May 5, 2016

Dear  Parents, 

The Stanwich Annual Benefit last week succeeded remarkably well in generating both community fun and financial success to help underwrite this summer's improvements to our facilities. Our school appreciates all those who attended, and particularly the Annual Benefit Committee for their bountiful creative energy. 

Faculty Professional Development Day late last month allowed the faculty to visit a variety of other schools to garner fresh perspectives as part of our curriculum consideration process that began last fall. Those visits were helpful to see how other schools do things differently, as well as to remind us how well we are fulfilling our unique educational mission at Stanwich. 

The day allowed me to read a book on the tall stack that has risen during this very busy year.  As a result, I have included A More Beautiful Question as one of the books on both the faculty and the parent summer reading lists. The author Warren Berger - like Malcolm Gladwell, Thomas Friedman, Sir Kenneth Galbraith, and Daniel Pink - is a journalist who has thrived in synthesizing thought-provoking hypotheses from disparate elements of the 21st century's cultural transformations. Like our teachers visiting other schools, the book stimulated creative thinking about both what we as an extended school community can improve upon, and in what ways Stanwich can really be educationally exceptional. (Note that summer reading requirements and recommendations will soon be sent out from Ms. Davis in our library and that summer work in the subject areas will be forwarded by Houses.)

Characterized by mingled optimism and anxiety, the first year for a new Head of School is always one of transition. However, as author John Seely Brown [ The Big Think and A New Culture of Learning] describes our current world so pithily: "We've transitioned into always transitioning."  Our world is changing at an ever- accelerating rate for better or worse climatologically, economically, politically and culturally. Therefore, it is essential that while we hold onto our foundational values for dear life, our educational practices evolve accordingly. 

Essentially Berger's thesis is that our species' unique ability to question has allowed it to advance so extraordinarily in relation to other species. However, humans cannot compete with computers as repositories of easily accessible knowledge. Regardless, most schools remain predicated on mental content mastery.  In this regard, small independent schools are uniquely nimble enough to respond to the changing environment and evolve effectively to develop questioning skills and the critical thinking skills upon which questioning must be founded. 

As I recommend the book for reading, I won't attempt to recap its interesting dimensions.  However, as Stanwich moves forward as a school, we will continue to emphasize active learning skills (reading, writing, researching, collaborating, experimenting, persevering, speaking, synthesizing and empathizing) as more rational and attainable objectives than "knowing." This approach reinforces our institutional interest in learning more about the International Baccalaureate Diploma program for Grades 11 and 12. 

Current paradigm shifts may threaten those of us (including myself) who succeeded academically in part through content control: performing well on tests evaluating our mastery of information, and, as a result, succeeding professionally. Moreover, we may struggle to acknowledge that our own successful pre-millennial experience may not provide the most advantageously accurate road map-to the right college and the right career-for our children in an ever more competitive landscape. 

Fortunately it appears that two life dimensions that have assumed even greater importance in the modern world are the character virtues and the importance of balance in life, so perfectly represented on Stanwich's Triskelion emblem. Somewhat ironically, it is the intra-personal virtues and the inter-personal life skills that remain fundamental for happiness and success in a technological world. The International Baccalaureate Diploma Program currently under consideration for Grades 11 and 12 two years from now is predicated on the skills of critical thinking, asking good questions, and sharing perspectives respectfully.

Please note that the year-end parent survey will soon be sent to all current families, the results of which are instrumental in establishing priorities for our coming academic year. Also please refer to our community calendar for the many special year-end activities and events (CLICK HERE). I look forward to seeing you at those events and a rousing, happy conclusion to a busy, successful Stanwich year. 

Charles Sachs
Head of School