Newman School is no fun!

Newman School is no fun!

With the high SAT scores, the superb college profile, the rigorous curriculum, and the long-standing tradition for academic excellence, Newman cannot possibly be a place of fun.

As I sit to write this, I hear John Lennon screaming out “Twist & Shout” on the senior patio. I just came back from a walk around campus and sat down to collect my thoughts.  I went to visit the 5th Grade Medieval Fair to see them all dressed up for the day, sharing what they’ve learned, and then feasting on “Mutton and Mead.” What I didn’t expect was the doughnut on a string eating contest, where kids had to put their hands behind their backs and try to eat a doughnut dangling from a string. I mean, I know this is the culmination of homecoming week, and it is Halloween, but I didn’t actually think I would stick my hand in a bag of intestines.

Earlier this morning, the lower school positioned themselves on the turf of Lupin field to watch the PK-1st graders parade in their costumes, and then the entire school gathered an hour later in the Palaestra for a pep rally filled with the sounds of our inspiring band and led by our talented cheerleaders. The magic of a PreK-12 coeducational setting overwhelmed me, and I felt so lucky to have my daughter at such a dynamic school.

After lunch, I moved to the Valmont Courtyard to watch the judging of the middle school costume competition with one of our teachers dressed as a Hubig’s Pie taking top honors. The kids were dressed with scary, fun, and wild costumes, and every single one of them was smiling. My personal favorite was the group of girls dressed by the decade. Starting with the 20’s and going up through the 1980’s, these girls proudly showcased the fashions of the last century.

Hundreds of parents are on campus today. The sun is shining brightly, and everyone is having fun! But of course, my experience is that we do not need a homecoming week to have fun. We threw a Saints celebration like no other school could, complete with the Rebirth Brass Band, Mardi Gras Indians, face painters, balloon makers, and a Pass, Punt, Kick competition. When it snowed, we gathered on the field to frolic and take advantage of that rare and magical occurrence. We are always listening to bands and eating great food. We celebrate Culturefest, and Arts Week, and dozens of other events.

But we don’t even need special events. Our students laugh and play and relax and enjoy all the time. I love to watch the upper school kids kick the soccer ball around or just hang out in the courtyard. In a world of overscheduled, high stress adolescence, our kids seemed to have the rarest of qualities: balance.

So, yes, we have the merit scholars and the world class teachers. Of course, we have all the AP classes and the national reputation. Naturally, we will wow you with intellectual curiosity and engaging discussion. But we will amaze you with the fact that we can bear down and work hard and also have a lot of fun. Thank you for this wonderful school full of smiles.

Guest Blogger: Matthew Miller on Public School Collaboration

One of the joys of working in schools is the opportunity to visit and share ideas with other professionals who are often faced with similar challenges and potential opportunities.  Last week I was invited to participate in an evaluation of Science Academy, a charter school in New Orleans East, run by Ben Marcovitz.  The process, run by New Schools for New Orleans, included former Newman teacher and Summerbridge leader Jay Altman as well as Mike Stone, a Newman alum.  The visit included a pre-evaluation meeting, class visits, interviews with faculty, and finally a post-evaluation discussion.  It was an extraordinary visit in every respect–people at the school embraced the evaluation and were eager to learn from it and to grow.  I was so impressed with the process, the team, and the school.

 

One theme that is increasingly important in education is the shared relationship of public to private.  Public schools, particularly charter schools, have taught independent schools a great deal about adaptive, data-driven instruction; independent schools have provided a model for creating a culture of intellectual autonomy and community values.  We had the opportunity last week also to host a team of visitors from Science Academy to Newman.  The team visited classes and spoke with our faculty–in the best sense of collaboration, we learned from them and they took away lessons from Newman.  In particular, they were interested in how we manage our classes and the relationship of teachers to students, students to content.

In an ideal sense, schools should constantly be reflecting, growing, and sharing ideas with other professionals.  We are fortunate to have, in New Orleans, some of the country’s most innovative leaders in the field of education and some of the finest teachers in the country.  I hope that this sort of exchange becomes the standard for how public and private schools operate: I know that we grew from the experience and welcome similar exchanges.

Waiting for Superman

I was fortunate to be invited this past Saturday to the New Orleans premiere of the new film, Waiting for Superman. This documentary takes a harsh look at public education in America and clearly presents the argument for more choice in education. Regardless of your politics, you will be struck by this film. I sat with about 75 educators from around New Orleans, and we were all deeply affected by some of the harsh realities of the mediocre results we have seen in public education for what is now several decades. What was uplifting was the knowledge that most of the people in that theater are trying to make a real difference in New Orleans.

As the head of an independent school, I clearly support choice in education. Our families make a choice to be here, and in many cases they make sacrifices to send their children here. We are all like minded in that we believe deeply in the power of education, and we want to provide the very best education possible for our children. The film documents the lives of several families, all of whom simply want a good education for their children.

This film will be controversial because it is critical of the teachers’ unions. It also makes the point that we know what works- we know what to do. We simply need the courage to do it.

I encourage you all to see the film. I’d love to hear what you think of it.