It is wonderful to have this opportunity to write at a key moment in the academic year. At a recent Senior Leadership Team meeting, I was pleased to hear from the Directors of the Junior, Middle and Senior School that they felt that the start to the academic year had been a really positive one for both students and faculty. There is a palpable feeling that momentum is being generated. At the Senior School, I have enjoyed debating various political and electoral hot topics with students, who have developed some well-articulated views. As election fever has been mounting, it was a particular pleasure to be able to welcome three of the prospective parliamentary candidates from a local riding to discuss with a well-informed and critical audience some of the important issues of the day.
The theme of discussion and debate has been continued with my own teaching. I have enjoyed being able to engage directly with a Grade 9 Modern Studies class. We have talked about internet safety and freedom of speech in the modern world, and also the rise of secularism and how this interferes with the freedom of religious expression (Bill 21). Recent Chapel talks led by our Green Team, suggested practical ways in which faculty and students can support the growing wave of concern about the big issue of sustainability on every scale and in many forms. Of course, the words of Greta Thunberg and the ripples of Extinction Revolution are also a key point of interest and debate with some students. For my own part, I shall be advocating that climate change rallies take place on a Saturday, rather than a Friday. To me this would give more meaning to the attendance statistics and allow students to continue with their education – which is one thing that almost everybody from all points of the political spectrum can agree will be vital in preparing well-informed leaders to create a better world in the future.
While the start of the new term in September may be a clear beginning of an academic cycle for all students and faculty, our Board of Governors annual cycle begins and ends with the SMUS Society AGM, which this year took place on Thursday, October 24. The Board goes to great lengths to create an accurate report on the achievements of the school over the course of the last year. I recommend reading Our Report Card (available online on the school website or a hard copy through our Senior School Reception), to gain a snapshot of our achievements in all the key areas of school life, including advancement, admissions and academics.
At the completion of this governance cycle, we must pay fair tribute to the contribution of Board Chair, Blair Hagkull, who is standing down after six years of outstanding service. Blair has been a consensual Chair, who has steered the school through a period of significant transition, connecting the last few years of the ‘Snowden decades’ through to my arrival in August 2018. I have witnessed firsthand the care, consideration and devotion to SMUS’s values that Blair has contributed. Blair will be handing over to Tim McGee QC. Tim has had a distinguished career in the legal profession and has brought his considerable expertise in support of the school since 2012. You can read an interview with Tim on the SMUSpaper. He takes over at a time when the Board is going through the final stages of the construction of the new SMUS 2020-2030 Strategic Plan. We also say farewell to Mike Throne (2013-2019) who is both an alumnus and past parent who has given so much of his time, and the benefit of his wisdom, in supporting our boarding community. As a boarder himself, Mike has been a strong advocate of the benefits of living within a boarding community.
Two new Board members join our team, Kevin Cuddihy and Katherine Tweedie. Their biographies are available online.
The fall has traditionally been regarded as ‘conference season’. This year I’ve been able to attend two conferences, one in London organized by the HMC (Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference) a collection of over 300 leading schools in the UK, with an international division of approximately 50 schools from around the world. Then from October 16 to 20, I was in Niagara Falls for the CAIS Conference. The Canadian Association of Independent Schools is a collection of the top schools from across Canada. The title of the conference this year was ‘School Culture and Climate: Bringing Community Well-Being Into Focus’.
On the evening of Thursday, October 24, we held a dinner in honour of our founders and benefactors. This is a wonderful event which brings together some of those who have contributed to scholarship funds and financial aid with students who are seizing the transformative experiences which have been provided. Coming so soon after Thanksgiving, it is right and proper that we given due recognition to those visionary men and women who recognize the transformative power of education and are prepared to contribute financial means to really make a difference. We also recognize our founders, those visionaries of the past, who have built up our school over more than a century, to create what we benefit from today.
Next week I shall write again with news of our Strategic Plan and to set up some hopes and expectations for the decade 2020-2030.