual arts and whose generosity gave us such a wonderful facility. Pam Warlick attended Mary Poppins, and I can only imagine what it must have been like for her to sit in the audience and experience her vision brought to life. What joy the Pamela Kimbrell Warlick Visual and Performing Arts Center brings to Gaston Day School and to the whole community!!

Holly Mason also deserves special praise for building such a strong theatre program. Can you imagine any other school our size producing a musical of similar quality and excellence? It really is amazing what Gaston Day School does in our theatre. 

The student actors and crew will never be the same after participating in such a remarkable undertaking and presentation. To be part of something so creative, to be part of a dramatic team with so many parts, to hear the applause of the audience and know that you have brought joy to so many, it must be transforming and unforgettable. I am so proud of all our actors and technicians who united to produce Mary Poppins.

"It's a jolly holiday with Mary! Mary makes your heart shine bright!! When the day is gray and ordinary, Mary makes the sun shine bright!"

I hope you were there!!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Opening Night

March 11 was opening night for the new Frances H. Henry Baseball Field, and it was one of the best nights I can remember at Gaston Day School. The weather cooperated and the GDS community
arrived in force. I suspect there must have been close to 500 people in attendance. The Henry Field Parking Lot was full, and we had to shuttle in the overflow parking from around the campus.

The scene at the field was fantastic. Families were tailgating in the parking lots. Kids were running around everywhere. All the surrounding hills--and there are lots of them--had younger children chasing each other and playing. FLIK, the school's dining service, was serving free hot dogs and pop corn in the new Spartan Field House. The crowd in and around the bleachers was loud and happy. You could feel the positive energy and the sheer joy. This was all before the game started!!

The opening ceremony and dedication included the Pledge of Allegiance, the National Anthem, and a prayer by the Rev. John Frye, First Presbyterian, Gastonia, minister. There were lots of people to thank. In particular, Marsh Spencer, Gray Little, and Greg Dills from the Gaston Day School Board put so much time and effort into the construction of the ball field. And, of course, there are Bill and Frances Henry to thank. How do we adequately thank the Henry family for all they have meant to the School and for building the new field? We can't. But, at least, we need to try as hard as we can. Their generosity is enormous. Frances has also given so much time and energy as a coach to build the baseball program. She really is more responsible for the baseball program than anyone else. Bill Henry now has supported three major projects at Gaston Day School: the James Heyward Henry Student Activity Center; the William S. Henry Family Academic Center; and the Frances H. Henry Baseball Field. Thank you, Bill and Frances Henry!!

Frances Henry threw the first pitch--a strike--and it was time to "Play Ball!" Our opponent was
Piedmont Community Charter School. We scored in the first inning to take a 1-0 lead. Eventually, Piedmont Charter pulled ahead and won the game by a score of 12-9. It was a really good game. Our team should be so proud of the way they played. The future is bright for GDS baseball!!

William Henry, starting first baseman on the team, had a magical night. He got the first hit on the new field named for his mother. He stole a base, got an unassisted double play, and pitched well in relief. What are the odds that William Henry would get the first hit in the history of the Frances H. Henry Baseball Field? Could anything be more appropriate?

I am so grateful to Coach Chris Carrera and Athletic Director Casey Field for their hard work and dedication to the baseball program. We are so fortunate to have someone with Coach Carrera's talent and commitment working with our baseball team. The Gaston Day School Baseball Program is going to become stronger and stronger. We have the best facility and we have the best coach. We have players who are willing to work hard and become better. Opening night is the beginning of a great tradition of baseball at Gaston Day School. If you missed it, I encourage you to come to one of the next home games. The whole experience is fantastic!!

Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Poetry Slam

Last night Gaston Day School had its annual poetry slam. Kathryn Rhyne and Nana Boateng, associate editors of Blutopia, organized the event. There was a great crowd in the library, and everyone snapped their fingers after poems were read. I read a poem from Elizabeth Seydel Morgan called "The Last Poem," which describes beautifully how someone who is attending a poetry reading can let their mind wander accidentally because they are tired of listening to so many poems. After all, this is "the last poem" in a night full of many, many readings. Boredom sets in, the attention span has been overtaxed, and suddenly the listener is no longer connected to the poem, but instead is lost in other thoughts. Morgan's images in the poem are rich and evocative.

I have come to poetry both early and late in life. As a young boy, I liked to write poems. They were simple rhyming couplets, and they often involved gory subjects. But then as a teenager, I became embarrassed about my love of poetry, and I stopped writing or reading it. Sometime in my early thirties, I started reading good poetry again, and it has once again become important to me. I like poetry that reflects a strong sense of place. My favorite poets are Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Robert Morgan, and James Applewhite.

Applewhite, who grew up in Eastern North Carolina and teaches at Duke, may be the first poet as an adult who I felt directly connected to. His poetry is often set on tobacco farms. When I read it, I feel as if I am entering my father's world. Dad grew up on a farm here in Gaston County. When I read Applewhite's poems, it is almost as if my father is brought back to life and inhabits the poems.

I am primarily a non-fiction writer and, in particular, I write history. Even so, I occasionally write a sentence that strikes me as near poetry. In my book, A New South Hunt Club, I discuss a wealthy textile industrialist from Kings Mountain, named Freno Dilling, who used his money to organize a deer hunting club on Hilton Head Island. One of my favorite lines is, "More mills meant more money for Freno Dilling." The alliteration is obvious. But there is also some near internal rhyming. I just love saying that sentence over and over. "More mills meant more money for Freno Dilling.... More mills meant more money for Freno Dilling..... More mills meant more money for Freno Dilling." That sentence not only communicates meaning, it sounds so good!! I did not set out to write such a wonderful sentence. But I think my inner poet somehow brought together all those complimentary sounds and pauses.

If we have ears to hear, I suspect that there is poetry all around us in the spoken word. Whenever someone says something in a way that creates beautiful sounds and rhythms, isn't that simple poetry?

The Poetry Slam creates a space and occasion for our students to read their own poetry or that of others. The best of our student poetry finds its way into Blutopia. I am so glad that Gaston Day is a place that values and celebrates poetry.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Attending the NCAIS Heads Conference just returned week before last from one of two annual North Carolina Association of Independent Schools (NCAIS) Heads Conferences, this one in Mid Pines, North Carolina. By way of reminder, Gaston Day School belongs to four independent school associations: the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS); the Southern Association of Independent Schools (SAIS); NCAIS; and the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association (NCISAA). The latter is involved strictly in athletics. The first three are independent-school member organizations dealing with curriculum, governance, financial sustainability, and just about anything else that independent schools like Gaston Day deal with. As an independent school moves from the state, to the regional, and then to the national in these associations, membership becomes more selective. There are only thirty-three NAIS schools in North Carolina. There are eighty-five NCAIS schools in North Carolina. 

NCAIS performs many functions for member schools. We have a lobbyist who watches over legislation in the North Carolina Legislature to make sure that nothing happens which harms independent schools. NCAIS provides a slew of conferences that provide continuing education for nearly every conceivable position within an independent school--from teachers to heads. I am also proud to remind you that the Executive Director of NCAIS is Linda Nelson who was Gaston Day School Head of Middle and Upper Schools before assuming her current post, which she has held now for eight or nine years. It is not an exaggeration to say that Linda is one of the most respected independent-school, state-association executive directors in the country. Her work with on-line learning and other consortium's serve as models for the rest of the nation.

So what do I do at an NCAIS Heads Conference? Since the January meeting is also open to trustees, I make a point of taking my board chair and vice chair. This year Doug Meyer-Cuno, Board Chair, and Laurie Ness, Vice Chair, went to the conference for a day. I really am grateful that they would take time from their busy schedules to do so. The first day of the conference is geared toward education trustees on matters relevant to their duties. I believe that trustees who attend the conference are better informed and prepared.

Several other important things happen at the NCAIS Conference for Heads. There are experts who present on a variety of important topics in formal sessions. This year we discussed emerging trends in independent school education, best practices for hiring administrators, and fair compensation for heads. Independent school vendors also attend the Heads Conference and advertise their services. You can learn a lot about what is cutting edge in the independent school world from new products that the vendors are touting. 

Other than the presentations, nothing is more important that interacting with other heads. We learn so much from each other. At this point in my career, I know all the veteran heads of schools well. We are friends and colleagues. The Heads Conference is a chance for us to compare notes and share tips. 

Continuing education is vital to any good educator. The Heads Conference is one of the ways in which I stay abreast of change in the independent school world. I am gone for three full days when I go to Mid Pines. It is well worth it. I return to Gaston Day School full of ideas about ways to make Gaston Day School better.