A Letter to Parents – October 30, 2020

Mark Turner

Dear Parents and Guardians,

It has been a few weeks since my last missive to you. This should be taken within the spirit of no news is good news.

It is wonderful to note that after the significant disruptions of the last six months, during the last six weeks we have settled into something of a routine. A morning spent shadowing a new Grade 6 student confirmed emphatically that there is excellent teaching and learning happening hour by hour across our three schools. It is always invigorating to have the opportunity to shake off the shackles of my administrative routine and engage directly with the collective experiences of students and staff who radiate energy, enthusiasm and hope.

Over the last few days, I have been doing a little ‘MBWA’ – management by wandering around. Several years ago, there was a spoof report circulated around Heads of School in the UK proposing a new, ruthlessly efficient and effective management philosophy: MBWA. It caught on. Truth be told, wandering around, sharing conversations, engaging on a personal level and learning about some of the detail which is going on is just as effective as any of the myriad other theories, which go around and around and can feel a bit like chasing the wind.

I dropped into a chemistry class that was estimating the differing speed with which Canadian and American coins will dissolve and disappear in concentrated sulphuric acid. I learnt that the Canadian coin is more resilient, but the U.S. coin is more expensive to produce as it has a zinc core. I spoke to students about our SMUS mock provincial elections, which to no one’s surprise was won with a storming majority of 82% by the Green Party. Every politician would love some of that magic dust. Many were excited by the fact that Kate O’Connor, a graduate of the Class of 2020, was standing as the youngest-ever BC Green Party candidate in the South Saanich electoral district. I’m told SMUS characteristics of poise, confidence in public speaking and commitment to a cause were there for all to see. I was also invited to join the Featherstone Debate Society for one of its evening meetings. Debating in an era where free speech is under such threat is a skill that should be nourished.

On the same day that Kate was standing for the Green Party, our Board of Governors convened for their annual retreat. On the agenda for Friday, October 23, was a generative discussion on sustainability and what this means to our school during our Floreat 2020-2030 plan and beyond. This led into debate on the exciting new Campus Master Plan, designed to identify what facilities we need and where they should be located, looking out to the next decade or so. There were also exciting ideas around our Advancement Plan, which will need to raise the finances to support it. After two days of intensive Zoom discussions, I would like to offer a shout out to our Board, who as a group of interested volunteers, give most generously of their professional expertise and wisdom to support our school on its strategic journey.

In addition, our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group have been energetic in meeting to identify next steps, which in recognizing the need to include many voices and experiences, is reaching out for external advice on how we move forward. We are on course to honour our commitment to make an interim statement on progress and articulate the next steps in our journey in January. As stated in my own message and the Board Chair’s previous messages on the subject, we are totally committed to creating a community where people can live their lives respected for who they are, and free from all forms of discrimination. Any instances that are not aligned with this commitment should be brought to our attention immediately.

This week I was invited by our chaplain to speak at chapel services for the Middle and Senior Schools. These invitations always encourage me to think a little more deeply than usual (some would say a dangerous state of affairs). This time I found myself asking the question: Are we wall makers or bridge builders?

Using the physical symbols of Hadrian’s Wall (built in AD 122) to keep the warring Celts from the northern frontier of the Roman Empire, the Berlin Wall (1961-1989) and the Great Wall of China (at over 5,000 miles built and rebuilt by successive dynasties over 500 years, the largest man-made architectural feature on earth), I talked about how our small actions, hour by hour, can either create division or build bridges.

In our fractured world, I hope this image of Maurice Harron’s 1992 sculpture Hands Across the Divide will inspire you, as it did many in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, at that time one of the most divided cities in the world.

I hope you will enjoy more treats than tricks this Halloween weekend. Happy haunting.

Mark Turner
Head of School

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