Heads Up

Welcome to Heads Up, a blogging experiment that aims to: 

  • connect the people, parts, and principles of Durham Academy;
  • share ideas about learning and human development;
  • spotlight a few of the many wondrous things I get to see every day at Durham Academy. 

Thanks for reading the posts below — and sending news, links and ideas worth sharing. 

Michael Ulku-SteinerHead of School 

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Wishing you the best

First-graders and their families gathered just before the holiday break to light candles and make wishes for peace, love and health, with the final wish being “may all good wishes come true!” Thanks to Kathy McPherson for the photo and reporting.

As I prepare for a midwinter break from blogging, I wish for good health, safe travels, and happy re-creation for everyone. See you in 2014!

Posted by in Lower School on Friday December 20, 2013
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Keeping our promises

Judith Ohikuare’s poignant article in yesterday’s edition of The Atlantic will resonate deeply with my DA faculty colleagues.

We began our school year with a screening and discussion of American Promise, the documentary film on which Ohikuare’s article is based.

American Promise follows two African-American boys over twelve years of their experience at New York’s Dalton school. As Ohikuare puts it, “Dalton is a prestigious, decades-old, K-12 prep school on New York City’s Upper East Side that filters its students into the best universities in the country.”

At DA, we hosted the filmmakers of American Promise (who also happen to be the parents of one of the film’s protagonists) for a series of meetings and Q&A sessions with teachers, staff …

Posted by in Other on Wednesday December 18, 2013
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Seeking magnificent colleagues

Over the past several weeks, I have talked in person and via phone and Skype with a dozen semifinalist candidates for our Director of Communications and Preschool Director positions. In January and February we’ll welcome the finalists for full days of interviews, tours, and meetings.

For these and other faculty searches (all to be posted on DA’s employment webpage), it is a happy challenge to identify truly extraordinary candidates and discern the best matches for our community.

At my former school, I drafted a “Magnificent Seven” for faculty hiring – a bundle of characteristics I hope to identify in the paperwork, conversations, and references of our candidates. In the interest of transparency (and because I’d love to know what you think is misguided or …

Posted by in Other on Tuesday December 17, 2013
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Exemplary exams

The Learning Commons will be buzzing with productivity this week.

As our 7th – 12th Graders prepare for their semester exams, I am struck by the value of cumulative assessments (which force students to consider connective strands and transcendent themes from several months worth of material) and group study (in which students lean on each other for expertise, motivation, and study strategies).

Our teachers design exams that take advantage of both these dynamics – doing all they can to measure not just regurgitational capacity (the ability to vomit data consumed earlier) but rather critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, and (that most valuable of skills these days) the capacity to find meaningful patterns in a flurry of facts.

Among the bloggers I follow is Will …

Posted by in Middle School, Upper School on Sunday December 15, 2013
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Leadership, spoken and sung

Sometimes our students lead us to the deepest places.

Today at the Upper School morning meeting (and later, by popular request, at the Middle School community meeting), Seniors Kelly Moore and Maritzelena Chirinos paid their respects to Nelson Mandela. Kelly's spoken word poem layered over Ritzi's song left both audiences wide-eyed, wet-eyed, and inspired.

Click here to see an iPad-captured video of their moment on the Kenan Auditorium stage.

Both Ritzi and Kelly, along with a few of their Upper School peers and five DA faculty members, were similarly inspired by their trip to DC last week for the NAIS Student Diversity Leadership Conference. To see a few student and teacher reflections from that experience, click to their blog.

Posted by in Upper School on Friday December 13, 2013
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The Fab Four of the Academy Road campus

This morning the Middle School cut a ribbon and gave a standing ovation to “the guys.”

We gathered in Taylor Hall to celebrate the opening of our new maintenance building and express our gratitude to the foursome of talented and generous men who are rarely inside it (they’re too busy taking care of our sprawling campus).

Gary Brichford, Rob Walker, Scott Stancil, and Steve Suggs accepted a golden “key” along with the grateful applause of our Middle School students and faculty.

MS Director Jon Meredith urged students to learn from the attitude of our maintenance workers, who seem always to be asking, “What else can I do to help?”

Indeed, DA is lucky to have such an excellent team of role models keeping our campus safe, orderly, and working smoothly.…

Posted by in Middle School on Tuesday December 10, 2013
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"I am living my dream right now"

DA parent Ginger Young, Founder and Director of Book Harvest, writes the following:

I am living my dream, right now.

At our office, six students are sorting donated books, their work punctuated by laughter. A woman just dropped off books her five-year-old proudly collected from his friends at his birthday party. And soon I will deliver books to our volunteer who stocks our shelf at an Early Head Start program, where the toddlers will snuggle into her lap for a preview of the board books they just selected to take home and keep for their very own.

This truly is the stuff of my dreams, dreams that I scarcely dared to share three years ago when Book Harvest was just an idea. Now, 160,000 books and many, many kids later, it is real – and it is thriving.

DA has been involved in …

Posted by in Other on Monday December 9, 2013
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Oh what a night!

From the class of 1999 – Matt Crawford. Matt was a four-time all-conference soccer player, a three-time all-region player, and twice an all-state player for Durham Academy. He led two Cavalier teams to NCISAA state soccer championships. Matt played soccer for four years at UNC where he won an NCAA championship, and later played several years of professional soccer. Matt graduated from medical school at UCSF and is currently an orthopedic surgery resident at Duke University.

Dennis Cullen. Coach Cullen has been the varsity track and cross country coach at Durham Academy since 1976, and is one of the most respected and accomplished high school track & cross country coaches in North Carolina. Under Coach Cullen, Durham Academy has won 39 NCISAA state championships in boys and girls…

Posted by in Other, Alumni on Sunday December 8, 2013
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Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You

Despite the temptation to focus only on our students and our school, most Durham Academy teachers find public purpose in our private school work.

This purpose manifests in political activity (see yesterday’s post about Dennis Cullen) and all kinds of school-based partnerships (Student U, The Hill Center, Durham Nativity School, The Augustine Project, SOCK camp, SEEDS, Durham County Special Olympics, and dozens of community projects).

Today I read a compelling editorial from John Chubb. An excerpt:

In this, the very week that the nation remembered President Kennedy, I met with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. The secretary was joined by Deputy Secretary Jim Shelton, whom I had worked with in the private sector a decade ago. As the meeting began, Jim asked, "What can we do for you…
Posted by in Other on Friday December 6, 2013
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An Active Teacher/Coach/Activist

The graph above appeared with this article in the Raleigh News and Observer last week. Always eager to find real-world applications for his students, Math Department Chair Dennis Cullen turned the chart into a PreCalculus problem.

He then summarized the results in the following letter to the editor, which was printed in yesterday's N&O:

According to the chart in Mr. Frank’s article, (“GOP split on teacher raises”, Thursday, November 28) the average teacher salary in North Carolina rose from $41,496 in the year 2000 to $45,947 in 2011.

During that same time period, the nation’s consumer price index rose from 172.2 to 224.9. If the average teacher salary in North Carolina had merely kept up with inflation between 2000 and 2011, it would have been $54,195.

In …
Posted by in Other on Thursday December 5, 2013
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