From the Dean's Desk
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A new year, a new schedule
By Upper School Dean Jay Harvey
In reviewing my April, 2016 newsletter entry, I recalled that it was one year ago that I shadowed then junior student Matt Bean for a day (watch the video at the bottom of this page). I remember the classrooms visited but am a bit vague on the lessons taught that day. What I vividly remember, however, was that Matt had a full schedule and was hard-pressed to get from one room to the next in the allotted five minutes, and then had a rushed 30-minute lunch during which to recover before being back at it in his afternoon classes. Last year, when Independent School Management (ISM) consultant Simon Jeynes presented his findings to the school administration after studying our schedule for a week, his first question was, “when do your students go to the bathroom?”
I am harkening back to that question and my shadowing experience as we near the completion of a second trial of the new academic schedule that was the product of Mr. Jeynes’ extensive study of our school. With plans to fully adopt our new schedule in the fall of 2017, we ran a sample seven-day cycle in January. The response was so overwhelmingly positive from both faculty and students we decided to run a second trial, this time opting for a 14-day cycle, thereby making it feel less like a trial and more authentic. Coming out of the first trial, several students and faculty members were asking if we could “just use it for the rest of the year!”
Change this dramatic does not come without some growing pains, however. Every school I have consulted with has shared their stories of issues that arose upon full adoption. Happily, all of those schools are still using their new schedule but took the time to make adjustments they felt improved it. By running trials this year, we have already made some adjustments but realize that there are more on the horizon.
Moving forward this spring we have hired an ISM consultant to help train our faculty on the most effective uses of the once-a-week, 90-minute meeting teaching bell. Several of our faculty have already visited schools to research this, and the math department has hired their own consultant to come to campus in May. We have had a group on campus discussing the 90-minute class as well, and I feel confident that by next fall, given the summer to prepare, our faculty will be prepared to best use this time for “deep dives” into material.
At a recent parent meeting to discuss the new schedule one parent raised the question “who will be watching over the curriculum?” I believe this question was prompted by the 90-minute class and its creation of the opportunity to study topics more vertically, thus perhaps sacrificing some of the horizontal curriculum progress. This is a legitimate question, and one which we will need to watch closely next year. One step to enhance oversight of curriculum will be the expectation that teachers who share the teaching of a class, let’s say Algebra II for example, will meet regularly to check in on where they are and how they are using the longer bell and adapting to “drop” days. In our new schedule, each class will meet five days out of every seven with the other two days designated as drops.
Thus far, the new schedule has more than answered Mr. Jeynes’ question about bathroom breaks. It also seems to be a great tool for reducing student stress on campus. There will be challenges ahead as we prepare for full implementation in the fall, but with feedback from faculty, students and parents we will strive to make the adjustments necessary. This is a big step for our school and we haven’t taken it lightly. We have made promises to you and your sons and daughters and we will continue to work diligently to make sure they are kept.
View the video of the day I shadowed Matt Bean '17:
The Measure of Success
by Upper School Dean Jay Harvey
Educational institutions across the country and the world strive to achieve success every day. Nobody wants to work at or attend a school that is not succeeding, and parents certainly do not want to drop their children off each day at a school that is failing. Public schools across the United States fight for funding dollars and must prove through testing that they are succeeding or risk the loss of funds. Independent schools like Sem must achieve success or our customers, families who make significant financial sacrifices for the reward of a successful school career, will look elsewhere. Understandably, the hard part is coming to grips with a definition of success that satisfies all of the varied constituencies that schools represent and to which they are always accountable.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines success as follows: “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame” or as “the correct or desired result of an attempt.” So, where does that leave Wyoming Seminary in its quest for success? We could, I suppose, point toward our athletic programs as a true barometer of school success. This month our wrestling won its 11th consecutive Pennsylvania Prep School championship and will go after yet another top finish at the National Tournament. Our boys and girls swim teams completed remarkable undefeated seasons with a history-rattling number of pool and school records smashed. And of course, our field hockey program boasts six PIAA state championships. By any measure, those programs are successful.
Scholastically, a group of our math students recently swept almost all of the top prizes in local and regional competitions; three seniors were named National Merit Finalists; and annually our students perform significantly above national norms on Advanced Placement testing. And once again this year, our Mock Trial Team has excelled on the national and state stage at tournaments, and has once again claimed a district championship locally. It would be hard to not state unequivocally that all of these achievements denote a high level of success that is measurable against the accepted standards and norms.
I believe, however, that for Wyoming Seminary to deem itself successful, we will require a much broader, less simply quantified set of standards. Just the other day I was notified that one of my former advisees had successfully defended her dissertation and had earned her Ph.D. For me this was the second time in the past three years that I had received such joyous news about a former advisee. Every day we hear or read about Sem alums who are excelling in their fields across the country and the world. Due to the breadth of the accomplishments, these successes are far more difficult to simply measure. The school’s ability to produce generations of graduates who go on to fulfilling lives stands as a true barometer of our success as an instituion.
While not all Sem graduates will earn a Ph.D., the vast majority will go on to do meaningful work and will give something back to their communities. They will find their passions and use all of their accumulated skills and experiences to make the world around them better, whether that world is as small as their own family or as large as a major corporation. They will use the experiences they gathered on our campus in Kingston, Pennsylvania, to authenticate the value of a Wyoming Seminary education.
Looking ahead to the 2017-18 calendar year
by Upper School Dean Jay Harvey
As an independent school in Pennsylvania, Wyoming Seminary is not held to the 180-class-day requirement that dictates the calendar for our public school neighbors. Instead, we are held to a minimum number of teaching hours standard, set by the state. Each year we have to apply for the 180-day exemption and submit the number of hours we will be in session. We are always over the minimum number, but I do have to admit that two years ago, in the midst of several weather closings and delays, we came very close to falling below the standard. We were busily looking at ways to avert that; some strategies included the dreaded Saturday classes!
I started this article with that background because I have just completed work on the Upper School calendar for next year. I am often asked how we decide when school will open and close, and why we start before Labor Day and use some national holidays for classes. While all of those questions cannot be answered in this space, I will address some of them.
Given the breaks that we take between trimesters, breaks that we consider restorative and necessary, and the need to build in time for our international students to travel home, particularly at the holidays, we need to keep our start and end dates the same. This ensures the contact hours that the state mandates will be achieved. We do, from time to time, tinker with the dates we are in session between Upper School Convocation and Commencement, however. Some of those changes are driven by the calendar itself, and some are driven by internal preferences and the desire to keep the Lower School and Upper School calendars as synced as possible. As you review the 2017-18 calendar, I would like to highlight some of those changes.
1.) We have decided to keep the four-day vacation weekend in the fall for next year. This proved to be very beneficial to our seniors who were trying to fit in their final college visits. It also gave many of our faculty members the opportunity to fit in a professional development day without interrupting classroom time.
2.) We have chosen, in conjunction with the Lower School, to make the Easter holiday weekend a four-day weekend, adding the day after Easter to Good Friday as days off next year. We hope this helps to facilitate holiday travel and family time.
3.) The biggest change comes at the winter break. As is the case every four or five years, we have been forced to bump that break for next year. Please check those dates carefully as we now get out much closer to Christmas Day but return well after the first of January. I would suspect that the same type of bump will occur with our spring break dates in 2019.
4.) Following the success of our first Service Day in 2016, we have placed it on our calendar for the fall of 2017.
5.) We have not yet finalized dates for Homecoming/Parents Weekend, but we have decided to keep those two events together for next year. Those dates will be sent out as soon as they are confirmed.
I know it seems early to be discussing the 2017-18 calendar when we have barely cleared the midpoint of the 2016-17 calendar, but I am sure that the parents of the class of 2018 have hurriedly marked down Commencement on Sunday, May 27, 2018 on their personal calendars. We believe this calendar meets all of our objectives while also meeting the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s expectations for us.
And now back to thinking about the remaining days of the 2016-17 school year. Meteorological winter is well past half over, and the days are (allegedly) getting longer. At least there is more daylight each day, when it is not obscured by the gray of northeastern Pennsylvania winters.
Happy new year to all Sem families! May 2017 bring you all peace and happiness.
Happy holidays from our family to yours!
by Upper School Dean Jay Harvey
As I sit in my office today, there is fresh snow on the ground and December is starting to look like December. Winter has not officially arrived yet on the calendar, but for all intents and purposes it is present on the Northeastern Pennsylvania landscape and in the hallways of Wyoming Seminary.
On December 11 we came together for our annual boarding dinner in Fleck Hall. Everyone gets dressed up and our food service provider, Metz Culinary Management, goes above and beyond on the menu. The desserts alone were spectacular, and it was worth considering bypassing dinner and going right to the rows and rows of pies and cookies.
This year my wife Judy and I sat with a student from New Jersey, one from China and one from Afghanistan. We asked them where they were spending the holidays and went on to have a discussion about how their families will be celebrating over the break. The conversation inevitably turns to foods that they are missing from home and stories about their families. It is at moments like these that I am in awe of the good fortune we all have to live and learn surrounded by such a wonderful cross section of the world. Holidays seem to make the importance and the impact of that all the more special.
While there is much entertainment at the dinner for kids of all ages, the absolute highlight is the arrival of Santa at the end. All of the faculty children get to sit on Santa’s lap and receive gifts. Parents have their cameras at the ready and the “older” kids all watch the special moment together. It is a true reminder that we are a bit more than a community going through the education process together. We are, at times like these, a family going through the wonders of life. Although it may be difficult for our dormitory students to feel totally at home while they are on campus, watching the littlest faculty children celebrate the wonderment of the holidays makes it feel a bit closer, I hope.
To you and your families, whether home is Kingston, Pa., New Jersey, China, Afghanistan or some other point on the globe, my best to you for a restful holiday season and a prosperous, healthy 2017.
Our Students and the Presidential Election
by Upper School Dean Jay Harvey
As I write this month’s newsletter entry, the date is November 10. Less than 48 hours ago America elected a new President, Donald Trump. I am not writing today to comment on the result as my Facebook feed is doing quite the job of reporting on the results, thank you! However, I would like to use this space to discuss the election. So if you thought it was over, please bear with me for a few more paragraphs.
Only once during every high school student’s career do they get to experience a Presidential election. This experience is unique because they are likely for the first time to be politically aware, although the vast majority cannot vote. They are old enough to have strong opinions on the issues but still not able to think of them in purely adult terms. This is where schools have a responsibility to raise the level of the discussion and play a part in creating the next generation of responsible voters.
In Presidential election years we offer a trimester elective history class on the election. For the past two election cycles I have had the privilege of teaching this class, and it has been a wonderful experience. On the very first day of class in August I shared my goal for the class: to produce educated participants in our politics. Today as we continued the election postmortem and class wrap up I asked them to remind me what my goal was and they repeated it without fail. Truly a proud moment for this teacher!
Wednesday, November 9 was a tough day on campus for several faculty and students. Many had to contend with a result that surprised and confused them. There were tears, there were arguments and there was frustration from those who had backed the unsuccessful candidate. These responses were understandable, as this election put so many historic and also divisive issues front and center. As we dealt with some difficult situations we were again reminded of the message of our Defamation Day back in October: to live together as a society we must understand and empathize with opposing views. It is possible to do this respectfully without forfeiting your own views and beliefs.
As I opened my class the day after the election to a sea of several confused and sad faces, I started by saying that “today is a day of celebration that we live in a country where we are free to select our leaders, and the results are not dictated to us before the process plays out.” We also discussed how great it is to live in a country where even people too young to vote can participate actively in the process by joining a campaign. This point hit home when a student in the class shared that she, at the age of 17, had been volunteering for the Clinton campaign for months. In that moment I quickly was reminded of my favorite quote, coincidentally attributed to a former President of the United States Theodore Roosevelt:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
I hope all students at Sem will become educated voters and will become actively engaged in elections and their freedom to express their opinions through open voting. Our generation is passing along some pretty significant challenges and it will take full, educated engagement by the next generation to overcome them.
My best to all of you for a wonderful Thanksgiving with your families.
Sem is proud to call Kingston its home
By Upper School Dean Jay Harvey
For all my life Kingston Borough, Pennsylvania has either been my home or the home of the place I work. I was raised in a house about a half mile from campus and lived on the Sem campus as a resident faculty member for 13 years. And of course I now drive to Kingston Borough each and every weekday from my off-campus home in, oddly enough, Kingston Township, Pennsylvania.
The website for Kingston Borough describes the town this way:
“The Municipality of Kingston is a beautiful, tree-lined, bedroom community located in the heart of northeastern Pennsylvania. Kingston was first settled in 1771 and officially incorporated as a borough in 1857.”
Last month we celebrated Founders Day on the Upper School campus. This year we looked back and told the story of the actual founding of the school, its roots in the Methodist Church, and the opening Convocation on September 25, 1844. There was a discussion back then as to whether the school should be placed on the east side of the river (Wilkes-Barre) or the west side (Kingston). This newsletter might be very different if the larger east side had won out!
Kingston and Wyoming Seminary are forever intertwined. If we are not the largest, we are certainly among the largest employers in Kingston, and every year the vast majority of the Upper School family calls Kingston home for at least nine months. Our faculty members occupy more than a dozen free-standing houses on three Kingston streets, and I am quite sure that Walgreens located their store on Kingston Corners at least partially due to the regular customer traffic we provide. Kingston is indeed a better place because Wyoming Seminary calls it home, and I’d like to believe that we are as strong as we are because of what Kingston offers to us.
Just this past week the Kingston Fire Department visited for our annual surprise drills. (You will all be happy to know that we passed with flying colors.) As he was departing campus after the drill, the assistant chief stopped to tell me how proud he was to live in Kingston and how proud he was that Wyoming Seminary was part of the town. He added “From your immaculately groomed grounds to your beautiful buildings to everything else that is so first rate, Wyoming Seminary is such a great asset to Kingston. I always love visiting the campus.”
We work hard to be good neighbors in Kingston. When we make improvements, we try our best to keep our neighbors and neighborhood in mind. We work hard to be appreciative of our fine police and fire departments who do such a good job of making us feel safe and protected. We work hard to frequent Kingston businesses to help strengthen our community economically. And we work especially hard trying to be “owners” of our town of Kingston and not merely “renters.” For nearly 173 years we have called these “tree-lined” streets home, and we are always trying to find ways to improve that home.
Upper School takes a close look at the daily schedule
By Upper School Dean Jay Harvey
Last year, under the thoughtful and impressive leadership of Academic Dean Randy Granger, the Upper School undertook a review and study of the daily class schedule. In February 2016, Independent School Management (ISM) Senior Consultant Simon Jeynes spent a week with us. At the conclusion of that visit, we were as wowed by his thorough understanding of our school as we were by his blunt assessment of how we could better serve our students and faculty.
Throughout the late winter and spring we all participated in healthy, mindful reflection on who we are and who we want to be as a school through the prism of Mr. Jeynes’ learned study. We debated, we studied, and we reflected leading up to a recommendation at the conclusion of the school year in May.
The collective wisdom of the body has been heard and earlier this summer Randy and I took the recommendation of moving to the seven-day rotating schedule to President Kevin Rea. After further reflection with Kevin this summer, I am happy to report that we plan to implement this new schedule in the fall of 2017. It is difficult to fully explain the seven-day rotating schedule in this format but I want you to know that we will be holding presentations for parents throughout the year.
Since the inception of this conversation about a year ago, Randy has emphasized that we review our schedule from a position of strength. Our talented faculty have continued, year in and year out, using our rigid 1-8 schedule, to deliver on the promise to provide a challenging, rich curriculum to our diverse and exceptional student body. But there is room for improvement as well as a step forward, and I believe we make this change also from a position of strength bolstered by the path of careful reflection and honest debate that got us here.
Mr. Jeynes, in his report, is convinced that a change such as this will provide these anticipated outcomes:
• Better student learning
• Happier community
• Better ability to meet the needs of each unique student
• Professional learning community of teachers
• Remaining competitive to bolster admission
• Clarity about mission
• Improved mission delivery
And here are some comments from the faculty:
• Difference in class lengths will foster the introduction of more varied teaching methods.
• My understanding is that we want to make school transformative. We want to change it from ‘grind’ to learning ‘experience’.
• This change will move our classrooms toward a model where the teacher is less the center of the action.
• Students will be less stressed and hopefully won’t be living test to test.
• The extended period will give us more time to work on more in-depth writing and speaking skills.
“If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” Jack Welch
Change, particularly at an institution preparing to celebrate its 175th birthday in the not too distant future, can be daunting. We will have to rethink the way we do many things here from assemblies to lunch to labs to curriculum sequences. Here are a few things we will be looking to do this year to help this change run as smoothly as possible for everyone.
1. We will contact ISM and get a list of regional schools that have undergone similar change. We will support faculty visits to those schools.
2. We will explore bringing in a speaker who is an expert in the transition to a schedule of this type.
3. We will create time to utilize our own staff who have taught in this structure previously.
4. We will set aside seven consecutive days in the winter term to run through a complete cycle of this change. This will give us a chance to experience potential challenges and address them fully before the opening of school next fall.
5. Randy will lead a conversation with the department chairs on potential modifications to the seven-day template that Mr. Jeynes left for us.
6. We will meet with student leaders early in the year to get them involved in the planning for the change.
7. We will continue to create Professional Learning Community time for faculty so that their concerns can be heard and we can all share in the transition equally.
This is an exciting and understandably apprehensive time for all of us. However, I am quite sure that the positive energy I felt after Simon departed will be affirmed by this decision. Your continued support and input is a must. Thank you to the parents who participated in the study last year. We will keep parents informed as we prepare to make this significant change. We move forward together!