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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DA debate: rags to riches in a decade

Having watched coach Jeff Welty establish the first viable DA debate team just a decade ago, I have been so proud and pleased to see our speech and debate program flourish. And "flourish" is an understatement.

Jeff (who continues as an Assistant Coach) and his successor (Robert Sheard, who has distinguished himself as one of the nation's top debate coaches) have joined with scores of talented and dedicated students to create a speech and debate juggernaut.

The team's performance at the 2014 National Forensic League's National Speech & Debate Tournament was one for the record books. Perhaps most notable, recent graduates Will Ruff and Justin Katz wrapped up their DA debate careers in style with a second-place finish in Public Forum Debate. As a result, the pair clinched the season-…

Posted by in Upper School, Other, Alumni on Wednesday June 25, 2014
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Teaching across the bridge on Ridge Road

Hill Center Math Teacher Sarah Hudspeth has organized a home-grown summer conference for math teachers to share their best teaching practices. Faculty will gather on July 28 and August 13 to trade strategies and continue cementing the professional bonds between DA and the Hill Center.

Topics on tap: technology integration, differentiation, grading, test creation, building conceptual understandings, graphic organizers, math journals, review games and activities, action research and more.

In her collegial invitation, Sarah offers some summer food for thought: “Why do we teach mathematics? Especially in the age of calculators?”

She also shares one person’s answer, in the form of Jordan Ellenberg’s new book How Not to Be Wrong; The Power of Mathematical Thinking.

Posted by in Other on Friday June 20, 2014
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Student U and You

I keep hearing about Student U but I don't know what it is."

I've heard this refrain several times in recent months. Now I have the answer.

On July 9 and 29, Student U invites any and all interested visitors to see the program in action and be amazed by the brilliance of our students. See classes in session, meet teachers, and hear from executive director Dan Kimberg, program directors and students.


The visits will be held from 8:30 AM - 10:00 AM at DA's Upper School campus. Click on one of the following dates to reserve a spot:


Wednesday, July 9th
Tuesday, July 29th


If you can't make one of the Visitors Days, check out Student U's new website and learn about one of Durham's most effective world-changing organizations.

Posted by in Other on Thursday June 19, 2014
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Sheppy's going-away present - to DA

Today on the DA Facebook page, First Grade Teacher/Filmmaker Rosemary Nye and our communications team posted the short story of Sheppy Vann's Ice Cream Social - a beautiful video about a beautiful woman doing beautiful work for the last 30 years. Click here to see the film.

In my column for the summer edition of the DA Record (due in mailboxes in a couple of weeks), I wrote about Sheppy, her trademark traits, and the ways in which she has shown us the path toward an even more caring, nimble, inclusive, and joyful learning community.

For now, let me just say this: those who wish to honor Sheppy can follow her instructions and make a donation to the Sheppy Vann Preschool Scholarship Fund, which aims to make the DA experience accessible to the widest range of children possible. We have raised…

Posted by in Lower School, Other on Wednesday June 18, 2014
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Containing Ebola

June seems to be DA alumni month on my blog. As the summer vacation begins for our current students, their elders are busy doing amazing things in the world. Today's example: Dr. William Fischer, whom I knew as the somewhat mischievious Billy Fischer in my first years of teaching at the Upper School. From UNC Healthcare's website:

UNC’s Dr. William Fischer II has been working in an isolation area in Gueckedou, Guinea since May 28, 2014, as part of team from Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières/MSF) to try to help reduce mortality from Ebola Virus in rural communities. Dr. Fischer was recruited by the World Health Organization (WHO) because of his critical care medicine expertise. With Dr. Fischer’s, permission we are posting his descriptive emails …

Posted by in Other, Alumni on Tuesday June 17, 2014
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When We Were Young and Unafraid

I would love to imagine that I taught Sarah Treem to write in my 10th Grade English class at DA.

The truth: Sarah was so wise and graceful with her prose, even then, that I had little to offer her as a writer.

Now, nearly 20 years later, I couldn't be more proud of her work.

Sarah '98 (who has written for HBO's In Treatment, Netflix's House of Cards, and Showtime's The Affair) was featured last week in a New York Times article about a pair of playwrights. Her play When We Were Young and Unafraid opens tomorrow at City Center in a Manhattan Theater Club production.

Click here to see my earlier post on Sarah. Or here to see the full New York Times preview of her latest play.

Update on Wednesday morning: click here to see the enthusiastic NYT review of opening night.

Posted by in Other, Alumni on Monday June 16, 2014
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Happy Father's Day

DA alumnus Chris Rosati, he of the Krispy Kreme Heist and the BIGG dreams, stars in another tear-jerking, inspiration-generating piece with his buddy Steve Hartman of CBS's On the Road. See it here.

Posted by in Other, Alumni on Sunday June 15, 2014
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Two special women

DA alumna (and current Manager for Teacher Leadership at Teach for America in Dallas) Becki Feinglos recently submitted a touching and personal remembrance of Maya Angelou to her other alma mater, Duke University. An excerpt:

The world lost a beautiful mind last week, and the Duke community lost a piece that was shared with us for so long. I am incredibly privileged to have met and spent time with Dr. Angelou, a woman whose writing will be a part of me for the rest of my life, and created an eternal connection to my mother. May she rest in peace.

Click here to read the full story.
Posted by in Other, Alumni on Tuesday June 10, 2014
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Rolling toward Rio

As the world's soccer stars and fans jet toward Brazil this week, two DA grads are slogging through mud, sand, rocks, and dirt roads to get to the World Cup.

Bold brothers Grant '08 and David Fowler '10 have driven their 1994 Toyota FZJ80 Land Cruiser from Durham, across the continental US, through Mexico and Central America, across the Panama Canal and Colombia and (today) into Peru.

Click here to see my earlier post about Grant and David's excellent adventure, including links to great pictures of their travels so far.

Posted by in Other, Alumni on Monday June 9, 2014
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What's in your cloud?

Upper School English Teacher (and DA alumna) Tina Bessias '78 is diving into a pair of new learning adventures.

First, she'll teach a class next fall on Digital Journalism with our partner program the Global Online Academy.

Second, she'll launch a new business designed to craft individual plans for people aiming to learn . . . anything. Here's Tina's introductory letter to her faculty colleagues. Click on her links to learn more.

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Dear Colleagues,

Next year, I'll be teaching at DA in the mornings and developing a new educational venture in the afternoons. The new venture is Cloud to Ground Learning, and it will provide support for learning that takes place outside academic institutions.

At various junctures in our lives, we all want or need to learn about a wide variety of topics. …

Posted by in Upper School, Other, Alumni on Thursday June 5, 2014
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