I hope this letter finds you feeling well-rested, happy after a summer, and recharged for a new school year. It feels like ages ago that we were all together as a community, and I’ve missed you! It was great to see so many parents and guardians at the opening coffee, and to feel the happiness in the air for our first day back. Thank you, as always, for sharing your children with us and being our partners in this important, crazy, wonderful work.
And speaking of wonderful, a lot of wonderful developments have occurred since June. This is a really great time to be a Pioneer. I’ll get to more thematic letters starting with my next one, but for now, here’s a preview of just some of the exciting things you’ll find on campus as we live into the 2019-20 school year:
After Commencement on the afternoon of June 14, we held our official opening ceremony for the brand new Knopp-Hailpern Center and the accompanying waterfalls and stream. It was an incredible event, filled with excitement and anticipation for everything that lies ahead. Since then, the stream has come to life with fish, turtles, plant life, ducks, and even a crayfish! The classrooms and work spaces are taking shape with all the materials we’ll use to explore science and the natural world, and the plaza has become a spot for gathering together, play, and gazing out over the stream towards the pond and marsh. There is more to do in terms of planting, building our collections, and determining how we’ll use all of these wonderful new resources, and our kids themselves will play a significant role in making this all happen. I am so excited for our students returning to campus, seeing these spaces, and living into them with us.
A quick note on our incredible new stream… the week after Commencement (only four days after we turned it on!) we found two baby turtles half-way up the stream. A few weeks later, an alumnus and I were looking at the nesting circles a few fish had made in the stream-floor sediment. A couple of days after that, hundreds of baby fish were filling the space. This brought the regular appearance of a great blue heron (sorry, baby fish!), and just three weeks ago I discovered a two-inch crayfish while filming a segment with WNY Living for Channel 2. And none of this mentions the abundance of plant life that has sprung up throughout and all around this new ecosystem - it is all so very, very inspiring and we’re only just getting started.
With these new resources, we’ll also have the opportunity to develop new, innovative programming that builds on our historically strong approach to teaching science through active participation. Dr. Diamond has taken on the role of Science Resources Coordinator, and will work with faculty, partner organizations, and scientists from the wider community to ensure that we’re using these resources across our curriculum, and that we’re building new programs and relationships that support our work. This will include the building of physical collections, the establishment of a Science Advisory Panel to lead public conversations about our work, and development of new programs for our internal and external communities. Watch for more news about all of this in the coming weeks!
Equally exciting are the new faces we have amongst our faculty this year. Several retirements, some departures to pursue new and different opportunities, and some changes that inform program development have resulted in a cohort of new Pioneers, who bring with them an incredible skill set and a collective enthusiasm for our community. An email message went home a few days ago with bios for all of the new folks - here’s a link to it just in case you missed it:
Along with new hires, some familiar faces have also moved around a bit in their roles. I mentioned Dr. Diamond above (she’ll also continue to teach AP Bio - no worries!), but you’ll also see moves for Matt Johnson and Lisa Conrad. Matt has joined Jodee Johnson as co-coordinators of our International Student program. Before coming to Park, the Johnsons spent nine years teaching in China, and since then have been involved with the program on the student life side of things. They’ve taken charge of the entire program now, and are doing an excellent job with recruitment and supporting our students.
Lisa Conrad has moved into the void left by Matt’s shift, and is now serving as our Middle School Dean of Students. Her enthusiasm for all things Park and her incredible ability to connect with students have helped to get things off to a great start. In this role, and working in partnership with Upper School Dean Charlie Hartney, Lisa has already brought new energy to student programming like Advisory, working to ensure we’re living our mission as fully as possible. I am grateful that she has accepted this new challenge!
Another recent item you’ve likely seen in your email in-boxes was the reminder about campus traffic patterns. Now that the KHC is a reality, we’re back to our old patterns and full access to the circle. Please review the handy infographic we shared, and be good role models for the kids by following our traffic rules! An added reminder: during afternoon pick-up, the Circle curb along Hamlin Hall and the new plaza, up to the sidewalk for Stone Hall, are all off-limits to parking. Buses take up those spots, and we need direct access from sidewalks to bus doors so that students aren’t crossing traffic to board. Please respect that curb and park elsewhere for pick-up!
On a related note, I’m not excited at all to share that some of our Park community members have been bad neighbors as they’ve passed through the Chateau neighborhood on the way to and from school. Our Chateau neighbors have been wonderful partners to us, especially through the construction, and our community focus on Responsibility makes it really important that we treat their neighborhood with a healthy respect for safety. The biggest issues are speeding, and rolling through stop signs. If you drive through the Chateau neighborhood (as I do at least once a day!), please stick to no more than 20 mph (yes - even slower than the posted speed limit!), and make sure you’re coming to a complete stop at all stop signs. We work with our neighbors and the Amherst PD to ensure the safety of our shared communities, so there’s always the potential for ticketing of anyone who breaks the rules!
Finally, I’m happy to share that we are growing in some classes to the point that we’ll have two aides on staff this year (in the Pre-K and in 5th Grade) to ensure that we’re providing students with the individual attention that drives our mission. With all the excitement and new things happening, we want to use this momentum to more loudly sing about all of the great things we’ve done so well for so long. While we’ll never become a “big” school, we do have some room to grow.
To that end, if you have a social or professional group that you think might like to hear from me about who we are, why, and the impact we have on learners, let’s have a conversation about setting that up. I’m happy to marshal school resources in support of such gatherings, and love few things as much as I love talking to people about our excellent school. I see this as one of our responsibilities, too -- we know what we have here and how impactful it is, so we should work hard to share it with as many people as we can. The more Pioneers there are, the better off our world will be!
My next letter will pick this thread back up, so be on the lookout for an upcoming Headlines about how Park is Always Leading…
Welcome back, my friends!