All winter, we have been celebrating each other and our diverse talents, interests and gifts. Just before Winter Break, we wished restful and happy sabbaticals to both Sally Abramson (Spanish) and Tony Goodwin (visual arts). In December, we laughed and cried at the annual Fides assembly, which recognizes the unsung heroes, who embody kindness and respect in particular, in the senior class. In early January, we cheered loudly to herald Dr. John Sutula’s return from his sabbatical in the mountains of New Zealand, and to welcome sabbatical replacement teachers Lisa Koi (visual arts) and Guillermo Parra (Spanish). We recognized our local radio celebrity, Michele Ament, and congratulated her on her NPR “appearance” to talk about her favorite books. Just a couple of weeks ago, we packed the Hillman to watch performances of West Side Story, and were uplifted by the intensity of GlobalFest Week. The week began with 21 students speaking in 21 different languages and ended with a raucous, uplifting all-school world music and dancing extravaganza called GlobalFusion. Almost 100 musicians and singers performed their winter concert to great acclaim on Feb. 28. The Faculty Talent Show, during CUP Day on March 1, raised the roof. Special kudos to Mrs. Linda Joseph for her poem inspired by a math problem, Mr. Chuck Shafer for his crooning and the Ashworths (Dr. Graham and Mr. Aaron) for their musical contributions. Team Morewood is leading the race for the CUP trophy at year’s end, if they can survive the events on CUP Day in the spring.
I find the genuine support and enthusiasm for others’ success contagious here at Shady Side. It’s clear, just stepping back for a moment during this (last?) snow day of the year, that the thread tying all of these activities together is, broadly speaking, the celebration of others and, by extension, the recognition of all of the different interests, talents, ideas, perspectives and attributes we bring to our community. It’s the ongoing celebration of “otherness,” of diversity in the broadest, most positive sense, that I love about being part of the Shady Side Academy community.
I was struck a while back during Random Acts of Kindness Week that, ironically, it’s not a random act of kindness at Shady Side when students thank each other publicly in assembly for being kind, or when a teacher praises a student for turning in unclaimed money to a dean, who later that day was able to return the money to its rightful owner, or when teachers new to the community are embraced with cheers, or when students come together to celebrate multicultural identities and unique voices. No, at Shady Side, these are habitual acts of kindness. They reset our frame of reference for the day. Our regular acts of kindness reflect the minds, actions and character of our students and our teachers.
You probably have heard or read the following quotation before. I think it’s very appropriate as we celebrate and promote habits that reinforce the principles by which we live, work and play here. It's especially appropriate to share with your 12th grader as he/she looks to "senior spring" and consider how they wish to be remembered after they graduate.
Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
Shady Side is a place where intangible life lessons are modeled, feted and encouraged each and every day.
It’s been a very, very busy first half of the year. Seniors are hearing college news, rehearsals for the winter musical West Side Story are well under-way, debaters are competing and sports teams are in full swing. Despite all that is going on as part of our daily routine, students find the energy to organize and participate in even more activities, giving up their time for others.
Students involved in our Service Learning program have been particularly active. Alex Smith ‘12 and others organized a tremendously successful “Coffee House” in the black box to raise money for Camp GLOW, a camp founded to educate and empower girls in rural African villages. Twenty students performed musical numbers and Mr. Proulx, math faculty, treated everyone to a mind-boggling magic show. Michele Ament, director of service learning, and her team of students have been busy organizing the Shoe Box Project (giving shoe boxes filled with gifts to children at Manchester Elementary School on the North Side) and caroling excursions at Healthsouth this month, for example. Christiana Jueng ‘13 coordinated the collection and delivery of more than 100 holiday presents for the Holiday Project, benefiting children served by the Allegheny County Department of Human Services Office of Children, Youth and Families. Mark Antosz ‘16 spear-headed a successful No Soap Left Behind campaign (which continues through Jan. 21) and so far has given 20 boxes worth of soaps, shampoo and other toiletries to the residents at the Light of Life Rescue Mission (pictured).
Outreach this season wasn’t limited just to the Service Learning Program. Our singers, under the direction of Dr. Dan Brill, gave a concert at Aspinwall Presbyterian Church and revived the seasonal music concert in Memorial Hall for parents and friends of Shady Side. It was a busy week for them, as they, along with the instrumentalists under the direction of Stan Nevola, also performed their Winter Concert for the school. Athletic teams participated in fundraising efforts for the Susan G. Komen Fund for the Cure and Juvenile Diabetes, to name a couple of initiatives.
This week, we’re all looking forward to the annual Fides Awards assembly, organized by Liz Garvey, English faculty, and Reed Williams, librarian. It’s a wonderful time when students recognize each other for random acts of kindness, generosity and true friendship. Particularly in light of the tragedy in Connecticut, this Shady Side tradition brings us all a greater sense of comfort and unity.
It’s abundantly clear that our students and faculty give generously, practicing the habits of heart and mind that preserve and enrich the Academy’s tradition of responsible, respectful and kind service to others. Let’s keep that spirit in mind throughout this coming year.
From my family to yours, we wish you peace, joy, love and good health throughout 2013.
The election, presidential debates, and mock-presidential debate in assembly… all of these events highlight the importance of public discourse, specifically of public speaking and debating in society. There is no doubt that public speaking is an important but often overlooked skill; many schools don’t teach rhetoric, logic, debating, or public speaking, per se.
Here at Shady Side, however, we prepare students for active participation in our democracy and in the global conversation, and we focus on the important foundational skills of public discourse. At our weekly assemblies, any student may elect to make an announcement or give a presentation, taking advantage of an opportunity to practice public speaking. Paul Steenskiste ’13, Student Body President and Barack Obama stand-in, debated Tony Satryan ’13, Mitt Romney stand-in. Their command of the facts and policies for the Democratic and Republican nominees was impressive. More importantly, unlike the real politicians, our “candidates” were not afraid to listen closely and refute specific claims, logical assumptions, and fallacies. Our discussion-based classes provide informal, daily practice in speaking and debating, and we offer a course called, Public Speaking. The SSA News affords student editors and contributors the chance to write opinions and engage in written intellectual discourse. We have an active theatre program and acting classes that, by nature, teach and foster public speaking. Congratulations to Dana Hardy-Bingham, Director, to Danielle Plung ‘13, student Dramaturge, and the entire cast and crew on the fabulous fall presentation of Shakespeare’s classic, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed in the round (okay, technically, in the rectangle) in the Kountz Black Box Theater. Not only was the set complex and inviting—although somewhat treacherous with a real pond, ramps, stairs, platforms, and a rope swing—but the actors had to eloquently convey emotions with their backs constantly to one portion of the audience. Performing Shakespearean drama, or studying it in English class, is only one way in which our students play with the texture of language, the construction of speeches, the manipulation of a crowd, the banter of intellectual disputes.
In addition to all of the casual practice in public discourse and speaking, Shady Side boasts a highly competitive and successful Debate Team. Students can take advantage of formal opportunities to debate current events, write creative speeches, interpret readings, or speak extemporaneously in competition. Our team, coached by Mary Krauland (math faculty) and Sherri Hallgren (English faculty), competes vigorously at local, national, and international levels. Specifically, Mary and I accompanied Shea Minter ‘15, Shaun Gohel ‘14, and Tyler Demchak ‘15 to Calgary, Alberta, Canada, to compete in Calgary, at the International Independent Schools Public Speaking Competition (watch repeat performances by Shaun and Tyler at a recent assembly). At Shady Side’s debut appearance, the team finished in 10th place out of 42 schools and as the 2nd place American school out of seven. Shaun ranked as 2nd place American speaker, 6th place overall speaker out of 132 students; and Tyler finished in 24th place overall. Shaun has qualified to compete in South Africa this spring at the World Individual Debating and Public Speaking Championships! It is clear that our students, particularly SSA “Lifers,” know how to engage in conversation with adults; from the basic rules of etiquette, like a firm handshake and maintaining eye contact, to the more subtle elements of civil discourse.
Historically, we have always encouraged public speaking and debating, we promote the skills today, and we will continue to endorse their value in the future—with increased intensity particularly now that we have officially launched the Academy’s Strategic Vision. For example, the habits of mind formed while debating at local competitions, combined with the habits of heart inculcated at regional and global tournaments, are aligned with our Strategic Vision. Furthermore, we have already begun a thorough examination of our diploma requirements, and we are engaged in inter-divisional curricular discussions in all academic departments. Topics such as critical thinking, persuasive speaking and writing, and presentation skills are bubbling up in discussions across many disciplines. Imagine if each Shady Side student, at some point during his or her four years at the Senior School, gave a formal presentation to his/her peers or a panel of adults and engaged in a lively Q&A session about the project being presented? What if every 9th grader participated in a poetry recitation competition, every 10th grader in an original speech writing competition, and every 11th grader presented a research paper? Imagine if all SSA graduates were very adept at impromptu speaking and debating? These ideas are not necessarily bold or innovative; they’re just a start to what will be an invigorating journey.
What’s most exciting to me here at Shady Side is that we are starting to talk about public speaking in a larger context. By virtue of addressing it deliberately, we will incorporate it even more purposefully into what we do here at the Senior School and throughout the Academy.
We've been at school for just about a month and a lot is happening! Overall, our new schedule has proved successful. We have slowed the pace of the day and increased focused teaching time across the board. The long 70-minute period in each course is working as we had hoped. Before classes began, in the August faculty meetings, we brainstormed and shared new and proven pedagogical approaches to using the long periods effectively and efficiently. Students enjoy having fewer subjects’ worth of homework each night instead of homework in all of their classes and everyone extols the sustained discussions and increased time for practice and reinforcement. We are working to mitigate the lunch crunch in the dining hall and appreciate students’ and faculty’s cooperation and patience in the meantime.
School spirit is high and students have been out in force cheering on our SSA athletes. Please help us to remind your children that cheers should always be supportive of SSA and not disparaging of the other team, and that we welcome guests not by cheering when they make an error or experience misfortune, but by cheering for our own teams and athletes.
Student Council President Paul Steenkiste ’12 and Vice President, Dominic Oliver ’12, are doing a fantastic job leading our twice weekly assemblies. Not only do they keep us laughing with their clever jokes, they are very organized and committed to making our all-school gatherings a worthy use of time. Routine announcements are projected on the big screen and speakers at assembly are urged to spend more time making thoughtful and significant announcements.
We enjoyed the year’s first “Concerns and Recommendations” time in assembly recently. This tradition began a few years ago. Any member of the community can share a concern about an issue within the community or share a recommendation or positive word about anyone in the community. Students often give “shout outs” to friends or teachers who have demonstrated kindness, been generous, or accomplished something significant.
Senior Matt Ferree kicked off 2012-2013 Senior Sages with a powerful and memorable sage about enduring friendships, and treated us to the world premiere of one of his original songs. I haven’t seen a quicker standing ovation for a Senior Sage! If you are the parent of a senior, please encourage your son or daughter to share their personal experiences and their wisdom with their peers. We all benefit from their advice, reflections, and observations of our community.
We have been busy entertaining exchange students and chaperones from Liceo Eurpeo, Madrid, Spain, and Gymnasium Oldenfelde, Hamburg, Germany. Later this year, we will host our friends from Saint-Joseph de Tivoli, Bordeaux, France. Shady Side has enjoyed a vibrant exchange program with students from Spain since 1989, with German students since 2004, and with the French since 2002. Thank you to all of our host families; it’s not easy to add another child into an already busy household, but our Spanish and German guests have eagerly jumped into life at an American high school, attending classes, watching games, and seeing the sights in Pittsburgh, New York City, and Washington, D.C. Shady Side students and teachers are eagerly anticipating their own trips abroad this spring when they’ll reconnect with Spanish, German, and French friends and colleagues.
Our fall play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, has been cast and rehearsals have begun. Please mark Nov. 2 and Nov. 3 on your calendars and purchase tickets early; last year, Director Dana Hardy-Bingham had to schedule an extra performance of Romeo and Juliet to accommodate the crowds!
We are off to a strong, energetic start and I hope that we’ll continue this positive momentum throughout the year. I look forward to seeing you at Parents' Night on Sunday, Sept. 30.
It’s hard to believe that the summer is over, and students are already racing around fields for pre-season sports. Last year, your sons and daughters took my Convocation charge— “Be the Peal”—and rallied together as a senior class and as a school community. I expect (and hope!) that this coming year will be as fun and as positive as last year. We welcome four new teachers this year: Daniel Proulx (Math), Heidi Wall (Math), Denis Cronin (Spanish), and Kristin Wilson (one year leave replacement). We’re delighted to welcome back Beryl Rosenberg to teach AP Spanish, Christine Czapleski, who will cover John Sutula’s sabbatical from now through January, and Michele Greene, who was on sabbatical last spring.
Allow me to highlight just a few events from year’s end before looking ahead to this coming year. The First Annual Original Theater Works Festival in May played to a full-house both nights, and students from all sorts of social cliques and grades participated as writers, directors, actors, tech crew, and musicians. The Spring Choral Concert and Spring Band Concert delighted two very large audiences of parents and, importantly, peers. David Steiner ’12 and Theo Terris ’12 each deserve special recognition for fantastic original compositions. The informal jazz and band concert absolutely rocked the Hillman; our musicians shared their passion for entertaining and pure love of great music with us yet again. Senior camp-out the last week of classes was particularly terrific; hours spent around fire pits on the quad, amidst the scent of roasting marshmallows and pizza. Graduation speakers Jim Rohr and Vivek Nimgaonkar ’12 made us laugh, made us cry, and inspired us. Your sons and daughters traveled the globe this summer: ten students, accompanied by Tom Cangiano, Kyle Smith (History), and Stan Nevola (Arts) traveled to Poland with Classrooms Without Borders to study the Holocaust; and eight Parkin Fellows engaged in service projects in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the United States.
Looking ahead, we have three significant initiatives in progress already and this coming year will be busy as we expand upon them, in addition to continuing to take stock of what we do, why we do it, and how we can strengthen our overall program. In keeping with our strategic vision to create more intentional community connections, with alumni as well as organizations, we invited Rob Mullins ’93 to a Senior School assembly last May. Rob reminisced about a particularly intimidating job interview, for which he says he was prepared not by the research he did about the company or his specific work experience, but by the rigorous intellectual training, the high expectations for preparation and participation, and the discipline instilled in the pool and in the classroom at the Senior School a decade or more before the interview itself. In addition, department chairs in Math, Science, and Computer Science talked with the seniors in May about the wide range of STEM careers open to them. This was the start of what will become more formal programming aimed to help student expand their horizons beyond SSA, beyond Pittsburgh, and possibly beyond the United States.
Thanks to a generous anonymous donation, we invested in a pilot iPad program for the entire Academy. Specifically at the Senior School, eight teachers received iPads this summer, with the charge to play, create, and explore the curricular options, capabilities, and practical classroom applications. The proliferation of applications, e-books, and other learning tools for the iPad is astounding; numerous science and mathematics e-textbooks exist, traditional texts are already online, and numerous texts in many disciplines should soon be available for iPad and e-book distribution. We have 30 iPads for classroom use at this point, with plans to increase student and faculty access.
We broke ground last spring on what has become the SSA Farm. More than a dozen students from the Environmental Club seeded vegetables, and on June 2, a group of volunteers planted them out on the Far Fields. Thanks to those volunteers, and thanks to the leadership of Science teachers Leah Powers and Derek Nussbaum Wagler; Derek’s wife, Tina Nussbaum Wagler; Mike Pohl ’13; local farmers; and Paul Francioni, Head of Physical Plant, we have been selling corn, cucumbers, tomatoes, pumpkins, peas, and other vegetables at our weekly Farmer’s Market. We hope to share the bounty with Metz Food Service and/or local food banks. Maclean Calihan’13 worked with David Chottiner, Director of Summer Programs, to oversee the Farmer’s Market this summer. The farm initiative is particularly exciting not only because we are promoting environmental sustainability, healthy lifestyle habits, and respect for our natural world, but also because there are immediate and rich connections with our science, economics, and math curriculum. Be it studying soil samples or the economics of planting, harvesting, and selling, our heads and hands will be engaged, and we know that experiential, project-based learning at any age is ideal.
Clearly, we are moving in exciting directions, tasting the possibilities within and beyond our campus. There is much work to do ahead, but we have a strong team with whom to do the work, and that makes all the difference.
With just about five weeks remaining, summer vacation is looming large for all of us, but there is still much good work to do to finish out this year and to set the foundation for next year. In anticipation of this, students have elected next year’s Student Council officers. Congratulations to Paul Steenkiste, student body president; Dom Oliver, senior vice president; and Shaun Gohel, junior vice president! Prefects have been chosen in the dorms, each Form will hold elections for class officers in the next few weeks, and students are applying for department associate positions and other leadership positions within the school.
At long last, we have finalized our new daily class schedule. It is not a radical departure from what we currently do, but will begin to allow more depth and flexibility for students and teachers alike. Our day will start and end at the same time (8:15 and 3:00) and no changes were made to assembly, designated rooms or class meeting time. We were able to lengthen our class periods from 40 or 45 minutes to 50 minutes. While 5 or 10 minutes may not seem like much, a 50-minute period allows for 40 minutes of focused working time. It’s not a revolutionary change, but it’s absolutely an evolutionary change in the right direction. Most classes will be 50 minutes in length, with one 70-minute period before lunch for every class in every discipline. The addition of that long period is the most exciting part of the new schedule. Teachers are eager to teach in longer blocks, to allow for deeper discussion and engagement. Additional schedule changes will be implemented in the future, but first we need to examine our graduation requirements. By alleviating “log jams” involving required courses, we hope to offer students more choice and add more flexibility to the structure of our day to accommodate required courses. (But that’s a discussion and project for next year!)
Looking ahead to next year, our students have been very patient and constructive as teaching candidates have toured and taught classes in math and in Spanish. Their feedback has been enlightening, mature and helpful in our decision-making process. Our national search has yielded many highly qualified, passionate candidates, most with teaching, coaching and advising experience at great independent schools. The hiring process has sparked discussions about who the “ideal Shady Side teacher” might be and what philosophies, experiences and qualifications will bring the most to our community. We have hired two new math teachers and a Spanish teacher who can wear many hats here at the Academy, in the classroom, on the fields and around campus. We have one additional full-time Spanish position to fill.
On a related front, please congratulate three teachers taking advantage of the Academy’s generous sabbatical program next year. John Sutula will be away from September through early January, and both Sally Abramson and Tony Goodwin will take sabbaticals during the second half of the year. We are thrilled (and jealous!) about their upcoming time for retreat, reflection and rejuvenation. Consequently, we will be hiring three experienced teachers to cover each of these sabbatical-leave positions.
I have appointed two new department chairs, each of whom has overwhelming support from their respective departments: Kyle Smith in History and Derek Wagler in Science. Kyle Smith has taught at both the college and high school levels. While the History Department will not be making major changes next year, Kyle is looking forward to discussing the curriculum, broadly speaking (i.e., what concepts are covered and how, course offerings, and graduation requirements). Derek Wagler has over a decade of teaching experience at different high schools and is eager to examine our pedagogical and curricular approach to science at the Senior School.
Academy-wide, we continue to examine our science program. The new schedule will allow for two double-period classes in each science course per eight-day cycle and for the integration of significantly more content. We are also exploring the possibility of offering tiered courses based on ability and performance in introductory-level courses. To help ensure the success of such transitions, the Science Department has invited students to apply to become Science Department associates for the first time in many years. They are eager to hear student voices in their departmental deliberations next year. This spring, Derek Wagler is planning to host an after-school town hall discussion for students who have ideas about how to strengthen the science program. Additionally, he has organized a trip to visit top-tier schools in New York City with two other teachers in order to observe science classes and to draw from other schools' experiences with increased classroom contact hours, accelerated courses and other aspects of their curricula.
It is clear that Shady Side Academy is moving forward in exciting ways. Please know that in the midst of change, the Senior School teachers remain focused on their teaching and on their positive interactions with your children. Our students’ best interests lie at the forefront of all that we do.
I wish you a happy spring!
With warm regards,
Kate Vavpetic Head of School
on Friday April 27, 2012 at 01:00PM
Despite the recent “snowstorm,” this unusually warm winter has flown by! Term III has just begun and, as the students remind me, “it’s all downhill from here!” A capella week in January was a resounding success and the excitement of February’s Globalfest week was as wonderful as everyone had described. The cast and crew of The Music Man amazed us with three spectacular performances. Several sports teams’ seasons continued into the WPIAL Playoffs, and Varsity boys’ basketball and the swim teams have made it to the State Championship level. Chloe Gulati danced spectacularly in Bodiography’s The Red Carpet Roll Out at the Byham Theater. Carla Erb has been invited to the Junior Olympics in fencing. Alok Nimgaonkar wrote an article about his recent Parkin Fellowship in Egypt that will be published in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, and his brother, Vivek Nimgaonkar, has had a scientific paper published based on his Parkin Fellowship project in India this past summer. I know that other individuals are making their marks outside of school; please do keep us informed of your child’s individual accomplishments!
During the winter months, students and faculty at every school I have known begin to exhibit the strain of a long and tiring academic year. The end isn’t quite fully in our sights and the start is so far away that we hardly remember how energized we all felt in September. One of the ways that I reenergize during the school year is by reading every night, no matter how late it is when I turn in. Since moving to Pittsburgh, I’ve made time to read numerous books, from the more serious to the “best beach read” variety: Harmony: A New Way of Looking at our World, by HRH Prince Charles; The Greater Journey, by David McCullough; The Fall of Giants, by Ken Follet; Micro, by Michael Crighton; Meet you in Hell, by Les Standiford; I’ll Ask You Three Times, “Are You Okay?”, by Naomi Shihab Nye; City of Thieves by David Benioff; In the Garden of Beasts, by Eric Larson; The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, by Stieg Larsson; and Hangman’s Holiday, a collection of mysteries by Dorothy Sayers. My current books are Finnish Lessons, by Pasi Sahlberg, about the history of education in Finland; 1491, by Charles Mann, about the prolific indigenous cultures that populated the Americas before Columbus’ arrival; Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks, about the first Native American graduate of Harvard; How I Became Hettie Jones, by Hettie Jones; and Honeybee, a collection of poems by Naomi Shihab Nye. (I always enjoy keeping an anthology of poems on my bedside table.)
Also, I have read two particularly inspiring titles which are worthy of special focus and recommendation: Three Cups of Tea, a non-fiction telling about Greg Mortensen’s work in India and Pakistan building schools in rural areas, and The Time In Between, by Maria Duenas, a fictional yarn about Sira Quiroga, a Spanish seamstress whose radical choices as a naïve young girl during the Spanish Civil War lead to an impressive life of self-reliance and independence. Each book, in opposing ways, reminds me that we can, and should, do much with nothing. More than reminding me of the old adage, “Noblesse oblige,” Mortensen’s ability to build schools in mountainous towns while under the pressure of religious law, or Sira’s ability to create a prosperous, influential life from nothing, reminds me of the value of good, old-fashioned hard work. It’s the kind of work that brings a smile to your face at the end of the day, even though you’re exhausted mentally and physically. It’s the kind of work that changes the people around you, little by little, each day, until everyone, including yourself, is better off intellectually, socially, physically, mentally or financially. I think that’s why I am called to be a teacher. Sometimes the tasks of raising children, of reenergizing an entire curriculum, of changing a culture or of inspiring others might feel too enormous, too fraught with obstacles and too overwhelming even to begin. Yet, each day, no matter how hard, busy, tiring, frustrating, fun or exhilarating it’s been, brings some modicum of progress toward the goal; and this makes the next day’s tasks slightly less daunting. Having a competitive spirit doesn’t hurt, either!
In short, recognizing that the situation you are in today does not dictate the situation you will be in tomorrow takes constant energy, focus and a gut-level passion to always move forward and try. As Chase Deaktor, SSA Grade 1, said to my four-year old son, Niko as he learned how to ice skate, “Niko, you can only learn by falling down and getting up, so just fall down and get up, and you’ll learn!” Sure enough, by the end of the free-skate, Niko was “skating” without holding onto anyone or anything, albeit with soaking wet gloves and pants from so much time spent on the ice. He was pooped, but very proud of himself.
To close, taking inspiration from the (hopefully last) wintry weather this weekend, I'll leave you with this light-hearted poem entitled "Snowflakes,” written by Emily Dickinson:
I counted till they danced so
Their slippers leaped the town –
And then I took a pencil
To note the rebels down –
And then they grew so jolly
I did resign the prig –
And ten of my once stately toes
Are marshalled for a jig!
Enjoy the start of spring and, if you have a chance, let’s talk about a good book you’ve read!
With warm regards,
Kate Vavpetic Head of School
on Tuesday March 6, 2012 at 03:53PM
At Parent’s Night last October, I mentioned that 2011 had been a year of firsts for me—my first visit to Pittsburgh, my first broken bone and the first time my great-grandfather’s bell had been rung in over 50 years, to name a few. This winter break was no exception. My sons Blaz and Niko were entranced by their first ballet performance, The Nutcracker, at the Benedum Center; on the first of the year we experienced “Mess Fest” at the Science Museum; and we celebrated the first Christmas in our new home here at Shady Side Academy. I hope that you had some wonderful firsts within your own families this vacation.
The first half of the year went smoothly. We continue our hard work examining our programs and practices for our self-study. The decision about which daily schedule to implement next year is only one meeting away; each of the two possible schedules allow for significantly more meeting time in Science, among other disciplines. I’ll share more details about the new schedule after we make our decision.
While we are in the midst of this busy year, amazingly, it is already time to begin planning for next year. This winter, we will be hiring two teachers in Mathematics to succeed Frank McCarthy and Christine Czapleski, who will be retiring in 2012 after a combined 50+ years of teaching at the Academy. We will also be appointing two new department chairs. Caswell Nilsen is completing his final year in a five-year term as History Department Chair, and Kathy Malone will be stepping down as Science Department Chair after 15 years of leadership. Richard Gable, Associate Head, and I will soon begin accepting applications from candidates within the history and math departments, and will employ a well-defined, rigorous interview process. In consultation with Tom Cangiano and Richard Gable, I will appoint the new chairs by spring break.
Coming up this month, Yale New Blue, an all-female a cappella group, will perform on Friday, Jan. 6, and the Kenyon College Kokosingers, an all-male group, will perform on Friday, Jan. 13. These collegiate ensembles will have time to work with some of Dan Brill’s singers and have lunch with any Senior School students interested in learning more about life at Kenyon College or Yale University. On Tuesday, Jan. 10, Ms. Leslie Bonci will speak with us about nutrition and wellness. She is the nutrition consultant to all three professional sports teams in Pittsburgh and the NCAA, as well as the sports dietician for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. It will be a busy month in the Rauh! Collaboratively, David Lembersky, President of the Student Council, Chris Leech, Senior Vice-President and Wendy Skinner, Dean of Students, and I are working to amplify our twice-weekly assembly periods with substantive, engaging presentations and performances, rather than using the 25 minutes for routine announcements. I believe strongly in the importance of teaching and promoting public speaking in independent schools. Regular all-school assemblies provide an opportunity for our students to practice the skill and hone the art of public speaking, whether by giving an impromptu announcement or a rehearsed presentation. This essential skill must be intentionally fostered and practiced here at the Senior School and, ideally, throughout the Academy. An excellent way to promote public speaking, public service and practical application of classroom learning is to invite more speakers to campus—speakers who can address issues of local, national and global importance, who can share insights into careers and lives beyond Shady Side, who can share their passions, arts and music with us all. For example, poet Naomi Shihab Nye’s all-too-brief reading captivated our students during a December assembly period; her Q and A with Alexa Levy as moderator was also interesting.
As always, our sports teams are practicing long hours and competing at high levels. I expect that our students, parents and coaches will continue to comport themselves with the highest standards of good sportsmanship this season. There is no doubt that sometimes the culture of Shady Side appears to be at odds with the public culture, particularly in sports like hockey and football. As members of the Shady Side community, however, we have a moral obligation to foster respect, kindness and positive support of our teams. Please help us cheer for Shady Side rather than taunt or jeer at our opponents, help us welcome guests sincerely and be gracious guests when playing at away games. There is no honor in winning if that win comes at the expense of good sportsmanship.
It’s great to have your children back at school. In December, rains pelted overstuffed backpacks huddled by the flagpole, yet students smiled and laughed with each other. Now, January snow covers shoes that slip on sidewalks, yet students' voices call out “Happy New Year!” and “Welcome back!” to teachers and friends. This is a happy place. This is a hard-working place. This is a harmonious place. We are the peal. How fortunate we are!
Happy New Year,
Kate Vavpetic Head of School
by Mrs. Sheehan
on Thursday January 5, 2012 at 11:48AM
During our weekly assembly a few weeks ago, an impassioned teacher recited the following oath, which was taken by the youth of Ancient Athens as they turned 17:
“We will never bring disgrace upon this our City by any act of dishonesty or cowardice. We will fight for the ideals and Sacred Things of the City both alone and with many. We will revere and obey the City’s laws, and will do our best to incite a like reverence and respect in those above us who are prone to annul them or set them at naught. We will strive increasingly to quicken the public’s sense of civic duty. Thus, in all these ways, we will transmit this City, not only less, but greater and more beautiful than it was transmitted to us.”
Do the fundamental principles in this oath sound familiar? They certainly do to our community. We base our actions on the principles of Respect, Responsibility, and Kindness.
The impassioned teacher was Dr. John Sutula. It probably is not surprising to most of you that our teenagers don’t always leave a place as tidy when they leave as when they found it, that even the most responsible SSA students need frequent reminders to pick up the papers, bottles, bottle caps, pens, broken pencils, hairbands, gum, gum wrappers, and other detritus as they leave the Student Center, the dining hall, the Mancosh computer lab, or Scott Commons. They need reminders to care for the furniture and public spaces, as they need reminders to care for each other. I asked Dr. Sutula to address our community because he has an infectious passion for leaving the world a better place and for trying to live in harmony with it. Craftily intertwining a tribute to Angela Irvine, the most senior member of our faculty, with the story of teenagers in Ancient Greece, and with a challenge to protect our campus and to leave it a better place than when we found it, each and every day, John wove a deceptively simple message into an unforgettable speech. It is just this type of nuanced approach that makes the everyday interactions between students and teachers here so incredibly powerful.
Sometimes, however, nuance is too nuanced. Sometimes we have to spell things out for maximum clarity. Such is the case when it comes to academic honesty. With mid-terms behind us, and the workload in classes increasing, our students may struggle at times with balancing work, extra-curricular activities, and family time. It is in those moments of stress, when due dates are looming menacingly or when pesky social interactions spill into the social media cyber-world, that our students sometimes make poor choices. Given the nationwide proliferation of risky or outright negative online behavior combined with an increased number of academic dishonesty incidents, it is important to us that our students are particularly aware of what constitutes good, safe use of sources and what does not, as well as what constitutes good, safe use of technology and what does not, particularly when using Academy networks and computers. We expect that students have read the plagiarism section of the Student Handbook and the Responsible Computing Policy. We expect that they are very familiar with the Academy’s stance on plagiarism and Responsible Computing. We cannot over-emphasize the importance of making good choices, especially when using electronic social media and when doing academic work online. The Responsible Computing Policy is referenced in the Senior School Student Handbook and is posted online in the Parent Portal (Downloadable School Forms page). Please review both policies with your son(s)/daughter(s), then sign and return the attached form to his/her advisor no later than Wednesday, October 26. If you have questions about the Responsible Computing Policy or why we are asking you and your child(ren) to sign this form, please contact me or Wendy Skinner.
In closing, I know that my colleagues would agree with me when I say that the time we spend with your children here is the richest, most energizing part of our days. Your children and their teachers are doing wonderful work together. In the numerous classes I’ve seen so far, students are engaged and curious. Our Speech and Debate Team, by virtue of the great success last year under the guidance of Mary Krauland, has placed in the top 10% of NFL chapters nationwide, and subsequently earned membership in the prestigious "100 Club." Our College Office Information Nights were very well attended and, hopefully, helpful to those of you who are looking ahead to or are already in the throes of the college process. Last week’s Parent-Teacher Conference Day was positive and informative, as was the Leadership Conference run by Wendy Skinner, Creighton Runnette, and the Form Deans. The boys and girls golf teams, boys cross country, girls field hockey, and girls tennis teams are Section Champions. Our female golfers won the WPIAL and PIAA Regional Championships. Our field hockey team is undefeated in season play, the girls tennis team is the Division 1 WPIAL runner-up, and four teams are heading to the WPIAL playoffs: girls and boys soccer, football, and girls cross country. To top it off, our teams won every game on Homecoming weekend! Finally, Dan Brill, Stan Nevola and their vocal and instrumental music students treated us to an absolutely delightful Fall Music Concert. I could go on and on!
I hope you enjoyed Homecoming this past weekend. It was wonderful to meet more of you, as well as many of our alums, and to watch our students competing (and winning!).
Kate Vavpetic Head of School
on Thursday October 20, 2011 at 01:51PM
What a whirlwind it has been since my family and I moved to Pittsburgh at the end of June. We have been graciously and warmly welcomed into the Shady Side family by colleagues, students, parents, and alumni alike. I’ve been enjoying my work immensely as I continue to whittle away at the SSA (and Greater Pittsburgh!) learning curve, and am picking up the pulse of the School.
Our 2011-12 year is off to a wonderful start. SSA Prep, Orientation, athletics, auditions for Romeo and Juliet, and the first weeks of classes have gone smoothly. 57 boarding students have dropped anchor in our dorms and 113 members of Form III have begun their Senior School experience. The good energy is palpable.
On September 1, Convocation began with the ringing of a big, old, brass hand bell. The bell was my great-grandfather’s school bell. He was assistant principal at Westinghouse High School here in Pittsburgh in the early part of the 20th century. I told the students that the last time the bell had been rung for a group of students was in the 1960’s; they were the first group of high school students to hear this bell in 50 years. Using the metaphor of bells, I spoke to the students about the fact that our lives are often overrun with bells and that we risk losing our focus in the cacophony surrounding us. We must decide to which bells we listen, and choose how we listen to those bells. I asked the faculty and students to attend to their choices this year by “really looking and really listening” before acting. I asked them to choose to smile at someone, to choose to listen to the snow falling, and to choose to recycle attentively, among other things. This year, we can choose to tune out or we can choose to be part of the peal (a set of bells tuned to one another). I asked the students to “be the peal” and hope that they will take me up on my challenge.
We welcome eight new faculty and staff members to the Senior School this year: Derek Wagler, Science; Nathalia Segall, World Languages; Mary Bushnell, History and English; Dana Hardy-Bingham, Theatre; Creighton Runnette, Director of Personal Counseling; Emily Schaknowski, Health, Head Girls’ Varisty Lacrosse coach; Sara Fracasso, Health, Assistant Trainer; Erinn Kasubinski, Senior School Nurse. All are acclimating well to SSA life. Please view a brief biography of each.
I have had individual meetings with close to half of the faculty and a number of students to date, and will be meeting with everyone connected to the Senior School throughout the year. I will be observing at least one class per week, and shadowing a student at some point this fall. I’m finding out first hand that our teachers have a deep and abiding passion for working with your children, for teaching, and for this place. What a solid foundation to build upon as we strive to look critically at what we do, how we do it, and how we can continue to improve. We want to assure that we are equipping our graduates with the critical thinking, problem solving, and social skills that they will need in the world beyond SSA.
The atmosphere is ebullient here! If you haven’t done so already, I hope that you’ll visit the campus to see us all in action. When you do, please stop by the Head’s Office and say hello—you may get a chance to ring the bell!
With warm regards,
Kate Vavpetic Head of School
by Mrs. Sheehan
on Thursday September 22, 2011 at 12:13PM
Katharine Vavpetic became the Head of the Senior School in 2011. Prior to arriving at Shady Side, she served for two years as the first associate dean of faculty at The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn. During her 13 years at Hotchkiss, Vavpetic served as a member of the Advisory Council, Curriculum Committee, Master Planning Committee and Technology Strategic Planning Committee. She also held the positions of chair of the Modern Languages Department, French instructor, interim dean of studies, interim dean of the prep class, dormitory head, field hockey and track coach, and coach of the internationally recognized speech and debate team.
A graduate of The Hopkins School in New Haven, Conn., Vavpetic attended the Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris and Université de la Sorbonne in Paris while earning her BA with honors in international relations and French from Mount Holyoke College. She also holds an MA in French studies from New York University. She and her husband, Joe, have two sons, Blaz and Niko.