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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Exit Interviews 2016

In 51 days (God willing and the creek don’t rise), I will hand signed high school diplomas to one hundred Durham Academy Seniors. Above are the faces of the last dozen members (alphabetically) of the class of 2016 – the last to move the tassels on their graduation caps and the last to leap magically from adolescence to adulthood.

The transition isn’t quite so distinct and dazzling, of course. But graduation is big. And our Seniors are wise – most certainly about the nuances of the student experience at DA.

For this reason, I sit down for fifteen minutes with each member of the graduating class. These hundred “Exit Interviews” give Seniors a chance to share their most candid impressions of their time at Durham Academy. The following questions (shared …

Posted by mulkus on Thursday April 7, 2016 at 02:11PM
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Luca's Crossing

It has been nearly thirty months since the passing of 21 year-old Luca Harrell, Durham Academy alumnus '10 and the son of longtime DA teachers Daniela (now in our Middle School) and Steve (now at St. David's in Raleigh).

While time moves forward, Luca’s family – like many of his teachers and friends - grieves him every day.

As you can see in Luca’s obituary, he was deeply touched by the child development centers and self-sustainable development projects he visited in Kenya with his family during the summer of 2012. In lieu of flowers at Luca’s funeral, his family invited donations to Africa Exchange and its programs in the Masai Mara.

Yesterday Daniela shared with me a remarkable blog post – written by her sister-in-law Melody and dedicated to the memory of…

Posted by mulkus on Tuesday March 29, 2016 at 08:44PM
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A new mirror for DA

This year we tested a new tool to help us understand and improve Durham Academy. 

Along with fifteen schools in our INDEX benchmarking group (DA is listed under Large Schools), we measured parent satisfaction using the Net Promoter 2.0 model developed by Bain Consulting. Though no survey instrument is perfect, the Net Promoter model offered a widely-used, succinct and clear questionnaire, allowing us to generate focused input, a high response rate and apples-to-apples comparisons with peer schools. The responses were anonymous, the questions simple:

  • In which division(s) do you have children (PS, LS, MS, US)?
  • How likely is it that you would recommend Durham Academy to a friend or family member? (choices ranged from 1-not at all likely to 10-extremely likely)
  • Why did you give …
Posted by mulkus on Monday January 11, 2016
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My New Year's Role Model

With 2016 now just hours away, I have narrowed my list of potential new year’s resolutions to one: be more loving, patient, and generous – starting with my family relationships. My role model for this project: my friend Chris Rosati.

If you don’t know Chris already, he’s the Durham Academy alumnus whose creativity, resilience and love have stirred a hurricane of kindness across the country. Think this sounds hyperbolic? Watch Chris’s five appearances on CBS News “On The Road” with Steve Hartman. 

Chris was not a model student at Durham Academy. His teachers remember him as an earnest person, a …

Posted by mulkus on Thursday December 31, 2015
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Who's got next?

This week, amidst significant curiosity and excitement on campus, we hosted the first pair of finalist candidates for our Upper School Director position (to be vacated by Lee Hark on July 1 as he moves into a fuller-time assignment as DA’s Associate Head of School). Click here to read about Lee’s new role and see our US Director opportunity statement.

In January we’ll host four more finalists – among them DA’s Assistant US Director and Registrar Verle Regnerus and US Dean of Students Lanis Wilson. With more than 100 applicants for the position, these two beloved DA community members have shown courage in entering the race and capacity in challenging semifinalist interviews.

The finalist interviews are as grueling as they are revealing. Over two days, the …

Posted by mulkus on Sunday December 13, 2015
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We believe in laughter.

“We believe in laughter,” I said this morning to a few dozen prospective Durham Academy. parents. They came for our Upper School Tour and Information Session – invited by our able admissions team and eager to dive beneath the surface of our website, viewbook, reputation, and admissions statistics.

Some parents seemed surprised when I mentioned that laughter and its pals (joy, whimsy, happiness and surprise) are at the core of our mission and program. I do not exaggerate, for DA’s mission compels us to equip students for “moral, happy, productive” lives. While morality and productivity rarely surprise visitors to our campus, they are often struck by the smiles per hour and lighthearted rapport they witness here.

The positive psychology movement has …

Posted by mulkus on Tuesday December 1, 2015
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Take normalcy . . . please!

Last week I found myself thinking a lot about neurotypicality and the ways in which the DA community can celebrate and/or denigrate behaviors that fall outside the norm.

On our good days, we do excellent work in this realm. As I wrote in our “welcome to DA” web page:

Students here can be their most unique and best selves. We like "weird." We expect students to chase passions in many directions. In the words of one senior during his exit interview: "DA does a great job of supporting the ventures of students. Even if you fall on your face doing something, you still feel supported doing it." 

Twice on Thursday, I felt deep pride about this strength of DA.

In the morning, Senior Eliza Granger orchestrated a beautifully moving Upper School assembly about autism …

Posted by mulkus on Sunday October 25, 2015
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Bennett's Big Day


I lost my job on Friday morning.

Luckily I was able to take it back on Friday afternoon -- from 3rd Grader Bennett Harris, whose parents won the “Head of School for a Day” item at last spring’s DA Benefit Auction.

Though tempted to have Bennett renegotiate our employee dental insurance rates or let him field complaints from angry Upper School parents, I opted for a more gentle plan for Bennett’s big day. 

We began with Morning Meeting, where classmates made policy recommendations for Bennett to consider (“We should have only PE, recess, and science every day! . . .“There should be ice cream for everyone on Mondays and pizza on Fridays.” etc.).  As we walked through the hallway, a faculty member requested a salary increase. Showing…

Posted by mulkus on Sunday October 11, 2015
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Learning from wise aliens

In Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, protagonist Billy Pilgrim comes “unstuck in time.”

I look forward to coming unstuck a bit myself this week, as we dip into our past and welcome DA alumni and retired teachers back to campus.

On Thursday, Tim McKenna, Lee Hark and I will host a “Legends Lunch” for faculty and staff who retired after fifteen or more years of service to DA. A few dozen legendary life-changers (including Dave Gould, Harriet King, Bobbie Hardaker, Liz Jasinski, Beth Cornwall and Dick Forringer) will tour our new gym and Learning Commons, hear about our 2015 Strategic Plan and reconnect with old friends.

On Friday, we’ll welcome a few hundred alumni for a barbecue/reunion in the midst of our whole-school Homecoming festivities and …

Posted by mulkus on Monday September 28, 2015 at 09:30AM
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De Tocqueville, Crossfit, and the Purpose of Clubbing at DA

 “There is only one country on the face of the earth where the citizens enjoy unlimited freedom of association for political purposes. This same country is the only one in the world where the continual exercise of the right of association has been introduced into civil life and where all the advantages which civilization can confer are procured by means of it.”

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1831.

On Thursday our Upper Schoolers spilled from Kenan Auditorium into the quad, where student leaders of 75 extracurricular clubs competed for attention and new recruits. 

From Acapocalypse to Habitat, from the Crossfit club to Girls Who Code, from the Quidditch Club to the Crop Walk, our students chose from a dazzling array of associations. Click here to see …

Posted by mulkus on Sunday September 13, 2015
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