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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Citizenship, unmediated

For reasons that stretch back to the 1905 arrival of my immigrant grandparents in Pennsylvania to the peaceful, prosperous present in which I’ve been lucky to live and raise my children, I feel immense gratitude to be an American.

It’s easy to overlook the privilege of U.S. citizenship. However, thanks in large part to Anne McNamara, who taught AP U.S. History for many years and now serves as the Upper School’s director of community service, American citizenship will soon be squarely in front of our school.

The Upper School focuses on citizenship every November. In presidential election years, we concentrate on the privilege, responsibility and opportunity of voting. Every year, we mark Veterans Day by teaching American history through first-person accounts from those …

Posted by mulkus on Monday November 6 at 10:48PM
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Setting the bars

While the massive steel beams of our new Upper School STEM + Humanities Center are the most conspicuous things on campus these days, I’m grateful that our students, alumni and parents never forget what really makes DA strong.

Teachers remain the beating heart of our school and the #1 priority in each of our last several strategic plans. As we put it in Goal 1 of the most recent Plan:

We will strive to create a faculty full of “life-changers”: genuine, curious, passionate, striving, generous and accountable teachers/learners who nurture, inspire, engage and challenge students and model the path to moral, happy, productive lives.

A key part of that work: clarifying our Standards of Professional Excellence for faculty and harmonizing the teacher evaluation rubrics across …

Posted by mulkus on Sunday October 29 at 07:26PM
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Newcomers and welcomers

This morning my colleagues in the Preschool and Lower School hosted an Open House for families considering applications to Durham Academy. Similar events – in all divisions - will follow in the coming weeks.

Seeing crowds of curious, hesitant strangers on our sidewalks reminds me just how formidable a challenge it can be to join a new school community. Whether parents, kindergartners or teenagers, we all faced the same daunting questions on arrival: Is this place right for me? Can I be myself here? Might I find an even better self here?  

What follows are remarks delivered recently to our Upper School students and faculty by a DA 10th grader. A little more than a year ago, she was one of those curious, hesitant strangers.

As you read her thoughts, I hope you’ll think …

Posted by mulkus on Tuesday October 17
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All of this is all of us

Last Monday morning, as we launched our week of preparatory faculty and staff meetings, I began my presentation with the comments below.

Now, two days after demonstrations in Durham and on the eve of our student orientations, those comments seem even more relevant.

Here’s to all the idealistic, uncomfortable, consequential work we will do together this year!  

We have lots to accomplish this morning, but before we dive into it, I want to say a word about this weekend’s events in Charlottesville. What happened there was sickening, horrifying and tragic. The shock of domestic terrorism, the specter of the KKK and white supremacy, the presence of neo-nazis – it all seems so foreign to this community, so alien to our work in this school.

I am glad that we are back …

Posted by mulkus on Sunday August 20
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More summer reading, along with Chris Villani's “little things, big things, and stuff”

Last month I shared the list of books our faculty will read and discuss over the summer.

This month it’s time for the Upper School students, who are likely feeling the pressure of their looming deadlines (along, of course, with the anticipated joy of getting up early and seeing their teachers every day).

In July I also shared the advice offered by Kathy Cleaver (Co-Director of College Counseling) to the Class of 2017 as they prepared to launch toward colleges, universities and beyond.

This month I’ll share the words of that Senior Dinner’s other speaker, Chris Villani ’17. Chris is packing now for his move to Princeton University. I trust he’ll include a few whimsical items in his suitcase. Enjoy his remarks – and these last days of summer freedom…

Posted by mulkus on Tuesday August 8
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Summer reading and Mrs. Cleaver's Three C's

I love July.

While our campuses are still brimming with DA’s Summer Programs, Student U’s Summer Academy, and the construction of our STEM+Humanities Center, many of my hours have shifted away from meetings and emails and toward family adventures and luxurious learning. What bliss to be swimming in books, articles, podcasts . . . and pools too!

Along with my colleagues, I am reading a few of the following books this summer – nominated by faculty and selected to correspond with the goals of our Strategic Plan.

I’m also re-reading some of the great work of our own people. Below is one example: the remarks shared by Kathy Cleaver (Co-Director of College Counseling) to the parents and students of the class of 2017. Delivered at our annual Senior Dinner, Kathy&…

Posted by mulkus on Friday July 7 at 02:15PM
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Ties, Trust and Targeting What Matters

Brace yourself, as this long post represents either me making a mountain out of a molehill or us (faculty and administration) caring deeply about even minor matters in our community. You can decide . . . and feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

After years of discussion, deliberation and debate, we are simplifying the faculty dress code at Durham Academy – removing from our male faculty the obligation of wearing a necktie to school every day.

Why?

Practicality

Although classroom teaching has roots as a static “stand and deliver” profession, DA teachers are expected to be (and enjoy being!) active, mobile and amongst their students. Sitting on the floor and supervising recess outside are daily activities for Pre and Lower School teachers. Faculty …

Posted by mulkus on Wednesday June 21 at 05:57PM
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A report card on this year's three strategic portraits

As in schools across the nation, May at Durham Academy is chock full of final exams, culminating performances and closing ceremonies. In the same spirit, I’d like to share year-end updates on the three most significant schoolwide projects that DA tackled this year.

In a September blog post, I previewed each of these initiatives: 

  • A portrait of our future campuses
  • A portrait of our community
  • A portrait of the DA Graduate

In the summer edition of the Durham Academy magazine, we’ll share more detailed updates about each of these projects. Here and now: a brief overview of the ways we’ve pursued three key goals of our Strategic Plan and clarified our vision of DA in 2020 and beyond.

Portrait of our Campuses

In February I emailed the community about our …

Posted by mulkus on Monday May 22
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Go west, old man.


A few weeks ago I traveled with DA’s Alumni Relations Director Tim McKenna to Oakland and San Francisco for two full days of reconnecting with Bay Area Cavaliers. The trip was varied, delightful and – I hope, but you can be the judge – worth recounting.

After dropping our bags at our hotel near Fisherman’s Wharf (where the selfie sticks are as numerous as the aggressive gulls), we headed to Oakland for an afternoon with Steve Snider ’88, Jonathan Crawford ’10 and Christopher Crawford ’12.

Steve is the Executive Director of the Downtown Oakland Association, a not-for-profit organization funded by local property owners. He and his team work to attract new businesses, residents and visitors to a 55-block area – helping the neighborhoods …

Posted by mulkus on Monday March 20
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Our new Science and Humanities Center and a bold master plan

The last time Durham Academy dreamed this big was more than 20 years ago. Then, as now, we were responding to high demand that was causing admissions constraints: the school was at capacity, we weren’t able to serve as many deserving families as we wanted to, we were starting to lose the ability to keep families together, and we were being forced to balance those priorities with a long-standing commitment to increasing diversity.

DA’s then-Headmaster Don North identified enrollment management as the school’s No. 1 challenge. After grappling with the issue for a year and a half, Don and our Board of Trustees decided DA would grow rather than turn away qualified, deserving students, siblings, alumni children or students who enriched our community. The growth would not …

Posted by mulkus on Wednesday February 22 at 08:48AM
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