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.