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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Brown v. Board through the eyes of a DA alumna

Yesterday afternoon, at the end of a long and tiring week, the following email popped into my inbox. It brought tears to my eyes and all kinds of ideas to my mind for helping our students, teachers, and parents know more about the giants on whose shoulders we currently stand. The email's author and I will have lunch in June. I can't wait. 

Dear Mr. Ulku-Steiner:

I am writing you today as a proud alum of DA, who has been inspired to contact you by an important historic milestone. Tomorrow, May 17, marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark United States Supreme Court case, Brown v. the Board of Education. The decision rendered in this case changed history, most notably, by shifting the plates of American public policy on the matter of segregation and access to quality …

Posted by mbutts in Alumni on Saturday May 17, 2014
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Read, kids, read

English Department Chair Jordan Adair and Lower School Librarian Michelle Rosen shared this compelling editorial from Frank Bruni (a Morehead-Cain Scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill) of The New York Times

In an upcoming post, I'll share the books nominated by Durham Academy teachers for our annual "Summer Read." What are you and your family reading this summer? Click "add comment" to make your recommendations. 

An excerpt from Bruni's piece: 

I know, I know: This sounds like a fogy’s crotchety lament. Or, worse, like self-interest. Professional writers arguing for vigorous reading are dinosaurs begging for a last breath. We’re panhandlers with a better vocabulary.
But I’m coming at this differently, as someone persuaded that reading does …

Posted by mbutts in Other on Thursday May 15, 2014
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Tag: Reading
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The thrill of victory

Among the most gratifying parts of my job: fielding gracious messages like this one from "a moved parent" (Dr. Lance Martin, father of 1st Grader Wolf Martin): 

Being a parent has many, many moments. Like going to (fill in the blank) tournaments and ever more anxiously waiting through (fill in the blank) matches, knowing as their investment in their activity grows so does your love and worry for them.

Wolf and his team did well at their national chess tournament, not at the top but well enough to earn trophies for team (11th) and for individual performance (22nd) - this group's and Wolf's best national performance yet.

But none of that matters as much as what's in the photo above (taken by fellow chess parent Frank Strohlein).

It seems likely we'll be doing this all over again.

Posted by mbutts in Lower School on Tuesday May 13, 2014
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Tag: Chess
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As our Seniors prepare to say goodbye to (at least this chapter of) their Durham Academy lives, my wife shared with me an excerpt from Rob Lowe's memoir Love Life. Shame on me for being surprised that this actor could write with such emotional depth and grace.

Parents of the class of 2014: please read this. The rest of us have a little more time to prepare ourselves.

Posted by mbutts in Other on Saturday May 10, 2014
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This week's 'hashtaggy experiment' in gratitude

DA's culture of gratitude is remarkably robust. 

Our Spring Alumni Reception (honoring Kimberly Ionescu, Sheppy Vann, and Chris Rosati) was overflowing with gratitude to the school. (Click here to see clips of their remarks)

Our Upper and Middle School students surprised their Middle and Lower School teachers with testimonials of thanks in the fall. (Click here to see some fruit of Gib Fitzpatrick's initiative)

Our 5th Graders routinely post "Notes of Appreciation" to their peers and teachers in their common entry hall. Click here to see a few of these "grace notes." 

And this week, our communications team tried a "hashtaggy experiment," inviting students to offer shout-outs during Teacher Appreciation Week. Click here to see a few of the results. 

Thank you for…

Posted by mbutts in Lower School, Middle School, Upper School, Alumni on Saturday May 10, 2014
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Where there is a will, there is a way

I am glad to be learning this morning at Durham Tech with DA parents Pilar Rocha (Executive Director of El Centro Hispano) and Diane Lanevi (Founder of the Tomorrow Fund) at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) National Policy Forum on College Access.

Here are two nuggets of inspiration from the opening panel of teenage students who have overcome their undocumented status to succeed in community college:

"The Declaration of Independence asserts that all men are created equal and that we all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. My family came to this country when I was two to live the American Dream and I am living that dream. . . More than anything else, I have learned that where there is a will there is…

Posted by mbutts in Other on Friday May 9, 2014
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Ready to launch

On May 18 in the Carolina Theater, probably through tears of joy, I will be watching more than 40 members of Student U's pioneer class as they declare their college plans to the world. 

This day was envisioned when the students were 5th Graders - applying to a fledgling college-access program hosted on the Durham Academy campus. After seven years of hard work, supported by legions of Durhamites united by Student U, these students are ready to launch. 

Click here to see more about Student U's College Signing Day and Alumni Weekend.

As part of our College Signing Day weekend, Student U will be hosting its first conference on the DA campus: Getting to 100%: Making College Success a Reality for all Students. Participants will:

  • hear from City Councilman Steve Schewel and …

Posted by mbutts in Other on Thursday May 8, 2014
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Tag: Student U
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The Human Touch in Education

Yesterday, History Teacher Tim Dahlgren sent the following to his colleagues in the Middle School - a well-timed booster shot of wisdom amidst an uber-busy month that can sometimes distract us from what matters most in our work. 

The words come from George Lucas, whose educational foundation "is dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process through innovative, replicable, and evidence-based strategies that prepare students to thrive in their studies, careers, and adult lives." (www.edutopia.org/mission-vision). 

As all his current and past students know, however, the thoughts below could have been written by Tim himself. They are purely and memorably Dahlgrenesque. 

When you really think back about your best teachers, they were the ones who connected with you. They …

Posted by mbutts in Middle School on Wednesday May 7, 2014
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Teacher of the Year!

Middle School Science Teacher Barb Kanoy has been selected by the Durham Soil and Water Conservation District the 2014 Middle School Environmental Education Teacher of the Year. She will be presented her award at the May 15th Education Awards Ceremony at the new Durham County Health and Human Services Complex on Main St. Click here to see more about the work of the SWCD.

Barb's students have long been drawn to her passion for environmental conservation. Nearly every year, she sees opportunities to incorporate real-life, hands-on campus improvement projects into her curriculum. 

This summer, the Academy Road campus will see a major landscaping renovation - most of it focused on storm water management and much of it researched and planned by Barb Kanoy and her students. …

Posted by mbutts in Middle School on Tuesday May 6, 2014
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"To engage with things"

Last Tuesday, as a goodbye present to our Seniors, Upper School Director and Assistant Head of School Lee "Cooler than ice, hotter than a sweater" Hark organized a three-man Lip Sync Battle. Click here to see the results.

This afternoon, during one of my exit interviews with a Senior, I heard the following in response to my question, "Anything else I ought to know that might help me help students in the future?"

"One thing I've learned at DA, and it sounds kind of trite but it's really true, is this. If you don’t buy into something, you won’t get anything out of it. It’s ok to care about things. To engage with things. To make a fool of yourself and risk being really bad at something. Being passionate and being able to be vulnerable is the only path to being truly great.…
Posted by in Upper School on Monday May 5, 2014
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Tag: Lee Hark

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