As a Head of School, I participate in a lot of meetings. During this time of year, I serve on a very small, confidential committee that determines financial aid awards for the upcoming year. The financial aid program is important to me on many levels, particularly since I was a beneficiary of a similar program at my alma mater, McDonogh School, located in Maryland. I’ve also spent most of my professional career either serving on financial aid committees or raising money to support such programs. The fact that donors, complete strangers to me when I was a student, cared deeply and supported my education and countless others continues to drive and motivate me in my work.
I’m also inspired by friends who took advantage of these life-changing opportunities to find success and give back. Every year my alma mater hosts a spring luncheon to celebrate the financial aid program and invites former aid recipients to serve as guest speakers. Two recent speakers were good friends of mine in high school and it was nice to reconnect with them so many years later. One was raised in a middle class, blue collar community. After graduating, he went on to earn a Ph.D at the College of William and Mary and now serves as a gifted professor and Chair of the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences at a well respected university. The other was raised by a single mom in Baltimore’s inner city. He attended the University of Virginia, went directly to Wall Street and has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the world of finance. In his spare time, he founded a highly successful vineyard near Charlottesville, Virginia!
Both of these gentlemen were outstanding student-leaders and ambassadors of McDonogh. They benefited greatly from the financial aid program and the school benefited greatly from their contributions in and out of the classroom. Our goal at Montgomery Academy is the same. We want to provide the opportunity of an Academy education to the best and brightest students in the River Region, regardless of their family income and we offer sincere thanks to our loyal donors who share this vision.
I love the rhythms and traditions of a school year. As part of our Lower School curriculum, every grade (and every student in that grade) performs in a play for a packed audience of parents, grandparents, faculty and students. A crowd favorite is the Third Grade play, performed in the morning and immediately followed by Spring Break. It is always an energized performance and a perfect launching point into a glorious week off.
This year’s performance was entitled When I Grow Up. The theme of the play centered on the students’ dreams and aspirations of future careers, among them physicians, engineers, bakers, sailors, lawyers, plumbers and even cowboys in a rodeo show (my personal preference). As I watched this year, I reflected on my own children and our dinner table conversations about their future careers. Like most children, they dream of different careers on a monthly basis. The obvious truth is they have no idea what they will grow up to be or what passions they will explore as adults.
What I appreciate about MA is that the school is providing them with myriad opportunities to grow and develop. At its root, “opportunity” means “favorable wind.” The Academy is providing my children and yours favorable winds in life through a rigorous academic program, enriching experiences in the arts and athletics, and an intentional culture that celebrates honor and excellence. Whether they grow up to perform surgery or to ride a bull in a rodeo, I am convinced that our students will graduate with the skills and values needed to pursue their passions and to make a positive difference in the world.
When I first joined The Montgomery Academy community in 2010 as Head of School, my top priority that year was simple: to learn through listening. I spent most of my time engaged in conversations, asking open-ended questions and, you guessed it, listening. It was such an important year of discovery and understanding that I decided to extend my listening tour indefinitely. Fast-forward to 2013 and I feel like I have a good handle on what makes the Academy so special. I believe there are three distinctive themes, points of pride if you will, that explain our success over the past 53 years: (1) The Pursuit of Excellence ethos that permeates all corners of our campuses, (2) Our classic college preparatory program that has led to 75% of our students earning $25 million in college merit scholarships over the past five years, and (3) Our commitment to educating and empowering servant-leaders.
In the most recent edition of Visions, the Academy’s focus on community service and outreach as a means to cultivating servant-leaders was highlighted. One misconception about independent schools is that our students “live in a bubble,” that they lead insular lives within the confines of cozy campuses. I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, I believe Montgomery Academy serves as a platform for our students to grow and develop into leaders of character. Our students have an appetite for meaningful service and engage in a variety of projects in the River Region and beyond.
Last year, we created a community service project team comprised of teachers and students from all three divisions to coordinate and focus our K-12 efforts. The MA community spent the entire school year directly supporting a public school located in Hackleburg, AL that had been destroyed by tornados. I watched our students rise to the challenge and make a real and lasting impact on the town over the course of the school year. Along the way, they honed critical values and skills like empathy, integrity, and teamwork. They also made mistakes, hit roadblocks, and dealt with frustrations, ultimately learning that failure is not the enemy but rather an opportunity for growth. This year we have entered into another successful yearlong partnership with the Salvation Army.
As we celebrate our students’ commitment to service, I would be remiss if I didn’t offer a word of sincere gratitude to all of the adults in our community who inspire servant leadership; from the MA dad, a busy attorney, who serves as my son’s basketball coach (in addition to two other teams!), to the “Gala Moms,” MA parents who invest countless hours into our annual POA fundraiser, to our board of trustees who lead and guide the school, to a Lower School administrator and her husband who became foster parents in the blink of an eye when two of her students needed such care. Our children are watching us and learning that a good, virtuous life is achieved through serving others.
on Thursday March 21 at 10:58AM
For the past fifty-four years, MA teachers have guided students on their journey of personal and intellectual growth through the power of authentic relationships, open hearts and a classic college preparatory curriculum. With all of this in mind, why on earth are we introducing iPads onto our campuses? Phrased another way, why do we need to change?
This is a fair question. I just finished an excellent book by John Chubb, the new President of the National Association of Independent Schools, entitled The Best Teachers in the World and found a compelling reason for integrating technology in the classroom. Chubb writes, “It makes no sense to insist that teachers alone help students reach high levels of achievement. In education, as in virtually every field of human endeavor, technology is offering more effective and efficient ways to proceed.” The key word in this statement is “achievement.” Our faculty has always set very high expectations-- with a sharp focus on student achievement. Chubb argues that the centuries-old method of teaching, what he terms “whole-group” instruction (think of a teacher lecturing in front of a class), is inherently limited due to the individual needs of students.
So what do the possibilities look like for blending technology with teacher-led instruction? Chubb offers one example of innovation found at the Alliance Technology and Math Science High School, located in Los Angeles, CA. The school has been successful in driving achievement by blending three distinct models of instruction in each classroom: (1) direct, face-to-face instruction by teachers, (2) cooperative learning in small groups where students practice skills learned in direct instruction, and (3) online instruction where each student uses software tailored to their individual needs. In this scenario, students have expanded opportunities for customized assignments and assessments, self-pacing and multi-media and interactive programs, all designed to drive achievement. Teachers have the flexibility and time to pursue higher level enrichment and instruction. As Chubb notes, “The role of teachers in blended models will no longer be just the whole-group instructor. Teachers will provide direct instruction, integrate technology-based instruction into face-to-face lessons, analyze assessment data from multiple sources, and provide tutoring online as well.”
I don’t know what the right mix of technology and teachers will be on our two campuses. I do know that it will vary depending on discipline and grade level. I’m also confident that within our independent school culture, where teachers have the freedom and opportunity to collaborate, learn, and improve, we will embrace the proper use of technology in our relentless pursuit of excellence.
In his ruthless and relentless pursuit of victory, fame and fortune, Lance Armstrong cheated, lied, and ruined lives. I feel a deep sympathy for all the people he has hurt but worry most about his children. As a father, how on earth will he teach them right from wrong, develop their moral compass, and guide them on their path to adulthood?
Armstrong pursued victory at any cost. We’ve seen this movie before as politicians pursue power, businessmen pursue wealth and even school leaders pursue test scores. When these stories hit the press, they always strengthen my belief in and commitment to independent school cultures. At Montgomery Academy, we celebrate the pursuit of excellence in and out of the classroom, but we recognize that the core of our mission is to educate and inspire leaders of character. We care more about values than we do about victories. We care more about living with honor than we do about making the honor roll.
One of the Academy’s six core value statements reads: “We believe in leading lives of honesty and integrity.” This simple, powerful belief was a driving force in our School’s founding in 1959 and, in my opinion, is the primary reason for our continued success today. As I write this blog on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I am also reminded of one of my favorite statements from Rev. King: “Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.” I am honored to work with a faculty that strives toward this worthy goal on a daily basis.
on Friday January 25 at 10:09AM
I had a hunch that Montgomery Academy was a special community when I interviewed for the Head of School job in the fall of 2009. I met so many people during the interview process who were dedicated and devoted to the school. When Clark Sahlie, on behalf of the Board of Trustees, called me that November to offer me the job, I accepted without hesitation. My start date was set for July 1, 2010; I had seven months to finish up my time in Huntsville and move my family to Montgomery.
Seven months seemed like plenty of time to make a smooth transition. Unfortunately, two months after I accepted the offer, my oldest child, Wyatt, was diagnosed with epilepsy. He suffered greatly over the next several months, enduring hundreds of seizures and five brain surgeries.
My hunch about the MA community proved true during this difficult time for my family. The outpouring of love and genuine care from Academy families, faculty and staff was extraordinary. Frankly, it shocked me. My family and I were still living in Huntsville and were months away from joining the Academy, but we were embraced in love and prayer by the community.
I share this very personal story because I have seen it played out time and time again for other MA families in need. As families deal with tribulations, from sickness to surgeries to divorce to the loss of loved ones, they quickly learn they can lean on the MA community for support and friendship. They understand that we are a school that believes in and acts on our interdependence and sense of belonging. They discover that there is a spirit in this community that will give them the strength and grace to overcome adversity. They know that, above all, the Academy is at its best when families need us the most.
I have a new hunch as we enter another busy admissions season. In a society that is often fragmented and disconnected, prospective students and their families will also recognize and embrace Montgomery Academy as a great school and an even better community.
on Wednesday November 7, 2012 at 09:45AM
As most of you know, I am a father to three and a headmaster to 850. I miss naps. Raising and educating children can be daunting, exhilarating, exhausting, joyful and frenetic. I love both roles because I get to support your children and mine on their journey to adulthood.
There is a growing body of research that challenges how we as parents and educators should engage our children during these formative years. Below are a few quotes from favorite authors I’ve read over the years.
Mastery Of The World Is An Expanding Geography For Kids (Madeline Levine)
Levine believes that a child’s job is to grow up and become an independent, self-confident adult. Our job is to control our anxiety, set clear expectations and respect our child’s path to autonomy.
Children take small risks on a daily basis, from learning to walk, to climbing a tree, to biking to a friend’s house to driving to a football game on a Friday night. As their world expands and they grow older, these daily challenges present opportunities for successful failures, defined by Levine as “failures your child can live with and grow from.”
Opt Out Of The Rug Rat Race (Paul Tough)
Many parents and educators believe that success depends primarily on intelligence (as measured by IQ tests) so they cram as much information as they can into tiny brains and rely heavily on standardized tests along the way. Tough argues that this is a narrow view and ignores another critical skill set for success. He believes that parents and schools should also be developing noncognitive skills (character strengths) like persistence, grit, curiosity, self-control and motivation to develop successful young adults.
Tough asserts that “character, even more than IQ, is what leads to real and lasting success.” Like Levine, he recommends that parents let their children face some adversity on their own, that struggling through a difficult situation is the crucial process for cultivating strength of character and, ultimately, success.
Education Is Not A Commodity (Adam Falk)
In addition to honing the character strengths mentioned above, Falk, the president of Williams College, believes a great education develops a set of deeper intellectual abilities like writing and speaking effectively, thinking critically and learning independently. He states that “the transmission of information is merely the starting point, a critical tool through which we engage the higher faculties of the mind.” He concludes that the strongest factor in developing these habits of the mind and heart is abundant personal contact with teachers, coaches and mentors.
While these concepts are positioned as new ideas in education, the Academy community has been practicing them for over fifty years. We continue to set high expectations and offer a rigorous academic program. We continue to cultivate character strengths by pursuing excellence in academics, the arts and athletics and adhering to an Honor Code. And, most important, we continue to work and live as a community of learners that values relationships and respect. Many people call this the “MA Difference;” I call it a recipe for success.
on Monday October 1, 2012 at 01:02PM
The first day of school was just about perfect. We began the day with our Courtyard Convocation, a special tradition that brings together our entire student body to celebrate the new school year. The highlight of the program was our guest speaker and new Kindergartner, Mary Elizabeth Cole. When I invited her to address the audience, she made a very courageous, solitary walk across the Courtyard, climbed the stage, stood on my chair on tippy toes (to reach the microphone) and then proceeded to nail her remarks! We are now buddies for life.
With the successful Courtyard Convocation now behind us, the faculty and I are excited by all the possibilities for growth, discovery and joy a new year brings. We are also grateful to our parents for their support of and dedication to the Academy and its mission. A specific example of your support was the high number of families (over 325) who completed the family survey this past spring. A few highlights of the survey are below:
98.5% of our families would recommend the Academy to other families. This is the highest score I’ve ever seen in an independent school community.
When asked “What is the first word or phrase that comes to mind when you think about The Montgomery Academy?” the majority of responses centered on the word “excellence.” Parents expressed this in several ways ranging from “The Pursuit of Excellence,” to “A Commitment to Excellence,” to “Academic Excellence.”
When asked “As a parent, what one or two things do you like the most about the MA experience?” the majority of responses centered on the importance of teacher-student relationships. Parents chose words like “nurture,” “individualized attention,” “care,” and “love.”
The faculty and I are humbled and honored by such a strong show of support. Looking ahead, I would like to share our school goals for this year.
Goals for the 2012-2013 School Year
Review and update the Academy’s mission and core values. Nothing is more important than our mission statement and core values; they drive every strategic decision the board and administration make. Our mission statement has not been revised in the past fifteen years so it is appropriate to gather a diverse group of Academy community members to review it and offer recommendations.
Create a task force of faculty, and students to reaffirm and promote the values of honor and civility in our school community. We are a busy, high achieving community that must also build relationships based on kindness, consideration and empathy. If we invest in the quality of our relationships, we will increase the quality of life on campus.
Implement a comprehensive faculty/staff electronic portfolio in support of professional development and evaluation. We spent a year of research and chose Folio Collaborative, a simple and powerful online evaluation program that utilizes technology to remove the grunt work of past paper systems. Folio was created by independent school educators with the conviction that personal reflections and honest conversations are at the heart of a successful evaluation process.
Develop a social media policy for the school community. Technology and social media are changing daily. Our goal is to balance connection and protection. We understand and embrace the role of social media in engaging, collaborating and sharing, but we must also consider issues of privacy and confidentiality for our students and teachers.
Review and update the Academy’s graduation requirements. We offer a classic college preparatory program; over the past five years, 75% of our graduates have earned $25 million in merit scholarships. This review will be performed by our Academic Advisory Council to enhance and strengthen our students’ academic portfolios as they continue to pursue top colleges and universities across the country.
Create a stronger coordination and presence of the arts by appointing and supporting a Director of the Arts to oversee our K-12 arts program. I am pleased to announce that Mr. Damion Womack, in addition to leading our award winning chorus, will serve as our new Director of the Arts. In this new role, Mr. Womack will also serve on the Academy’s senior administrative team. Our arts program is a signature strength of the Academy and we look forward to Mr. Womack’s visionary leadership.
Create a task force of faculty, students and parents to improve student health with an emphasis on nutrition and overall balance and wellness. We are a school committed to developing and nurturing the “whole child” in mind, body and spirit. Healthy food, stress reduction, and quality sleep are as important to our students’ success as strong academic, athletic and arts programs.
I believe our school spirit is at an all-time high; we are a community that joyfully and unabashedly pursues excellence within a culture of mutual respect and trust.
Onward and upward!
on Tuesday September 4, 2012 at 10:27AM
I hope this post finds you enjoying quality family time, good books and sandy beaches. I’ve enjoyed all three and have even joined an exercise boot camp. If you are not familiar with these unique programs, they are intense and challenging. While I’ve felt nauseous, dizzy and delirious at times, I love the experience for three reasons: (1) my instructor is passionate and well prepared; (2) I have developed a strong camaraderie with classmates born of the shared experience and (3) I love pushing beyond my comfort zone.
I think the Academy student experience is similar; in fact, MA is an educational boot camp of sorts! We too have passionate and well prepared instructors, a healthy student culture defined by close relationships, and a rigorous program that stretches students beyond their comfort zones. I firmly believe this blend of high expectations and genuine care leads to significant moral and intellectually growth in your children.
I am so grateful to our teachers who deliver on this noble mission daily and I am pleased to introduce you to our new faculty members for the upcoming year:
Sarah Housley will join our Lower School Faculty as a third grade teacher. She is an experienced teacher, having taught in second, third, and fifth grades in both public and private schools. Sarah recently earned her Masters of Arts degree in Secondary Curriculum, Teaching and Learning from the University of Alabama.
Sarah Darby will be teaching Precalculus and Honors Precalculus in the Upper School. A graduate of Auburn University, she taught Pre-Algebra and Geometry at Auburn High School and Algebra I at Smith Station Freshman Center.
Caleb Hartin is moving from the Middle School, where he taught Computer for two years, to the Upper School, where he will teach Geometry and Honors Geometry. Caleb earned his degree in Mathematics from Huntingdon College. He will continue to coach football and work with athletes on strength and conditioning.
Mallory Salter will be teaching Chemistry and AP Chemistry. She is a 2002 graduate of MA and earned her PhD in Chemistry from Rice University. It is a pleasure to welcome her back to her alma mater.
Gary Nelson will assume Caleb Hartin's duties as Middle School computer teacher and will also join our athletic coaching staff as a football coach. Gary graduated with a B.A. in History from Huntingdon College in 2009 and is currently pursuing a Masters of Education degree from Auburn University at Montgomery. Gary comes to MA after teaching history and coaching for three years at Hooper Academy.
Brooke Sullivan, a 2004 graduate of the Academy, returns to MA as a teacher after serving as a fifth grade teacher at Brookwood Forest Elementary in the Mountain Brook school system for the past three years. Brooke received her Bachelor of Science and Masters degrees from the University of Alabama. Brooke will fill the new social studies position in our fifth grade. We are thrilled to welcome Brooke back to the Academy. We are particularly excited about the technological experience that Brooke will bring to our 5th graders as we begin the iPad initiative this fall.
The faculty and I look forward to partnering with you in the new school year and we can’t wait to welcome your children back to campus. In the meantime, best wishes to your family. Enjoy these last few weeks of summer.
Dave Farace Head of School
on Friday August 3, 2012 at 11:39AM
I write this post having just completed the Commencement Exercises for the Class of 2012. If you haven’t been to an Academy graduation in a while, it is still as beautiful and reverent as you remember. I’ve attended many high school graduations over the years and none come close to matching the Academy’s elegant, dignified celebration of the graduating class and the school’s mission.
This past school year was a busy one. As you may recall, we engaged in strategic planning at the end of last year and developed an ambitious list of goals to achieve in the 2011-2012 year. A few highlights of our work are below:
The Academy has a tradition of academic innovation and has always considered technology to be an integral part of a well-rounded education. In keeping with this tradition, we spent the year researching the potential benefits of an iPad program and announced an integration plan to parents and students this past winter. The first phase of that plan is in motion with a pilot grade having one-to-one iPads and a large group of teachers using iPads to enhance teaching and learning this fall.
We remain a school community focused on educating and inspiring servant-leaders. This year, the entire school community engaged in a year-long service project with the students of Hackleburg, Alabama, whose school was decimated by a tornado in April of 2011. Building on this success, we will create a permanent community outreach committee (comprised of faculty and student leaders) that will oversee and coordinate all future school wide outreach efforts.
Starting in the 2012-2013 school year, we will implement a full day Kindergarten program. We believe this change allows us to continue to offer the premier K-12 program in the River Region. The new Kindergarten program is fully enrolled.
We launched a new parent enrichment program, Parents+, in the fall that offered a variety of sessions on student character and intellectual development and wellness issues. Our parent community has embraced this program and attendance has been excellent for all events.
The Academy continues to fund graduate degrees and national workshops/conferences for our faculty. In support of this school priority, we launched a new summer professional development program, Teacher Academy, that explores new strategies and best practices for inspired teaching. The program is open to all teachers in the River Region.
I consider it a high honor and privilege to serve a school community so committed to excellence. While the administrative team and I will take some time off this summer, we will also come together in a number of retreats to dream and plan ways to make a great school even better.
David J. Farace
on Friday August 3, 2012 at 11:36AM