Headmaster’s Thoughts – September 2011

Hooray! The students will soon be back, bringing their energy and joy into the building. I can’t wait!

For the benefit of our new parents, let me explain that the posting of my monthly “thoughts” started in December 2004, when I realized that, as a teacher, I was asking my students to write creatively for me, and yet I did not have to write essays for them. So I began this blog, which has developed a life of its own (as such things are wont to do). This is the eighty-second entry, and I have been told that there are people, apart from my wife and my own children, who read them.

My essays tend to be eclectic: some have more humor in them than others. And they might (and I use that word advisedly) give students or parents insights into the way I think. The students in my senior Ethics class are supposed to critique them, and sometimes they do quite brutally. Samuel Johnson said, “In a man’s letters his soul lies naked.” I wonder if he would have said the same about blogs.

This 2011 summer was a “non-summer” for me. The school was undergoing construction (expanding the gym), and anyone who has had construction done knows that you cannot just leave. Our contractors and architects were fine—I can only say good things about them; it just is that you, as the client, have to be there.

It’s not that much different from being a parent. You have to be there and watch, critique, encourage, and do all the things I am doing in this construction project. Active parenting is essential, because if you are not involved, decisions will be made for you. They may be the right decisions, but you need to know why they are being made and put in your two cents. Clearly, in a construction project, I cannot change the laws of physics (load bearing pillars cannot just come down) nor the building code of New York City (a roof space must have a safety railing even if there is no way anyone could reach it). Similarly, as a parent, you cannot change the fact that colleges demand that certain courses be given and that standardized tests are a part of high school life. But your focus is essential.

When I was young, we certainly did not have anything like Edline. We had one report book for all the years you were at secondary school, and each double page represented a year. Every semester, each teacher wrote your mark in the subject; next to that they wrote the top mark given in the whole grade in that subject (heaven knows why); and then they wrote a short comment. The registrar gave your total semester grade average at the bottom of each page, where the headmaster would also write a word or two. You were handed the book to take home. One of your parents had to sign the book, and then you physically returned it to the registrar at the school.

We were taught Religious Knowledge. I grew up in London, and there was no separation of Church and State under Her Majesty, but I, for some obstinate reason, could not take Religious Knowledge seriously. In the first term at my new school (I was eleven), I got the lowest mark in it in the entire grade of 120 boys. To my surprise, the Religious Knowledge grade was averaged into the total grade average. So in the second semester, I took it seriously and got, I am quite proud to say, the top mark in the grade. But what I really enjoyed was the wry comment of the teacher who put next to this top mark his own comment: “Improvement noted.”

I hope that you will also be able to comment “improvement noted” at the end of this year when reviewing your child’s record. That is not to say they may not be excellent students already, but there is always room for growth. I am learning this summer how to stay patient when construction issues arise (and I am not the most patient of people). I hope that at the end of the summer I can say about myself “improvement noted.” Yesterday and today, things were not going so well. I won’t bore you with details, but it rained very hard and flooding internally occurred. You get the picture. The contractors labored, the architect advised, I worked on my patience.

Every year I hope we can look at York Prep as a school and say “improvement noted.” We are all part of the same team: we are working together for your child. I look forward to interacting with you and improving as a head of a school.

Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
E-mail: rstewart@yorkprep.org

“Headmaster’s Thoughts” for previous months are archived in the section More News. You may access additional months by clicking Headmaster’s Thoughts Archives on the same page.