Let’s Start at the Very Beginning…

New Head of School, Walter Landberg, in Conversation with Elementary School Director, Dr. Jacqueline Olivier

WALTER: One of the things I have most enjoyed during these first months at New Roads is spending time in the midst of the lively energy of New Roads Elementary School. I began my career as an elementary school teacher so spending time at the Elementary School feels a bit like returning to my roots. What drew you to elementary school education?

JACQUELINE: I realized early in my career that elementary education presents a unique and somewhat daunting challenge: to grab children’s natural exuberance and curiosity and mold these traits into the still-joyful discipline and habits of lifelong learning. As a classroom teacher, I cherished the “light bulb” moments when my students first loved a good book, or solved a new problem, or made a discovery on their own. Elementary teachers and administrators have a huge task – to meet the intellectual and social-emotional needs of diverse groups of children, to introduce them to their first experience of “formal” learning, and to create a community and a curriculum that foster growth, a healthy sense of self, and the drive to keep learning. Our incredible faculty at New Roads Elementary is more than suited to the challenge and it is a pleasure to return to our collaborative efforts each fall.

WALTER: I am still learning about New Roads, but already I sense a different approach to teaching and learning. Where do you think our difference lies?

JACQUELINE: I think what is most unique about our approach at the Elementary School is the care we take in personalizing each child’s school experience. We draw from different, proven programs and technologies to develop reading and math skills, but very often we see that what works for one student does not work for another, and our teachers are able immediately to adjust and find other pathways. We want the students to know that they have a voice in how and what they learn, so we provide opportunities for them to pursue their individual passions and interests. Because of our small size overall and our small class sizes in particular, our teachers – and actually our whole team – truly know each student and are in constant conversation with one another, sharing perspectives on the kids.

WALTER: We know that parents have choices when it comes to elementary schools and that they – rightfully – are looking for value when they choose an independent school like New Roads. I often hear the word “excellence” mentioned but I don’t often hear it defined. What does “excellence” at New Roads Elementary School look like?

JACQUELINE: Excellence at the Elementary School begins with the teachers, who model it for students every day. For us, excellence is not defined simply by a grade or a test score or a first-place ribbon – our definition of an excellent student includes things like persistence, giving your best effort to each class and learning opportunity, taking creative and intellectual risks, being compassionate, being inquisitive and being respectful of fellow classmates. This definition of excellence sets a much higher bar for our students than merely asking them to perform at a certain level on tests or homework.

WALTER: One of the things that first attracted me to New Roads was the mission statement; the school’s emphasis on teaching responsibility with respect to real problems in the real world at the same time we are teaching “studentship” and scholarship. How is the mission implemented day to day?

JACQUELINE: In so many ways! The most structured manifestation of the mission comes in the form of our SWAT (Students with Awesome Traits) initiatives; students cannot work fast enough to bring attention to, and fundraise for, causes like childhood hunger, global literacy, environmental awareness, animal rights, disaster relief – you name it. On a more “micro” level, our teachers work diligently and patiently with students every day on empathy, understanding, and productive conflict resolution; and this shines through in our wonderfully kind and safe school community. Our ‘buddy’ program brings out the best in 4th and 5th graders, who begin to see themselves as role models, transmitting the culture of the school to the up-and-comers.

WALTER: We have the good fortune of being a K-12 school enabling us to observe and influence a wide arc of student learning and development. How does what you do at the Elementary School reflect mindfulness about “the long game” and set kids up for success in Secondary School and as lifelong learners?

JACQUELINE: We are, as you say, very mindful of our responsibility in the Elementary School to set the trajectory for our students’ success throughout their years at New Roads and for the many learning-filled years beyond. In addition to providing them with a solid foundation of traditional academic skills, we teach kids how to be active participants in their own education, to monitor their own progress, to self-reflect and to seek support when they need it. We encourage them to take risks in their learning and to persist in solving problems even if that means taking the winding road to the endpoint rather than the straight dash. In our world, where technology is both ubiquitous and ever-evolving, we teach students to be critical consumers of media and discerning online researchers; we encourage use of technology where it adds value to engagement, exploration or information acquisition but not as a substitute for hands-on learning. We also work hard on effective communication and collaboration, skills that may have taken on new manifestations, but that have lost none of their punch or pertinence in the 21st century.

The Direction of Their Dreams…

from Walter Landberg

Go confidently in the direction of your dreams!  Live the life you have imagined.  – H.D. Thoreau

Welcome, and welcome back, to our new and returning families, faculty, and staff.  Although we all leave summer behind with some reluctance, there is no denying the energy and anticipation of turning now to the school year ahead.  As families, you are busy with books, backpacks, schedules and supplies while we here at school are focused on curriculum and lesson planning, and getting to know our students.

Being new to New Roads myself, I am especially eager to see the mission that attracted me to New Roads brought to life in our classrooms and around our campus.  This summer I have spent my time working with our administrative leadership team, meeting with Board members, and getting to know faculty; and I have observed the commitment at all levels to creating an amazing experience for our students.   It is clear to me that at the core of this school’s success is an impressively dedicated, thoughtful and creative group of people who are motivated by serving our students in line with the lofty mission of the school.  With this incredible group of people leading our classrooms, I am confident that we will ably help students set their individual learning goals, nurture their varied interests, integrate them into our vibrantly diverse community, connect them to the larger community beyond our campus, and, most importantly to inspire them to lead full and meaningful lives – to live the lives they imagine! This is why we are here.

To achieve these goals, we need to honor and sustain the curiosity and love of learning of our talented faculty; this is what got them into teaching in the first place and this is what breathes new energy into their classrooms each year.  What better way to model lifelong learning than for our students to know that their teachers are students as well?  To this end, we are renewing and reinvigorating our commitment to professional development in a visible way this year.

Some of this is already well underway.  As most of you know, we asked faculty – and invited you, as well, – to read the book Quiet over the summer as part of widening our understanding of “diversity” to include the consideration of introvert and extrovert tendencies.  Our conversation on this topic will continue throughout the year as we think about the implications of our new awareness for classroom learning and teaching and for working together as a school team.  In addition, over the summer, our academic leadership team surveyed the entire faculty to get a sense of their collective and individual professional development hopes and goals.  We will use this feedback to assist us in developing our year-long professional development activities for faculty.

In the months to come, I look forward to meeting with many of you to learn about your New Roads experience and what your hopes and dreams are for the school.  I have already pledged to meet with all faculty as a way to truly learn about New Roads from the inside out and I hope to meet with as many of the families as I can.  To that end, I invite you to say hello to me if you’re on campus, reach out to me or my assistant Brae Casillas, to set up a time to meet or chat; and, of course, always feel free to drop me a note via email or pick up the phone to call if you want to share a quick thought or piece of feedback.  I look forward to listening and learning this year as I continue my transition to New Roads and work with the team to plan for the amazing road ahead for our impressive school!

Welcome back everyone!

Welcome from Walter Landberg

July 2013

To the New Roads Community,

As you can surely imagine, finishing up a school year is quite a feat in itself, and coupled with packing a house and moving across country, I have been quite busy these past couple of months.  While these times of transition may stress even the most adaptable of us, the thought that I am joining the amazing community at New Roads has more than carried me through!

For those of you who will be new to the school this year, I welcome you, and remind you that I’m right with you – lots of anticipation and excitement, and lots to learn!  For those of you who know New Roads well, you’ll be happy to hear that the school team did a wonderful job of preparing me over the past eight months — from a weekly Skype call with David Bryan, to multiple visits to the campus before my arrival earlier this month, to meet with the board, faculty and staff.  I truly feel that we’ve done everything we can to ensure that this transition will be smooth.

With the hope that you will find some time for relaxing with a good book this summer, I’d like to invite you to join the New Roads faculty and staff in our group read of the book Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.  The book was selected for the way it addresses one of the less-discussed aspects of human personality; and it provides many lessons for teachers and administrators as they work towards supporting a community of learners that is diverse in all ways.  In addition, as I’ve worked through the book I’ve recognized numerous applications for the book’s ideas to my work as a leader, a manager, a colleague, a member of a family and, simply put, as a human being.  This is a great read and, I believe, it will make you think differently about people in your lives; or it may just confirm thinking that you have previously held.  Either way, we will keep you in the loop as we explore the book’s themes and will look forward to discussing them with you.

I look forward to getting to know as many of you as I can in the months and year ahead. As a leader, I pride myself on being accessible to all community members, in being a good listener and in considering all perspectives – this is the way to build the trust (note that “trust” is next year’s school year theme – more on that in the future!) and understanding that provides the foundation for strong and productive relationships.  To this end, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me to say hello, to make an introduction or to share your thoughts in the coming months and in the future.

Have a great summer and I look forward to seeing you soon!