This is my first essay of the new school year, and with it let me welcome all of our parents, students and anyone else who reads my monthly “thoughts.” I started writing these back in 2004, and they have become a mechanism that forces me to write. Sometimes I write comic pieces, and sometimes serious ones. But, either way, I have to write an essay which then gets published on the website. You can go back, if you click on “Headmaster’s Thoughts”, to all the 150-plus pieces I have written over the last 14 years. A few actually make sense, but most are humorous and often represent my personal complaints about the lack of service in our society.
In welcoming you, I want to pick up on that theme of service. Our goal, at York Prep, is to make sure that everything we do advances the education of your child. This is the 50th year since Jayme and I started the school in 1969, and schools have changed in the depth of services they offer their students. Additionally, the use of technology makes communication easier among all members of the community. But the aim of a York Prep education has not changed as we try to give each child an upward educational trajectory and the academic tools to excel.
The value of service for students and parents is critical. We have to make sure that our students get the best education they can. If they need a challenge, then our scholars program is there, and if they need support, we have the JumpStart program. Let me immediately say that sometimes our students are in both the Scholars and JumpStart programs.
At York, we strive to be responsive and communicative. For 15 years we communicated with parents through Edline. We have now upgraded our portal of communication to a program called “Canvas.” It will give you more information and be accessible as an app on your phone. We need to continue to ensure the communication channel works well. I personally get frustrated with any company that answers with a menu of options and then puts me on a long hold when I call one of those options, particularly while a recorded voice tells me repeatedly that my call is important to them. At York Prep we have two professionals who actually answer the telephone and work with you to get your message to the right party in the school (which may be your child). Maybe that is emblematic of our desire to treat students and parents with respect, and we hope that we are treated in the same spirit. Families and schools should make up the team that helps the child. You lead in some areas, and we lead in others.
The role of our school has evolved over the past 50 years. We are far more responsible for the pastoral care of our students than we were in 1969. We are adding a third member to our team of students’ psychological counselors because we recognize the increasing anxieties of adolescence, and the need to help students cope with the challenges of growing up in a competitive, technological society where the pressures to perform seem to be increasing by the year.
We need to innovate and be open to new ideas. Returning parents will notice a new “maker’s lab,” which is a fancy name for a classroom for robotics. We are making a recording studio for our music classes. And we constantly upgrade our computer systems. As an educator of some age, I would say, however, that although technology can help support students and teachers, it can NEVER replace the inspirational effect of great teachers. We are rightly judged by parents on how much we help their child learn and grow, both academically and ethically, and how much we instill in them the confidence to think creatively. I am proud of our history, but we have succeeded because of the strength of our teaching staff. Great teachers make great schools.
Before I come to the final paragraph, I should also write that we do not want to make too much of the fact that it is our 50th year. We will not spend the year patting ourselves on the back, but rather looking forward to how we can continue to improve the school for the future. Of course, we should have an event for our alumni and the teachers of the present and past, but self-congratulation is not a goal that I, for one, am interested in doing. It has been 50 years, and hopefully, as we go forward, we will get better and better. That, and not a history of the school, is the reason I am inspired and enthused every new school year.
So I welcome you to York Prep. Our administrative team is a joy to work with. Our teachers are outstanding. I always try to end these essays with the way I began, so let me repeat that we aim to ensure that everything we do advances the education of your child. A tall order– but one we hope to continue for many years to come.
Ronald P. Stewart