October 27, 2020
Dear Students and Other Members of the LREI Community,
As I begin this letter I use a slightly different salutation than my typical “Dear LREI Community.” I do this as I write this letter, first and foremost, to our students. I am sending it directly to the high school students, as I do most of my communications, and to the middle school students, and hope that families will discuss it, as they see fit, with their children. Of course, it will also be shared with faculty/staff, alumni, and trustees.
Below you will find a letter written by a group of leaders of schools in New York City and inspired by a conversation between a much larger group of my colleagues at our peer schools, members of an organization named the Guild of Independent Schools of New York City. Collectively, we chose to direct our letter to our students as it is to you who we have the greatest obligation. I am so grateful for the collegiality and challenge that I find in my work with the other heads of school in New York. We really are quite fortunate to work and learn within this educational environment.
Many of us are concerned about the world for which you are inheriting responsibility, both about the people on it and the literal planet. We are concerned about the tenacious hold of racism and bigotry. We are concerned about the models of leadership that are on display everyday. We include ourselves and our schools, and the experiences we offer, as areas where focus and growth are needed, where more impactful leadership may well be required.
As we would ask of our students, we joined forces, we shared ideas, we talked, we listened, we wrote many drafts, and now we share this common letter with our individual communities, both directly and via our social media outlets.
There is a lot in here. I will make time to meet with LREI’s students in the coming days and weeks in order to discuss these thoughts. There may well be opportunities within this letter for families to examine their points of view, as well.
As always, do not hesitate to be in touch.
Peace and hope,
Rising Above the Rancor:
A Letter to Students at an Historic Moment
Over the last eight months, your world has utterly changed. You are living through a moment in history that may well prove pivotal to the future of our world, our nation, and our city. You are bearing witness to an unprecedented set of interlocking and cascading crises, and many of you are telling us that you have lost trust in some of our leaders–locally, nationally, and globally. There is no getting around it: you are coming of age in an extraordinarily turbulent moment in history.
Yet as educators, we are in the business of developing deeply optimistic futures. Your futures. To be sure, there is difficult work ahead. But nothing truly worthwhile comes easily. As the Nobel Peace Prize winning South African theologian Desmond Tutu said: “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness." Practicing hope allows us to harness the energy of hardships and tragedies and transform them into generative possibilities for the future. Our world needs you to care deeply, engage wholeheartedly, and commit to action fueled with hope in order to build a better future. We want to do all we can to make this happen for you—not after you graduate, but right now.
In a year marked by intense political rancor, we write to you to remind you of a simple truism: hope in the face of adversity spurs collective action. Democracy only works when we all commit ourselves to it. Think about how high those stakes are. Since your education hinges on your ability to trust the adults in school, you deserve to hear from us about a few of the things in which we all believe:
We believe that schools must demonstrate that they are not partisan–not “red” schools or “blue” schools, but rather safe and brave schools where you learn to engage in reasoned, respectful debate, critical thinking, and a free exchange of ideas (even half-formed ideas), without fear of judgment or reproach.
We believe that schools must give you the skills and habits of mind to debate the issues at stake in our city, country, and world, but also to learn that there are clear guardrails and certain issues around which there is no debate. For example, we believe it is important to unequivocally condemn and reject white supremacy and bigotry in all its forms.
We believe that schools must stand for these ideals and model them for you every day. We also believe it is important to unequivocally condemn and reject violence in all forms. You should expect to hear this from leaders.
We believe that schools must create environments built on kindness, equity, honesty, inclusion, and respect for those whose opinions differ from your own.
We believe that schools must promote the act of voting in democratic, free, open elections and the peaceful transfer of power.
We believe that schools must espouse truth, facts, science, and reasoned debate.
We believe that schools must proactively support your hope-fueled activism and create opportunities for you to give voice to your values and practice courage in the face of adversity and wrongdoing.
We believe that schools must be communities that expose you to ideals that you fall in love with so much that you will not only work towards them but also cherish and protect them.
Finally, we believe that our city, our country, and our world will emerge wiser and healthier. We believe this to be true because we believe in you, and in our individual and collective ability to rise above the rancor and, no matter what the outcome of the presidential election, live our lives in a way that is aligned with our values.
Doug Knecht, Interim Head of School
Bank Street School for Children
Rebecca Skinner, Interim Head of School
Crissy Cáceres, Head of School
Brooklyn Friends School
Tim Madigan, Head of School
Robert (Bo) Lauder, Principal
Laurie Gruhn, Head of School
The Gateway School
George P. Davison, Head of School
Grace Church School
Diana Schlesinger, Head of School
Greene Hill School
Tara Christie Kinsey, Head of School
The Hewitt School
Carla Jantos MacMullen, Head of School
The Kew-Forest School
Maria Castelluccio, Head of School
Léman Manhattan Preparatory School
Phil Kassen, Director
Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School
Debbie Zlotowitz, Head of School
Mary McDowell Friends School
Mark W. Lauria, Executive Director
New York State Association of Independent Schools
Leslie Thorne & Albina Miller, Co-Heads of School
The Parkside School
Audrius Barzdukas, Head of School
Poly Prep Country Day School
James Dawson, Head of School
Professional Children's School
Daniel K. Lahart, SJ, President
Regis High School
Chris Ongaro, Head of School
Robert Louis Stevenson School
Danny Karpf, Head of School
Rodeph Sholom School
Evan Moraitis, Interim Head of School
St Bernard's School
Bart Baldwin, Head of School
St. Luke's School
Scott Gaynor, Head of School
Stephen Gaynor School
Douglas Brophy, Head of School
The Town School
Scott R. Reisinger, Head of School
Trevor Day School
Carrie Catapano, Head of School
West End Day School
Ronald P. Stewart, Headmaster
York Preparatory School