By Bill Mulcahy, Head of Lower School
Many years ago, while on an accreditation visit to a large, prosperous JK–12 independent school in New England, I was part of a team of school administrators that interviewed the administrators at the school to get a sense of the challenges and opportunities for the school when the accreditation was complete.
During the conversation, I was surprised to hear one of the administrators share that she worried that the school had “lost its soul.” Surprised by the level of candor, we asked for the administrator to elaborate, to which she added that despite being the envy of many other area schools, she worried about a lot of things about the school—intense and unhealthy competition between students, disconnect between faculty and students, and over focus on outcomes at the expense of character development. I was surprised to hear it, and even more surprised to see the other members of the group nod their heads. From the outside looking in, and even during the visit, everything about the school looked so great, but yet the leaders of the school were in agreement that they were worried that something was lost.
A School with a Deep Sense of Soul
Fast forward to January of 2018, when I visited Country Day to interview for my current position. I of course knew of Country Day’s sterling academic reputation, and was well aware not just of the wealth of resources and beautiful buildings on campus, but also the exciting changes being brought by the Forefront Capital Campaign. What I wasn’t as well aware of and hoped to gauge in my visit, was the soul of the institution. How did people talk about the school? What were some of the commonalities in the stories that they shared? And what were their hopes for the school in the years ahead? Though it was a whirlwind two-day visit, it left me with a clear sense that Country Day was a purposeful, close-knit, and special community. Put simply in my many conversations with students, teachers, and families, it became abundantly clear that the school had a deep sense of soul.
A joy of this first week? As we opened school in the most normal way we have in three years, it was amazing to see that the soul of our amazing school is as strong as it has ever been. While tough to define, and even measure, a few brief moments from the past week demonstrated to me the soul of Country Day:
- Students going out of their way as they arrive in the morning the first few days to visit their old classrooms and give their teachers a hug. For some this was visiting their teachers from last school year, while for others—especially in our older Lower School grades—it was a walk down the hill to visit many of their former teachers. Ever the curmudgeon, I had to do a quick sweep each day to encourage students to get to their classes because they were so eager to reconnect with teachers that still mean so much to them. The strong connections between teachers and students is a hallmark of Country Day!
- Older siblings holding hands with their youngest siblings and walking them to class. While many parents joked about being happily surprised by this because of the level of sibling bickering that increased as the summer went along (which I can attest to as a parent :)), it was a reminder of the culture of caring that permeates our campus. A personal hallmark was seeing a new JK student on Friday being walked down to class by his 4th grade brother and his brother’s many friends. I’m not sure who was enjoying the walk more, the smiling JK student or his 4th grade entourage!
- Happiness to be back together could be seen everywhere. It could be seen in the many joyful conversations in the cafeteria between teachers and students and our beloved cafeteria employees. It could be seen in gratitude being expressed to our Plant Operations and Grounds employees, who work tirelessly to help us prepare our campus and classrooms to be the ideal learning spaces for our students. For me personally, it was in the joy of reconnecting with so many people—from every constituency of Country Day—that I had not seen in a while. This past week felt great. Not even a few snide remarks about the last 13 seconds of the Bills-Chiefs playoff game last year could dampen my spirits!