With a bit more than a year under my belt as Dean of Children’s Programs and Head of the School for Children, I can honestly say that I am more excited, more inspired, and more impressed by what transpires each day in our school than when I first arrived. Our faculty and students alike operate with a beautiful combination of pride and humility, levity and gravity, joy and purpose. We examine. We explore. We question. We reflect. We challenge. We feel. We think. We step in. We stand up. I have spent considerable time in a lot of schools, and there is something palpably different about Bank Street. The sense of possibility. The meaningful integration of disciplines. The unabashed embrace of childhood. The multi-generational community of learners. The fierce commitment to equity and justice. As a parent of two children in the School, I have experienced firsthand the transformative power of a rigorous, progressive education. Since coming to Bank Street, our dinner table conversation has shifted a repetitive drone of “Do I really have to do another worksheet?” to “What can we do to ensure that all people have access to the basic human rights that they deserve?” This is the magic of Bank Street. And it doesn’t happen by accident. To understand Bank Street, it is imperative to understand our unique approach to curriculum development, an approach I often find myself explaining through a navigation metaphor. Years ago, when I (and likely most of you) learned to drive, the only “technology” at our disposal was a map. As such, to go from Point A to point B, we relied upon static information—distance markers, street and highway names and numbers, and the like. With the advent of AAA’s TripTik, our lives were made easier by a more customized version of the map, replete with spiral-bound booklets and highlighted routes; nevertheless, we were still operating with fixed knowledge— the number of miles on the interstate, where to enter and exit, etc.
When the first generation of GPS for automobiles materialized, I, for one, couldn’t wait to get my hands on a Garmin Nüvi. To be able to plug in a specific address, hear voice commands, and receive real-time directions felt like a major revolution in transportation. Gone were the days of pulling over to the side of the road when we missed a turn; we now had a “recalculating” computer with a pleasant voice instructing us how to get back on our way. Yet still—hands-free, nice voice, and all—the route was largely pre-determined.
In recent years, with the introduction of applications such as Waze and Google Maps, our navigational abilities have gone to a whole new level. Using more sophisticated satellite technology, our devices receive up-to-date intelligence that informs how we should proceed. If there’s major congestion ahead, we find a better path. If the sailing is smooth, we stay the course. No longer are we captive to the limited dimensionality of the map, or the pre-determined itinerary of the early-generation GPS systems; instead, our navigation is informed by real-time traffic patterns and up-to-date information about construction, weather conditions, road closures, accidents, and even (as I learned recently while driving upstate) road kill.
So what does this have to do with curriculum development at Bank Street? In short, as progressive educators, it is our foremost priority to be responsive to the real-time “traffic patterns” of our children. While the lion’s share of our curricular decisions, in terms of content and skills, are highly-planned and intentional, we likewise give ourselves permission to adjust course along the way. By embracing each child and each group of children, we know that needs and interests vary from individual to individual, classroom to classroom, and year to year. What’s more, we pay close attention to environmental factors and the world around us and sensibly incorporate current events into our teaching and learning practices. Unlike traditional schools, where the curriculum is quite prescriptive and largely inflexible, Bank Street’s curriculum is dynamic, organic, and responsive. Through weekly collaboration, ongoing examination and reflection, and targeted summer grants, our teachers, the best in the business, engage in the constant and iterative process of designing and refining their curriculum. And while it can be difficult to document all that we do, we also realize the importance of alignment and coherence between and across grade levels and subject areas. In this spirit, at the various Curriculum Nights this fall, you will receive comprehensive curriculum statements for each of the three divisions of the school. Preparing this required extraordinary effort on the part of our entire faculty, and special thanks go out the Curriculum Committee for seeing this project through!
Aside from curriculum documentation, this has been a busy summer on a number of other fronts as well. I encourage you to read the following updates carefully, as they contain important information about what’s in store for the 2017-2018 school year.
As part of my entry plan, I spent much time last year in listening mode—attempting to understand our school’s impressive history, culture, community, and curriculum. As part of the process, I gathered input from more than 200 individuals about Bank Street’s strengths and opportunities for growth. From these observations, interviews, and focus groups, a number of key themes and questions emerged, and in July, the newly-formed Strategic Planning Task Force held its initial retreat to begin to translate the community’s input into a finite and coherent set of strategic priorities that will inform our decision making and resource allocation over the next several years. This team, comprised of teachers, parents, Trustees, administrators, alumni, students, and colleagues from other divisions of Bank Street College, will ramp up its efforts over the next six months, and after another round of community engagement in late fall/early winter, we aim to settle on our priorities by the spring of 2018.
After two summers of extensive renovations to our academic spaces, we are nearing the end of construction on the fourth and seventh floors of the School for Children. We are delighted with the progress to date and know that the improved classrooms will contribute joy and light to the learning environment. Beginning in September, the Upper School will be reunited entirely on the gut-renovated seventh floor, replete with a state-of-the-art Science Lab and a number of architectural features conducive to group work and collaboration. The 8/9s and 9/10s will occupy the newly-renovated fourth-floor classrooms, with the rest of the Middle School (the 6/7s and 7/8s) remaining on the third floor. The six Lower School classrooms will stay together on the second floor. Huge and heartfelt thanks to our colleagues from the Bank Street College Strategy and Operations team for their masterful orchestration of this summer’s renovations. We can’t wait to settle into our new digs!
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) at Bank Street
Thanks to the efforts of the Parents’ Association Green Action Team, we are pleased to announce a partnership with Field Goods, a year-round local produce delivery service that will distribute food at Bank Street every Wednesday.
In closing, in recent days, we have once again bear witness to the grotesque reality of the hatred and violence that continue to splinter our nation and threaten our humanity. The acts of terror in Charlottesville and the detestable remarks thereafter stand in stark contrast to the inspiring vision—“based on the faith that human beings can improve the society they have created”—from which Lucy Sprague Mitchell founded Bank Street more than a century ago. As we reassemble our community, first as faculty and staff on September 1 and then with children and adults together on September 11, we will, as we always do, attend with care to the questions and concerns of our members. And we will, in no uncertain terms, teach and learn from the premise that white supremacy is unambiguously intolerable and must be condemned.
Wherever you are and whatever you are doing to make the most of these final days of summer, please make certain to navigate back to 610 W. 112th Street for the first day of school on September 11. We look forward to the many exciting adventures and indeed those wonderful detours that lie ahead.
All best, always—