Head of School’s Notebook—News of the World

September 18, 2020


I got an email this morning that began, “Here’s what is keeping me up at night …”

It’s the most common opening line, actually, in my inbox, and it speaks to the remarkable and daunting dynamics we are all confronting in the world. It’s our truth. But it’s not the only truth.

I read an article today in the Phi Delta Kappan, a professional journal for educators. It was titled, “In-person Learning’s Successes Deserve More Coverage.” About half of this country’s school districts are now delivering instruction in person. Approximately 90% of boarding schools have successfully populated their campuses and are teaching in classrooms, so far without illness. Said the article, in response to the steady stream of worrisome reporting about precarious community health or possible school outbreaks, “There is another story, more intriguing and useful, that isn’t being told.”

Repeating such statements is risky, I suppose, for no one should be cavalier about the very real threats we are facing these days. But we’re also not well-served by worry-induced insomnia. My own experience over these last seven months suggests that our greatest asset is a combination of humility and agility, patience, and resolve.

In 2020 we have essentially confirmed that which we already knew—that we are vulnerable, that the world is not yet what we want it to be, that human beings are the most loving and hateful creatures on the planet, and that we need each other … desperately. Forgive me if I sound presumptuous, but this is not news. It’s certainly not new information. But the revelation of it in this year might just help us move the needle. It’s simply a question of which side of the narrative we’ll choose to emphasize.

In this issue of CommuniCate, you’ll find the results of our Alumni Experience Survey. Created to better understand the experience at Cate for all students but particularly those of color, the survey was not simply a response to the dynamics in the world around race but an effort to understand the presence over time and impact of those dynamics in our own community. The takeaway on the most fundamental level, which you will note in the report, is that white students and students of color have different experiences in our community. The data clearly shows the nature of the difference as well.

It would be easy, I suppose, to call this “bad news.” It is the farthest thing from what we want at Cate. But the events of the last year and the candor of our alumni have made it a known truth. And that gives us opportunity, not simply to improve the work we do for all of our students but to build the dialogue with the people who are most capable of helping us do it: our students and our alumni.

The survey also reveals another fact that we have always known to be true—that Cate alumni feel connected to the School and invested in our community’s success at rates that are unprecedented in our industry. Cate people care about the things that matter in this world, and they want their school to be part of the solution.

And so we will be, because we choose to. Granted, that is easier said than done, but as this issue of CommuniCate also demonstrates, Cate folks aren’t the sort to sit idly by in the face of an opportunity. We dig in. We make it work. And we believe in the goal as firmly as we do the many partners and classmates and teachers and friends that will help us get there.

Whether we are opening school in a pandemic or making the experience of school transcendent for each student, we’ll live up to the opportunity. It may be exhausting realizing those aspirations at times, but that’s why we’ll sleep so well at night. So we’re ready to begin again the important work of each new day.