Sometimes at conferences I find my mind wandering, heading off into little neural riffs and speculations triggered by something I’m listening to. Since there’s probably not going to be a quiz on the presentation, I guess this is allowed. Quite possibly this should be the point of being there in the first place.
Yesterday morning I was at the National Association of Independent Schools annual conference, where I sat in on a session moderated by Claire Leheny of the National Network of Schools in Partnership (NNSP). Three schools presented on their “2.0” co-endeavors with their local public school systems. Good stuff, with an interesting range of work based on compelling and very thoughtful motivations.
The NNSP is to be commended, at least by me, for its efforts to improve the breed of independent school – public school collaborations. Service learning and “community service,” good ideas in their way but historically often short on equality of benefit, have become the lower rungs on a ladder of possibility that now rises pretty far. Focusing especially on the idea of equivalent reciprocal positive purpose, partnership 2.0 — as the program put it — is based on deeper levels of institutional commitment: psychically, culturally, and economically. I enjoyed hearing about the work of the Washington (D.C.) International School, Roland Park Country School, and the Latin School of Chicago — worthy, righteous efforts all.
My brain took its own path as Latin School head Randall Dunn described an array of programs designed, at their core, to connect his school with the city around it.
It struck me that Mr. Dunn’s school appropriates the name of its city into its own name, and I began to see the school’s partnership initiatives as a way to live up to, or maybe even justify, that part of the name — truly to be a school “of Chicago.”
This led me to wondering about the scores of independent schools with place-names in their moniker. A couple of years back Cape Cod Academy, for instance, decided to style itself as “Cape Cod’s academy,” a move that inspired the the school actively to seek more (and more welcome) ways to connect with its region so as to be an asset and resource for the Cape.
How many place-named schools could comfortably add apostrophe-s to their names and be honestly representing themselves to be in partnership, symbiosis even, with their eponymous communities? And would this question in fact be a useful guide in helping schools identify urgent and important work that they might be doing in order to authentically be “of” their town, city, or region? Even if their place-name is a geographical feature — a mountain or a bay — might this imply an obligation to engage and steward?
I like this challenge. Of course, in its way it seems to let schools named for people or ideas off the hook, and that’s not fair. But surely there might be something in the name of a founder, an idea, or an animal that might be embodied in an aggressive approach to partnership across sectors?
I’d go so far as to suggest that an independent school sharing a place-name with its local public school system might consider that to be a mandate, or at least an invitation, to some serious partnership. Why not dig deep to find those synergies that can enhance the experience of students at both Willowhurst Academy and Willowhurst High School?
And along with partnerships, these partnerships might unlock some extraordinary opportunities for place-based learning. But I guess that’s a post for another day.