A Reflection on This Year

by Vince Durnan
Two prime directives move us forward, providing meaning and purpose. Here’s a little valedictory as the curtain descends:

No one asked me point blank, but should the question come, my answer for why USN is here in 2016 would be twofold—for starters, we pledge to the world that we “model best educational practice” (drawn directly from our underplayed mission statement), and past that, we carry a responsibility to do our part writing the school community’s story on our watch. Seeing our work in focus through those two lenses puts the daily stuff, the mountains and mountains of daily stuff, in context, at least for me.
On the best practice front, it’s as simple and as humbling as asking whether everything we do rises to the level of being a model for any school in our circumstances, and maybe for any school at all. What we teach, how we teach, and why we teach combine to define a curriculum, a K-12 odyssey of things to know and to do and to think about. Every program component, every educational experience, every familiar routine, every cherished tradition, every idea yet to be realized should get the same scrutiny. It's no small task, and no task ever fully completed, but the commitment to do the work is disarmingly simple.
Examples of this promise pursued would be 2015-2016’s range of “vertical team” teacher conversations about our K-4 academic scope and sequence, while the 5-8 faculty looked at whether and how to continue with a one to one technology program, and the 9-12 faculty launched a test version of a course for new high schoolers to help build their capacity to succeed with the challenges they will face here. Meanwhile, our web guru Steve Smail and his project partner Matthew Haber did the grunt work to get our massive curricular design and description software complete and ready for wider use by June.
This is also the year we sponsored a look at our diversity and inclusion work, squarely within the best practice mandate, hosting Patricia Romney in October to provide observations and insights. We’ve since been talking about how to best turn her recommendations on curriculum, community, hiring, and cultural competence into productive next steps, and response from my colleagues has been enormously gratifying. Best practice culture is just as crucial as best practice program.
The other pillar of purpose for us is to not take this post-Centennial moment for granted. Given the hundred year running start for our future, we need to get our feet on the pedals and not coast. Yes, our material realities have never been better, and yes, the challenge of making USN accessible to a wide range of household incomes has never been greater. Talking about the phenomenon, as I did at a SunTrust-sponsored panel for 50+ school people just two days ago, is necessary but far from sufficient. We are, in our own quiet way, hustling harder than I can ever recall to build a financial footing here that our successors will take as inspiration for their efforts in turn.
This may be remembered as the year that we began asking, perhaps for the first time in generations, some basic, basic questions about the nature of our educational model—not to risk our future but instead to guarantee that we will be around for a bicentennial. We’re more aware of our place in the sectarian, uncivil, partisan political dialogue locally and nationally, a dialogue that makes USN feel ever more like a bubble. We come at that work committed to best practice, and from a position of strength, conscious of parent-of-alumni and poetic songwriter John Prine’s pearl of wisdom that “happy people don’t write a lot of music.” But these happy people need to write that music.
It’s a new kind of busy for us, and it’s an honor to be this kind of busy.
That’s it for now—in year #101,

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