Headmaster's Study

Headmaster’s Study

Headmaster's Study

Sometimes we speak of a “normal” school year. It does not exist. One reason to teach, in fact, is to resist normality, for boys growing up, and teaching them as they do, keeps all of us guessing.

In a few ways 2004-2005 mirrored previous years. Services in the Little Sanctuary remained central. Academic performance impressed. To choose only a few examples, almost half the senior class was named either a finalist or a commended student in the National Merit Scholarship Program, the JETS engineering team placed first in the District and our math team second, and we rolled away in prizes on any number of national foreign language exams. From the senior class, 74 boys will attend 42 schools, with the highest numbers matriculating to Vanderbilt, the University of Michigan, Georgetown, Williams, and Yale; 38 boys were admitted early. We returned to baseball prominence by running away with the IAC and had excellent seasons, in particular, in tennis and crew. Fifty-four boys sang in a 112-person Chorale, the Art Show continued to astonish, and once again our thespians played in front of packed houses for “The Taming of the Shrew,” “Company,” “Evita,” “Mother Hicks,” and “The Wizard of Oz” — all extremely challenging works for busy young men.

Playing according to form, though, apparently ended here. Debate raged in print journalism and in town meetings about the Honor Council process. Social service was lived out in extraordinary ways, not only in the athletic team fund raising devoted to providing for staff or students who were injured or sick, but on an operatic scale with dances and concerts attended by 700 students, the proceeds of which raised eye-popping amounts of money for tsunami relief. The return of the Walkmen to campus — St. Albans alumni who are heroes to current students — raised even more money than our charitable dreams and provided a fine evening of entertainment for both students and adults.

We always are proud of our academic accomplishment, but four deserve mention as being out of the ordinary. For the first time since 1955, our Japanese team won the National Japan Bowl and a 10-day trip to Japan. Two history papers were published in The Concord Review; senior Wylie Galvin’s essay on the Pullman Strike in Chicago was judged the best student paper published in the nation for 2004. The St. Albans News won a national journalism award (taking a pound of the headmaster’s flesh in the process), as did one of its editors, senior Dan Rasmussen. Cullen Macbeth ’05, who also had a paper published in The Concord Review, was named one of this nation’s Presidential Scholars.

I include this last award as being out of the ordinary, as of course it is — a major honor for Cullen. And yet since 1964, when the United States Presidential Scholars Program was begun, 18 St. Albans students have won the award, including four in the last six years. In 42 years of the program, our percentage of student honorees is a staggering 42.8 percent. It’s hard to label that percentage outside the norm. Even though I have written that it was an unusual year — some of it felt controversial to students and challenging to faculty — we did nothing more than debate and focus on the essential aspects of our School (which, in fact, shouldn’t be considered anything other than efforts Presidential in their ambition and, thus, our norm). Reconsider the brouhaha on the Honor Council process, for example. While the language at times grew painful, the student proposals focused on the process itself, not the fact of honor as essential to who we are. Not one student questioned the fact and the necessity of an honor code.

The other way 2004-2005 felt unusual, and at times too busy, was the work we have done preparing for our Centennial Campaign, instigating the first steps of the Teaching and Learning Initiative, and beginning the approval process for our glorious building projects. Our Governing Board has “stepped up” in ways that will impress the entire community when the campaign goes public sometime next year. As part of our Teaching and Learning Initiative, we are providing time for department chairs to visit classes, talk with teachers, and lead retreats, providing them and their departments money for professional development. Next year we will have a psychologist who will coordinate the testing in the School and work in partnership with the entire faculty to help the boys reflect on how they best learn. Our early efforts in our campaign are making these moves possible. We are also presenting plans for an extension of the New Wing, the reconfiguration of the athletic fields, and the new performing arts center to the various committees of the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation and externally to the Area Neighborhood Commission, the Historic Preservation Review Board, and the Board of Zoning Adjustment. The number of those committees might help explain why the year has felt extremely busy.

Finally, I want to thank the St. Albans community for the exceptional giving this publication documents. None of the great accomplishments mentioned in this letter could have taken place without the “extra-mile” giving this community demonstrates year after year. On behalf of the faculty and the Governing Board, I thank you. Hold on — the years leading up to the Schools centennial will astonish and delight us all!

Vance Wilson

This letter appeared in the 2004-2005 issue of the St. Albans School Annual Report.

St. Albans School, Mount St. Alban, Washington, DC 20016, 202-537-6435