The clothes dryer in the campus residence enjoys breaking out in song when its work is finished. I was reminded of this endearing design feature on Sunday as I scrambled to finish a load of laundry ahead of travel to Los Angeles. MICDS is a member of a consortium of large independent schools called INDEX through which we share data for benchmarking purposes, to understand how we compare with our peers around the country across a range of metrics. Every year, heads and business officers at INDEX schools gather to learn about trends in independent school management, to share ideas and best practices, and to plan ahead. And this year I was running late.
As has become typical of such meetings over the last decade, our conversations at this week’s INDEX conference, which I attended with Beth Miller, our exceptional Chief Financial Officer at MICDS, focused on the ever more complex balancing act of leading independent schools – the challenge, for example, of limiting tuition increases while at the same time delivering national-class learning experiences to our students and compensating our teachers and staff fairly, as well as the challenge of providing a rigorous college-preparatory education without elevating rates of stress and anxiety among students and teachers alike.
The same week that began with such sobering discussions at our INDEX meetings in Los Angeles concluded with discussions at our MICDS Board of Visitors meetings back in St. Louis that were somewhat sobering in their own right. The Board of Visitors was established by the Board of Trustees in 1998 with the broad mandate “to further the Mission and promote the general welfare of MICDS.” Its membership is comprised of alumni who graduated as long ago as 1962 and as recently as 2008 and who, for the most part, live outside of St. Louis. Our focus this year was on the value proposition of the JK-12 independent school model, and our discussions inevitably ranged to some of the aforementioned challenges facing our work at MICDS.
But every human endeavor entails challenges, and while I am committed to helping to lead MICDS through those that we confront here, I am equally committed to ensuring that they do not preoccupy or define us. As much as I recall my interactions this week with my INDEX colleagues and our Board of Visitors for their seriousness, I remember them even more for their warmth and levity. And – to conclude where I began – as much as I recall being rushed to launder my clothes before my trip to California, I remember the digital ditty my dryer sang to me in that anxious moment, announcing the fresh start that every clean load of laundry promises.
Earlier this year, I shared with you a poem by Richard Wilbur called “The Writer.” I will share with you another one today: “Love Calls Us to the Things of This World.” At every dawn, Wilbur writes, with our unfinished business always before us, “The soul shrinks / From all that it is about to remember… / And cries, / ‘Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry, / Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam / And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.’”
Fresh starts are ever at hand. Richard Wilbur saw them in bright linens strung along clotheslines in Italy. I see them every day at MICDS – in the smiles of the roller-skating junior kindergarten students in the South Gym on Wednesday, in the conversation I had with an Upper School student this morning walking to school, in the faces of the students who called and waved to me by the creek behind the campus residence an hour or two later. What an evergreen school community can be ours every day.
Always reason, always compassion, always courage. Have a great weekend.
Head of School