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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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.



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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Why do this?

Along with DA’s Associate Head of School Lee Hark, I recently completed teaching a first semester seminar for Upper Schoolers called “The Mission-Driven Life.” Though spring is on the horizon and the days growing longer, I have felt a distinct emptiness in recent weeks. The reasons are simple: I miss our students. I miss our conversations.

Durham Academy’s mission compels us to prepare young people for “moral, happy, productive lives.” For a number of intertwined reasons (see below), Lee and I decided last year to design and teach a course exploring the contributing factors, competing theories and necessary interdependence of morality, happiness and productivity.

Why do this?

  • We wanted to experiment with and model the kind of collaborative …
Posted by mulkus on Sunday January 29
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Remembering the wise and generous Dr. Brodie

Dear Durham Academy Community,

Today we were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr. H. Keith H. Brodie, whose wise, compassionate, generous service to Duke University and Durham Academy helped form and elevate both institutions.  

A memorial service will be held at Duke Chapel at 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5.

Brodie, a professor emeritus of psychiatry, served as Duke’s seventh president, succeeding Terry Sanford. “Keith Brodie’s term as president of Duke from 1985 to 1993 saw the beginning of Duke’s rise to national recognition and reputation,” President Richard Brodhead said in a message to the Duke community today. “The initiatives Keith championed became signature qualities of Duke and remain part of our university’s values today, …

Posted by mulkus on Friday December 2, 2016 at 09:38PM
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Using our electricity for private and public good

Life in a school community that celebrates all facets of diversity (including the fullest range of political opinion) can be challenging. Today we found ourselves in a swirl of emotions and a poignant teachable moment.  

Whether students felt joy and celebration or fear and frustration, our goal today was the same as always: to create safe spaces for all our students to learn from adults and peers and grow into their fullest selves.

This election, despite the divisiveness and negativity of its rhetoric, does not shake our bedrock commitment to interpersonal respect. The final paragraph of our Statement of Philosophy provides useful guidance:

Durham Academy believes that enhancing the spirit of community among faculty, students and parents is essential to the …

Posted by mulkus on Wednesday November 9, 2016
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