My lunch today: First, some 5th grade girls asked if could supervise indoor recess to play volleyball. We ended up with 18 students quickly organizing to set up nets, make teams, and get a wonderfully co-operative game going in which they cheered each other, gave multiple tries for servers, laughed, danced, and insisted that I play too. As they willingly put the equipment away at the end, the grade 7/8 boys asked me for an emergency meeting. Crowded into my “Cloudforest” office, they proposed with remarkably straight faces that we organize a multi-block Nerf gun battle. “Teachers could patrol in cars to make sure it’s safe, we’d get exercise, and we could bring our own guns so it wouldn’t cost anything,” they reasoned. When I asked, “Just which part of that idea do you think our Friends School could say ‘Yes’ to?”, they laughed and promised to come back with a more reasonable proposal.

I’m still laughing as I write this, and also happy about how it speaks to our Quaker values and progressive education approach. Our students are self-organizing, creative, they support each other, believe that they can approach their head of school, and know that they will be heard and respected even if I don’t agree with them.

This lunchtime experience ties into the piece I had already started writing for today, involving Vision and the community surveys. One parent shared, “I am excited to see Rick start to implement his vision for the school. I don’t fully have a sense of what he sees for the school yet, but am optimistic.”

My short answer is that I did not come here with a specific vision for the school. That’s not to say I didn’t have hopes and leanings, but rather that I respect the 30 years of culture and growth that I have stepped into, and the team of teachers/staff/parents/students I am blessed to work with. My goals for the first year – endorsed by the School Committee – are not to shake up the community, but rather:

1. Build Relationships: My capacity to lead this community is directly related to trust and mutual understanding. I have strived to get to know all stakeholders in a meaningful way through 1:1 meetings with parents and community members, lunches with students, participation in events, and sometimes an impromptu volleyball game or gently redirecting a passionate 8th grade initiative.

2. Nurture Culture and Stability: This is a community that needs time to breathe, rebuild trust, and believe we’re together. We need stable leadership, healthy re-enrollment, shared vision, renewed energy. The feedback from the survey shows that we are moving together in the right direction. I am here for the long-haul, and so honored to be doing this in partnership with you all.

3. Learn about FSMN: Like any organically-grown community, Friends School of Minnesota has a healthy set of quirks, special ways, history and culture. Everyone has shown remarkable patience and support to help me learn the ropes and understand the Why’s behind the What’s.

4. Enact the Strategic Plan: I arrived at the tail-end of a highly collaborative process to gather input and vision. We have turned that into an initial 2-year plan to deepen our capacity in (1) Equity, (2) Learning Differences, (3) Quaker Identity and (4) Advancement. Over the next year and a half you will see more active work and reporting-back on these four “pillars.” And despite my opening promise to not bring in changes too quickly, we have already made some rather bold moves in these areas, such as:

  • Created a new Learning Specialist position, and increased T.A. hours
  • Hired equity consultants who are already deep into an equity audit
  • Increased financial aid by 34%.
  • Created an Alumni Relations position and expanded Friends Circle into a quarterly publication to engage our wide community of friends.
  • Initiated a community survey to truly hear everyone’s voices and work together.

When we sent out mid-year surveys, we did it in full knowledge that this is a community with a lot to say, and (thankfully) not afraid to say it. In both quantity and quality, I’m very happy to report back that you did not fail us! The School Committee and I have been working hard to process all the amazing feedback, and we look forward to the parent evening (Tuesday, Mar.19, 6:30-8pm) where we can share the results and start working together to address some of the ideas brought forward.

I am so thankful for the heartfelt messages of support for me in my first year with FSMN, and equally for the many good suggestions for ways to strengthen the school and my role in it. While I have been focused primarily on the above 4 goals and finding my feet on this new ground, this feedback gives me some direction for where to lift my eyes as we move forward together.

I’ll close with one of many parent comments that warms my heart, reflecting a compassionate understanding of the time it takes for us to move into this work together, and our shared commitment to get there together: “I’m feeling like I could really learn to trust you.”