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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I am in California this week – soaking up the wisdom of our alumni and the positive peer pressure of our INDEX benchmarking group.

Yesterday I met DA alumnus Grace Stanat at his home in Palo Alto. I first met Grace in 2006, just before he talked with our students as DA’s Distinguished Alumnus. He dazzled me then with the path he had travelled  to Bay Area business success: from DA (where he was a soccer, track, and math star) to Pomona College (where he was Valedictorian) to Oxford (on a Marshall Scholarship). After earning Masters degrees in computer science and fine art, spending some time as a professional musician, and launching and leading a trailblazing San Francisco web design firm, Grace and his wife took a round-the-world sabbatical -- and chronicled it on their blog www.thirteenmonths.com.

Now Grace is the parent of two beautiful children (Exie and Keo), the driver of an electric car (Tesla’s Model S), half of a two-man angel investing team (his partner was among the first employees at Amazon, then at Facebook), and one of the most perceptive, present, and thoughtful people I know.

Grace had arranged a tour of the “d.school,” the Institute of Design at Stanford with two of his friends, both named Scott. Their bios (here and here) confirm that the Scotts are distinct – and distinctly fascinating to talk to.

Though tempted to turn this already-long blog post into an epic poem, I will say only that the d school catalyzed all kinds of thinking for me about the potential effects (spatial and cultural) of our strategic plan.

I realize this sounds vague. Watching this one-minute video about the Scotts will give an introduction to their ideas and the ways in which our Upper School Learning Commons is one step in what might be a very exciting journey for DA.
For those interested in learning more, check out
their book (MAKE SPACE), lauded accurately below (I’ll be happy to loan my copy to anyone who wants to read it).

"If you are determined to encourage creativity and provide a collaborative environment that will bring out the best in people, you will want this book by your side at all times." --Bill Moggridge, Director of the Smithsonian's Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum

Grace and I then had lunch with Tom Beischer, DA class of 1987 and uncle of current Cavaliers Will, Nick, and Davis. Tom currently teaches architectural history and theory at Stanford, his other alma mater. He also has an MA in art history from Williams College and a PhD in history, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture from MIT.

After working hard to keep up with these two brainiacs at lunch (in fact they spent nearly two hours reminiscing about DA teachers and classmates), I was treated to a panoramic tour of the Stanford campus – from Tom the architectural historian on the observation deck of Hoover Tower. What a treat!

Dinner followed – with another dozen DA alumni who graduated between 1983 and 2009. Again I was bowled over by the power of their intellects, the fondness they expressed for their teachers, and the variety of their paths from DA (my table-mates included an ex-Navy Seal-turned-Harvard-Business-School-grad, an event planner for Google, a mechanical engineering PhD student at Stanford and the creator of the Kanye Zone browser game). The conversation was delightful.

Today I start the annual Heads and Business Managers meeting for our Independent School Data Exchange (INDEX) cohort, 50 large K-12 schools who agree to share all kinds of information (from AP Calculus scores to faculty salaries to annual fund comparisons to physical plant costs). Our cohort includes some far-flung and famous schools (Sidwell Friends, Chicago Latin, Princeton Day, Westminster) and some familiar faces (Charlotte Country Day, Charlotte Latin, and Ravenscroft).

INDEX makes me think of the etymological roots of the word “competition.”

In Latin, com- means “together” and –petere means “to strive, seek, rush, or attack.” Thus, true competition is not "battling against" but rather “striving with” -- each of our schools learning from the other and striving to become the best we can – individually and as a group.

The metaphor applies just as nicely for those DA alumni and all our current students. Here’s to the pleasant pressure of being surrounded by striving humans! 

Posted by mulkus on Wednesday October, 15, 2014

1 Comment:

I can feel your excitement from Durham. You have connected with a great team to lead our school in reshaping our brick and mortar. The lives we have touched at DA and the lives in turn being touched humble me. A fellow traveler when we were in Uganda said, " I have a small part in this world, but if I play it well, I can have a huge impact." Let's rethink  our learning spaces!
from Karl Schaefer on 10/16/14 at 11:02AM

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