Two Very Big Things

Director Vince Durnan penned his latest column following a pair of exciting announcements for what's ahead at 2000 Edgehill.
This week brought a pair of significant milestones for us, namely the CDC approval for 5- to 11-year-old children seeking COVID-19 vaccination and the announcement of USN’s next Director. In both instances, announcements resulted from a lengthy and thoughtful process, requiring considerable effort on many levels, opening the door for life to be different here on campus. At the considerable risk of stating the obvious, here’s where I’d start in imagining what’s ahead:

Tuesday’s word on childhood vaccination offers the possibility of our K-6 population mirroring our 7-12 student group in protection from the pandemic. Coming on the heels of our Board-approved vaccine mandate for faculty and staff (with standard exemption protocols available) being announced a week prior, it clears the last major hurdle in our efforts to apply the universally agreed upon primary tool to the challenge of keeping everyone safe.

With all our teachers and with students in the elder half of our program generating vaccination rates that now exceed 98% already, entirely on a voluntary basis, there’s plenty of cause for optimism with the younger half. Our city’s new case count continues to drop even faster than the national average, and we’re actively engaged, with the Medical Advisory group, in planning for incremental relaxation of mitigation measures. We’ll look to High School to lead on that front, given their levels of protection from the virus, and it would be ideal for Lower School (and the other half of Middle School) to follow suit in the weeks and months ahead by replicating that experience.

Look for continued guidance from our Health Team regarding the where, when, and how of vaccination availability. We’ve created that island of immunity here on campus that I hoped for, with precious few exceptions, since we reconvened in August, and if current trends hold, it’s time for us to begin the great unwind, just as carefully as we did when it came to adopting those mitigation strategies. What I’d expect to be our test is twofold — for starters, will we muster the capacity to be patient with one another as conditions adjust, and at the same time will we each resist the temptation to cut corners or to adopt a free rider stance, banking on the good choices of others to make it OK for us not to do our part?

Then yesterday came the Board’s formal announcement of USN’s next head of school, seven speedy months after the letter confirming this as my swan song and eight long months before his contractual starting date. Let’s appreciate a few things about this protracted process — it included a persistent effort to welcome ideas and opinions from all constituents, it asked a great deal of candidates in terms of readiness to respond to a host of hard questions, and it invited a different kind of introspection for this already introspective school community. Observing it all from arm’s length, as it should have been, was a mixed-emotion experience for me. As of today, my primary purpose is to prepare the way for what’s next at USN as a soon-to-be-former Director.

In that avuncular spirit, let me point to the challenge of finding a path to consensus against the national backdrop of partisan, antagonistic civic discourse. Just look at the sharp divisions fueled by Tuesday’s election outcomes. We can set an example, though, for the children in our care and for the wider community, in the way we embrace this moment of change. My guess is that no candidate for the role I gratefully hold here is the perfect blend of anyone’s specific wish list, just as the school at large is probably not the exact dreamscape of anyone who spends their days here. But there’s so much on which we agree that we find a way forward together, learning from one another.

Human nature makes it virtually inevitable that our thoughts turn immediately to what this decision means for us individually — for projects we hoped would get the green light, or the stoplight, for our daily patterns of doing school, for our place in the order of things. Count me in that number for sure, realizing pretty viscerally that I need to get busy on a plan for what to do starting in July. Just beneath those considerations, though, sits my excitement in realizing something new is about to happen, probably directly rooted in the fact that I’ve lost the capacity to see dear ole USN with fresh eyes — I see it more through the wisps of memory, of lived experience here.

My hope for you is that you’ll share the same welcome, embrace the same potential with Amani Reed that I still recall distinctly, and still barely deserved, back in the year 2000. What made possible any success that followed was the connection and affirmation that came my way, convincing me unalterably that this is the best school head job on the planet. It has been a while since this opportunity came our way at USN, and the difference you make may prove to be historic one day. Don’t underestimate the power of your role. 

With an eye on that future and USN in my heart,

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