Reflections from the Head of School
Currents Turns 20!
Diversity and Inclusion
Link to Full Issue of Currents
Who among us doesn’t at times yearn for the “good old days?” It is natural to think back to a time when things were simpler or better in some way, even if our memories are rarely as accurate as we believe or the old days as good as we remember. As Currents, our annual school magazine, marks its 20th anniversary with this issue, we are using this important point in time to take stock of all that is the same and different at Town. While students and teachers have come and gone over the years, the core essence of Town remains. Our commitment to outstanding academic preparation, first-rate faculty (some of whom started here 20+ years ago), the transformative power of our N–8 configuration, an empathic community, meaningful exposure to the visual and performing arts, a robust physical education and athletic program, and building life-long relationships remain at the core of the Town experience. Today’s graduates enter high school ready for the challenges to come, confident that the skills and perspectives developed at Town will serve them well. Our motto — Gaudeant Discentes, Let There Be Joy in Learning — continues to be the guiding principle that makes the Town experience special and helps our students build a foundation that serves them well in high school, college, and life.
At the same time, it is easy to see that much has changed over the last 20 years. While the faculty and curriculum have certainly evolved and improved, perhaps the most revolutionary change is in the area of technology. In 1996 most classrooms had a computer or two, but the internet was in its infancy and the most talked about technology skill in schools was keyboarding. Now our students, all born in 2002 or later, are true digital natives, and we never worry about their typing skills. Today’s Townies cannot remember a time before mobile phones and flat screens, and while they still have a deep love for books and cherish the relationships they develop with their teachers, they cannot imagine school without laptops, iPads, interactive white boards, 3D printers, and instant wireless connectivity in every corner of the school building. In practical terms it means that our students have access to the world without ever leaving East 76th Street. They do research on everything from the Lenape people to Galileo’s trial; they communicate with peers from every corner of the globe; Upper Schoolers share their work from their iPads on the white boards; students use Google Docs from home to collaborate on assignments in real-time; 7th grade math students made a prosthetic hand using the 3D printer. Just imagine how things might change over the next 20 years!
As we note all the progress that has been made, the need to effectively tell Town’s story remains important. Accordingly, the school has been engaged in a rebranding process over the course of this last school year. Working with input from many Town community members — past, present, and future — as well as those outside the school community, we have developed a new look and feel for our print materials and website. The goal was to produce a print and web image that is approachable, dynamic, and bold, just like our students. By the time you are reading this issue of Currents, the new brand identity should be up and running.
I hope you enjoy this look at how Town continues to thrive by holding close to its longstanding mission, vision, and values while constantly adapting to meet the needs of our students. Balance has long characterized the Town experience, whether it be between the traditional and innovative, academics and the arts, IQ and EQ, or joy and challenge. What is clear as we look ahead with an eye on our history is that Town continues to be a place where children build a foundation for an impactful future.
In the spring of 1996, The Town School launched its first issue of Currents magazine. Broader based than any other publications to date, the content of Currents was designed to engage the entire Town community — parents, alumni/ae, grandparents, faculty, staff and friends. We set out to share information and stories about Town’s ever evolving curriculum, its mission and philosophy, facilities, events and services along with updates on alumni/ae, showcasing their lives and passions. As we looked for an appropriate name for the magazine, we noticed that our sense of place here on the East River itself was important to our identity as a school. Ask any student, teacher or parent and they will proudly declare that the East River is not a river, but a tidal estuary and the currents change direction with the tides.
Because of its dual purpose to communicate Town community news and at the same time celebrate our school’s home “where park and river meet,” the name Currents was chosen. We hope everyone finds something of interest within the pages of our 20th Anniversary edition of Currents. From its first paper copy in 1996 to this 2016 edition, which includes an interactive digital experience, we have loved sharing and celebrating Town’s program and community.
And so we say “Happy Anniversary to Currents!” and here’s to sharing interesting and inspiring Town stories for many years to come.
One of the many aspects of Town is the school’s strong commitment to diversity. Several years ago, under the leadership of then Head of School Chris Marblo and the Board of Trustees, Town reaffirmed diversity as a top priority in fulfilling its mission, and the results were clear.
Since 2005, Town has greatly increased the number of students and faculty of color by 77% and 64% respectively, established a Board Diversity Committee to ensure high-level accountability, added a Director of Community and Diversity to the senior leadership team, mapped diversity curriculum from Nursery through 8th grade, increased socio-economic diversity through a greater commitment to financial aid, and established several specific initiatives to support students, parents, and faculty of color. And as is the case with our country at large, Town recognizes the change and growth achieved while also wondering, “What’s next?”
Over the course of the last year, we have been working to answer this very question. Continuing to be guided by mission, Town’s original statement on diversity continues to hold true and provide guidance: a diverse community is imperative for promoting a culture of respect, social awareness, moral responsibility, and academic excellence. What we know now is that there is more to do to ensure that our community is a place where all who join feel they belong. Being truly inclusive and equitable is where we need to grow.
To that end, there is exciting news to share. After a national search, Town has hired Eva Vega-Olds as Director of Community and Diversity. Her work in higher education, at the Anti-Defamation League, with media outlets such as MTV, and as a consultant to various organizations means Town is again poised to take great steps forward. Eva will work closely with the Board Diversity Committee, the Administrative Team, and the Faculty Diversity Leadership Team to help develop and deliver “best practice” in the areas of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Town.
In a world where conflict is too often along identity lines — race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomics, ability, and age — what if Town students were leaders who understand the complexities of difference and value the benefits of including all voices for the good of the whole? This is work that is never truly done and the conversations can be challenging. But in our increasingly diverse and interconnected world, we are doing a disservice to our students and their development of necessary skills in the 21st century if we don’t try.
EVERYTHING WE DO AND EVERYTHING WE DON’T DO MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Ken Higgins has been Town’s sustainability coordinator for well over two decades. Early in his tenure at Town, Ken set out to innovate and expand the environmental initiatives at Town; he felt that the faculty and core administration should lead the process, with the goal of empowering students to eventually take the lead. He started what became a nearly 30-year process to transform Town from a place that recycled paper and had “an environmental club” to a school whose core institutional goals include educating children for a sustainable future.
Today, Town is considered one of the lead voices and forces in the sustainable movement in independent schools. This past April, a group of Town students helped lead a NYSAIS sponsored conference at The Calhoun School entitled “Sustainability Through Student Voices.” On a cold, rainy Saturday, the rooms were filled with students, families and educators eager to learn from Town students and their peers about how they could better impact their homes and communities for future generations.