Dear friends in USN,
Happy New (School) Year — whether this will be your first time embracing the morning routine that brings us all to 2000 Edgehill Ave., or whether you could repeat the drop off guidelines verbatim after decades worth of practice, you may rest assured we never have the same year twice. The blend of faces and stories and opportunities and challenges never stands still. The butterflies return, even in the comfort of so much that's familiar, even knowing how hard we've all worked to be ready for classes to resume.
My fond hope is that the past two months offered you time to appreciate and embrace a change of pace. Our agrarian academic calendar makes increasingly less sense as a time for us tending the crops, but it makes more sense than ever as a period of educational R+D, when teachers and those whose work supports their teaching can think big, study more deeply, and exchange ideas with colleagues far afield. The inventory of USN faculty projects stretches on for pages, and now we reconvene in common purpose.
What summer meant for me professionally is a chance to join in gatherings of school heads, most notably for multi-day meetings at the University of Chicago and Stanford University, and as well as I know so many of those remarkable people, things felt different. There's something unfamiliar in the way they talk about the usual topics, about grades and courses and testing and student health and the place of school in community. It feels like we're reaching the limit of one approach to what we've been doing and there's openness to exploring new avenues to best educational practice. You might have noticed a question to that effect on the annual survey sent to returning families last month.
One source of inspiration for me this summer has been USN dad Jon Meacham's recent and acclaimed release “The Soul of America.” In this moment of alarming tribalism, ambivalence about truth, and apparent disdain for the lessons of history, Jon shared stories of Americans rising to the occasion, invoking the better angels that President Abe Lincoln called forth in the conclusion to his first inaugural address. Jon closed this important book (a copy of which he quietly provided for each of our seniors in May before graduation) quoting Lincoln again as he reminded the troops that the nation was worth the fight "to secure such an inestimable jewel."
Well, we're not quite on that scale, to state the obvious, but let me just suggest that USN is worth the effort — by all of us, doing something remarkable with this moment for our school and our students and our city. While there's no single all-faculty read, we did commit to six probing books, to be discussed next week over lunch. I chose Ansley Erickson's 2016 “Making of the Unequal Metropolis,” the difficult-to-process and troubling story of desegregation in Nashville. It's academic stuff, from a Teachers College faculty member with ties to our city and to one of our emerita faculty members, and it's not beach reading, but it reminds us of the importance of the work at hand, of the work we all can do. Get a copy, here in the midst of generational change in our hometown.
Pardon the diversions, and thanks for reading. There really is a whole lot to say and to do. May this be the year that you find the very best kind of connection with the USN community in all its facets, through its packed sequence of events. May we maintain at every turn a sense of being in this together, and may we look back on this year as a time that generated our best thinking, followed closely by our best actions.
See you in the halls, maybe even with a popsicle