Head of School Blog

Moving On Address

June 08, 2017
By Dr. Peter S. Lewis, Head of School

The wise and insightful Elwood P. Dowd of Mary Chase’s play and movie, Harvey says it oh so well: Elwood—alongside his good friend, Harvey, who just happens to be a six and one half foot rabbit, says in response to a greeting of ‘nice day” from a passer-by: AH: ‘every day is a beautiful day,’ and this is the case at the Winston School

Our 8th graders have come together as a group; they have developed a collective wisdom as they have sharpened one another; and often the road towards this collective wisdom has not been easy. What has grown and is still developing has been that magical and elusive quality of humility—which is in so many ways a “sign of self-confidence” whereby students have become secure enough to alter their views and to accept the potential validity of new information, new ideas and new circumstances.

“Certitude” as one NY Times observer has noted—that is, the feeling of always being right—a quality many of our 8th graders possessed upon entry to Winston—has evolved into an open spirit of inquiry alongside an accompanying and growing spirit of tolerance and understanding for new ideas and new ways of looking at things. And, indeed, we still have work to do. Our students, then, have learned that they truly do not have all the answers; meanwhile, they have progressed; and they have been able to move somewhat out of their comfortable and perhaps close-minded cul-de-sacs and have come to reflect that passage from the Book of Proverbs: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”

Our students at times have taken on the wise words of Atticus Finch (as cited by President Obama in his farewell address many months ago):

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”

Through an individual and a collective humility have emerged a new and vibrant appreciation of a collective wisdom. Our students have now fostered their own resolve and some have a new and powerful concluding understanding of the Winston experience.

Many might say, for instance: “The wiser we become, the more we see how much we don’t know and how much we need others to help us know.” Our 8th graders—and our Winston students—have become engaged in that Winston way of learning and the Winston way of accepting help and guidance from others: from teachers, from administrators, from fellow students, and even from Heads of School and yes, from parents.

You have learned to read things that you once hated to read and indeed, you may still hate reading these pieces. But, under the probing and indeed pushy guidance of your teachers you have come to see that hating a piece of reading does help you refine what it is you value—whether it’s a style, a story line, an idea or an argument.

You have engaged yourselves and you have come to accept change and you have learned tools and strategies that will last you a lifetime; we have on many occasions transformed your personal pain and feelings of inferiority into passionate resolve and a self-confidence that you are indeed smart, you are persons of meaning; and you know that hard work and forceful commitment can lead you to the realization that: “the world is a better place” because you are on this planet.

You have taken on the Winston rules of engagement and the Winston fostering of being serious and purposeful—under the steady and sometimes incredibly pushy presence of and influence of your teachers. Thank you MS and LS faculty for being pushy; setting no limits to a student’s successes; and influencing, probing, kicking, and laying the foundation of success upon the lives of our students.

Students: this is a call to arms for you all as you move forward beyond the walls of the Winston School: we give you permission to acknowledge to yourselves that “you matter” and we welcome you as Winston graduates to a bountiful world of possibilities and opportunities that can be joyful and exciting—albeit demanding and challenging.

Your class legacy is one of conquest and affirmation:

You have conquered your academic demons; you are prepared and you can celebrate the fact that you are ready to move on.

You as a class and as individuals have redefined the two letters, “LD.” “LD” is no longer to be referred to as “learning disabilities.” NO. “LD” means:

Learning difference
Learning development
Learning determination
Learning devotion
Learning dissection
Learning direction
 

You have: great potential--and I urge you to use this potential passionately and conscientiously.

You can be: self-reflective and you can position yourselves as learners and productive and probing school citizens.

You are capable: of staying outside social media and popular trends and thinking for yourselves.

You do not need to “showboat or pad your online profiles.”

But, as with the great and inspiring Rosa Parks: people “don’t stand out until they stand up.” People do not lead or emerge “decisively” as “good and trusting people” until they choose to take that pivotal and courageous move forward.

President Obama left his legacy to us all in his final words to the nation many months ago when he stated with power and with grace:

“All of this depends on your participation…If you’re tired of arguing with strangers on the Internet, try talking with one of them in real life…If something needs fixing, then lace up your shoes and do some organizing…”

Thus: do some “fixing” and take control of your challenges alongside your aspirations for the future. “Show up; dive in; stay in…sometimes you’ll win, sometimes you’ll lose.”

You have built up your capacity to accept and engage in the “hard work of change.” You are optimistic. You believe that you can make a difference in determining the outcome of your own education.

Winston students and Winston staff: we are all committed towards being serious, purposeful, informed, self-aware, prepared, nourished, highly trained, deeply honest, passionate, protective, relentless.

Our goals are:

to live with purpose--with “value and values”
to have lots of people in (our) lives, as well as to care for and help others.
to move onward with forethought—planning—perseverance
to use solid judgment----to plan—to organize—to find our own impulse control—to appreciate empathy—to acknowledge the importance of learning from mistakes
to value hard work—and to foster personal accomplishment—
 

to find and observe optimism and caring in our livesBy attending Winston, you have—as President Obama concluded: “hitched your wagon to something bigger than yourselves.” You have affirmed in so many respects President Obama’s final words to the nation:

“Yes, I can…Yes we did.”

I congratulate you our 8th graders on your accomplishments and I commend your teachers and your parents for being there for you; for setting the high standards of excellence and intensity; and for encouraging and preparing you to move on to your next destinations ready to take on the challenges and the adventures of high school and beyond.

Lower School Moving Up Address

June 07, 2017
By Dr. Peter S. Lewis, Head of School

I welcome you all to the Lower School Moving UP ceremony. I especially want to acknowledge and thank the many parents, grandparents and special friends in the audience today. Similarly, I want to applaud and recognize the lower school teachers for their extraordinary commitment to teaching and for their dedication to the children under their care. This is certainly a joyous and important time of the year—as well as a legitimate time to celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of our lower school students.

Students in grades 3-5; I congratulate you on a job well-done; and we look forward together to future adventures and accomplishments. You magically will MOVE UP today to the next grade along your school journey. I give a special and hard-earned welcome to middle school for our esteemed fifth graders.

I share with you our school’s “motto” that in so many respects affirms the intent and the mission of the Winston School. A motto is a collection of words and phrases that genuinely encapsulate the beliefs and the ideals of a school; these reflect the precepts and the guiding principles of Winston and the Winston School way. These words instruct us all on the purpose behind why we educate and why we value you as learners and as world citizens. As we close out year number 35 of the Winston School history (at 96 students and at the highest enrollment in our history), I feel a recitation of this original school motto is in order; it goes like this.

“Watch your thoughts, they become your words
Watch your words, they become your actions
Watch your actions, they become your habits
Watch your habits, they become character
Watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
 

I congratulate you our Lower School students for your hard work, your seriousness of purpose, and your sensitive and masterful use of resources throughout the past school year.

I commend you—I applaud you—for your courage and your persistence in using your hearts to become successful learners and responsible, committed and kind community citizens. I heartily and confidently welcome you to your next grade and to your next set of accomplishments and successes.

At such a time, I close with the elegant and probing words of Antoine de Saint-Exupery in his masterful and insightful “little book,” The Little Prince.

“Goodbye,” said the fox (to the Little Prince).
“And here is my secret, a very simple secret: it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
‘What is essential is invisible to the eye,’ the little prince repeated, so that he would be sure to remember.”
 

Indeed: our Winston students are aware and responsive to their hearts and to an evolving and growing spirit of kindness, goodness and personal understanding. Alongside these qualities lie an affirmation of positive and fulfilling movement towards a happy and successful future—towards a world of learning and a world of sensitivity to oneself and to others. The summer awaits but our goal remain intact: work hard, play creatively and fully; and count on your personal skills of kindness and your reliance on your hearts that see rightly and encompass all that is important and worthy.

Congratulations to all and I look forward to sharing further adventures with you in the future.

National Council of Teachers of English Conference

December 09, 2016
By Susan Thompson

In mid-November I had the great pleasure of attending the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. The theme of the convention was “The Faces of Advocacy” and most sessions threaded the topic of advocacy into their presentations. As the biggest gathering of English teachers from Elementary through College, this convention offered hundreds of sessions on a myriad of topics. I attended sessions on Shakespeare, non-fiction, poetry, digital and social media, social justice and teen literacy to name a few.

The highlight of the convention was the discussion of literature and advocacy by the many notable Young Adult authors. Sharon Draper, Jason Reynolds, Linda Sue Park, Neal Schusterman, and even S. E. Hinton, to name just a few, presided over discussions about the value of books and stories. Certain themes arose time and again. Authors noted that before students can read literature, they must develop a relationship with literacy through books and stories that matter to them.  Students must be able to respond to literature, or to be, as the Palestinian author, Ibtisam Barakat described “respond-able”. The authors stressed that books provide opportunity for conversation, and give students a chance to be seen and heard. Literature fosters communication about different ideas and students learn from reading that “I am not alone in the world”, which encourages empathy and awareness. The final event was a dialogue with the winner of the National Book Award, Ta-Nahisi Coates, capping off a dynamic and challenging weekend.

Returning to Winston I appreciate even more the value literature and stories and the value of encouraging students on all levels to find that “just-right” book. A great book can open a world of profound understanding, empathy and joy for all our students.

Winston Represented at Diversity Conference

November 22, 2016
By Dr. Peter S. Lewis, Head of School

On Saturday, November 12, The Winston School of Short Hills sent a group of staff, trustees and current parents to the Far Brook School Diversity Conference; the conference title and main theme centered on the words: “Widening the Lens.”  And, most assuredly, the Winston participants did indeed widen our collective lens and perspectives towards the ideals and concepts of “diversity and inclusion.” 

I am grateful to the following Winston community members who joined me at the conference and participated so actively and passionately as the “Winston School group”:

Staff:  Peter Lewis, Head of School; Jill Schuster, Assistant Head of School; Abby Debevoise, Lower School Division Head and Fifth Grade homeroom teacher; Susan Thompson, Middle School Reading and Literature teacher; David Stevens, Middle School Math and Science teacher; Spiro Spiratos, Middle School Social Studies teacher. 

Trustees (who also happen to be Winston parents):  Bernadette Hopman, parent of a fifth grader; Greg Hoffman, parent of a fifth grader; Jennie Tinkelman, parent of a seventh grader.

Parents:  Bill Crawley, parent of a sixth grader; Neisrein Mahmoud, parent of a sixth grader; Michael Brown, parent of an eighth grader.  

Our group brought an enlightened and committed perspective to the conference and there are so many “take-aways” and ideas that we together identified, discussed, probed and sought to place into a comprehensive and multi-dimensional “action plan” for the school. The goal we embraced was to move forward in our commitment as a school to creating a “Diversity Task Force” that is charged with the responsibility of building and sustaining our school community’s commitment to and understanding of the many issues and opportunities afforded by the ideals inherent to diversity and inclusion.

There is so much more I could report to you in terms of what we discussed and what we learned at this conference alongside over 200 participants from the following independent schools that are all part of the New Jersey Association of Independent Schools of which Winston School is a fully accredited member:  Elisabeth Morrow School, Dwight-Englewood School, Gill St. Bernard’s School, Peck School, Stevens Co-operative School, Pingry School, Far Hills Country Day School, Newark Academy, Kent Place School, St. Peter’s Prep School, Pennington School, Far Brook School, Winston School of Short Hills. 

Our Winston team felt privileged to be part of this conference and with the group I will be reporting on further initiatives and ideas for moving forward.  The Winston team also noted that in light of the current climate in our country in which vitriolic rhetoric and negative and even hateful language are so omnipresent, it would be beneficial for our community of children and parents to engage in community conversations that accentuate and help us appreciate our school’s core values of respect for others and for oneself; as well as the ideals and the practices of kindness, character and integrity.  The Winston team and I look forward to spearheading for our community a robust and meaningful series of conversations and future actions that are in alignment with our values as a school and as a society.  On behalf of the Winston School team, I will be apprising you of full community gatherings that we are now planning and scheduling for the future months. 

On behalf of the Winston School Board of Trustees and the entire staff at Winston, I wish you a healthy and enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday. 

Respectfully: 

Peter S. Lewis
Head of School

 

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