By Ben Labaree
, Head of Upper School
The past school year ended in Januslike fashion. Even as we celebrated and thanked Headmaster Wilson for his remarkable tenure as Headmaster of St. Albans School, we looked to the future with optimism and welcomed incoming Headmaster Jason Robinson. Given the length of Vance Wilson’s tenure, all of next year’s students--and many faculty and staff--will be experiencing a transition in leadership at the top for the first time. Mr. Wilson’s retirement combined with the appointment of Associate Headmaster Dave Baad as the next Head of School at The Episcopal School of Dallas together with several other retirements and departures made for an end to the year full of thanks and farewells.
The multi-year curriculum review reached a crescendo in late winter when Mr. Wilson and Curriculum Review Coordinator and Physics teacher Mr. Will Segal ‘00 announced a series of initiatives that over time will bring significant change to the Upper School curriculum. If you haven’t already done so, you can read more about the process and outcomes in an article published in the spring 2018 edition of the St. Albans School Bulletin. While the bulk of the review is behind us, the faculty will next dive into a close study of student assessment. This process will include careful consideration of how we assess student progress, why we use the methods we do, and whether there are more effective practices. In addition to calls for modifications to course offerings and diploma requirements, the curriculum review featured an initiative highlighting character education, which will be the focus of particular attention in 2018-2019. In another development that will affect curriculum planning, NCS Head of School Kathy Jamieson and Headmaster Vance Wilson announced that together with five other area private schools, National Cathedral School and St. Albans will phase out Advanced Placement courses and launch new versions of our most advanced courses.
For all of the glancing back and looking ahead, however, the daily life of the Upper School was largely consumed by the normal busy pace of life. We were fortunate to hear from a wide variety of alumni, current students, faculty, and outside speakers in a variety of forums. Dave Baad was once again instrumental in organizing a fascinating Headmaster’s Lecture Series. This year’s version was organized around the Business of Sports and began with a visit from Matt Bowman ’09 who is the first St. Albans graduate to play Major League Baseball and is currently on the pitching staff of the St. Louis Cardinals. In January, Josh Byrnes ’88 spoke to us about his work in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ front office where he is a senior vice-president. In February, Marques Mazyck ’03 [grabbed] the boys’ attention with his stories about his work as a FOX Sports producer where he has been responsible for Miami Heat and Miami Marlins broadcasts. Finally, Tony Binker ’07 visited is March and spoke about his work as a special teams coach at the University of Michigan and more recently as a tight ends coach at John Carroll University. Each of the men sat interview style with Dave Baad ’83 in Trapier Theater and responded to a variety of questions ranging from reflections about the most interesting people they have worked with to work habits they credit for their successes.
In February we hosted two of Frederick Douglass’s direct descendants and were fortunate to hear a remarkable presentation from blues harmonica player Phil Wiggins and guitarist George Kilby Jr. Douglass descendants Nettie Washington Douglass and Kenneth B. Morris Jr. spoke to students about the legacy of the abolitionist and their work as co-founders of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiative that specializes in human trafficking prevention education. Most of the students present had read Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave as part of their work in the Form V United States History survey course. Mr. Wiggins and Mr. Kilby presented their program “Race, Reconciliation, and the Blues” at an Upper School assembly where they enthralled the boys not only with their music, but also with stories from their decades of experience as blues musicians and coming of age in the South at a time when the modern civil rights movement was just getting underway.
Other notable visitors spent time with students in smaller group settings. In December, for example, Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist and biographer David Maraniss visited Ms. Victoria Dawson’s Expository Writing classes. Maraniss suggested to students that “If you want a reader to read from beginning to end, you need to think about the rhythm of sentences and the paragraphs. The rhythm propels the reader all the way through.” Author and native Washingtonian Edward P. Jones visited English Department Chair Donna Denize Crossroads in American Identity class where he spoke with students about his award-winning collection of short stories entitled Lost in the City. Set in pre-integrated Washington, D.C. the work prompted a lively give and take session about issues ranging from character development to his writing habits. At the invitation of Upper School studio art teacher David Sturtevant, self-taught Washington, D.C. artist Imar Hutchins came to school to speak with students about work of his displayed in the Marriott Hall Faculty Convocation Room.
Reunion Weekend 2018 marked the culmination of a year-long 50th anniversary celebration of Trapier Theater that opened in spring 1968 with a production of Billy Budd. The festivities included a STA-NCS Alumni Revue and a conversation with NCS and STA alumni who have had careers in theater and film. Trapier was also home to the Upper School fall play A Midsummer Night’s Dream and a rousing winter musical, Leader of the Pack: The Ellie Greenwich Musical, that left us tapping our feet for days. In May, the student-directed One Act Plays featured the usual array of terrific entertainment and included a work written and directed by a senior. May also featured the annual Student Art Show in Marriott Hall. As always, it was moving to see work created not just by students well known for their work in the visual arts, but also by those who enrolled in classes for the first time in 2017-2018. Meanwhile, the choral and instrumental music programs featured participation by more than a quarter of Upper School students who performed for us in settings that ranged from the National Cathedral to Flower Mart. The Chorale spring break trip to England was a huge success and featured singing in Canterbury and St. Albans Cathedrals.
The boys worked hard and competed well on the fields, courts, ice, water, and in the gyms as well. The cross country team brought home a remarkable 9th consecutive IAC cross country banner this fall, and the soccer and football teams made us proud down on what are still referred to as the “new” playing fields. The varsity soccer team had a particularly good run in the DCSAA (District of Columbia State Athletic Association) tournament where they upset the number three seed team and then beat Georgetown Day School in the semifinals. A closely fought match in the championship game ended in a penalty kick round Gonzaga victory. Under the leadership of first-year Director of Aquatics Rich Bettencourt, the swim season featured numerous notable achievements including a seventh-place finish (tying the previous best showing), and a record number of total points at the Washington Metropolitan Swimming and Diving Championships. The wrestling team had its best season in recent memory finishing the season with a 12-5 dual meet record that included a win over thirteen time IAC champions Georgetown Prep. Led by a quartet of seniors, the varsity basketball team beat league champion Georgetown Prep and earned a third place finish in a competitive Wakefield High School Holiday Hoops Tournament during the winter break. A young hockey team traveled to Colorado where they played two state championship teams, finished third in the IAC tournament, and earned a berth at the selective Mid-Atlantic Prep Hockey League playoffs.
In the second half of the year, our varsity lacrosse team defeated Landon for the first time since 2007 and followed that with a victory over St. Stephen’s St. Agnes in what became an eight game win streak after a hard start to the season. The varsity baseball team won a share of the IAC title in rousing fashion when they defeated Georgetown Prep in a best-of-three series. St. Albans rowers had to contend with flooding on the Potomac River this spring that cut into valuable practice time, but the first varsity boat finished third, the second varsity boat place first, and the freshman boat placed second in their respective divisions at the the Washington Metropolitan Interscholastic Rowing Championship regatta. The varsity tennis team ended the regular season with a number of strong matches, including a critical victory over Bullis that propelled the boys into the IAC playoffs where they lost to Prep in the semifinals. The track team hosted all but two meets at home, including the first IAC championship meet at St. Albans since 1963. At the Draper Invitational in May, St. Albans finished 9th among 24 teams and many boys recorded personal bests in events. At that IAC meet, the JV squad captured first place, and the varsity team finished just six points out of third place in an effort that--once again--featured many individual best times and scores.
At the annual Cum Laude induction service in St. Alban’s Church in April, St. Albans alum and treasured faculty member Mr. Ted Eagles spoke to parents, Upper School students, and faculty about the “moral dimension” of learning that “binds all of us here in this church.” Drawing on decades of experience and keen observation, Ted continued:
Let’s explore the moral dimension of learning. . . . moral has to do with relationship—conscious, long-term, beneficial relationship which produces good. For learning to take place in a deeper way, we have to admit ignorance and cultivate an intense desire to overcome it. We have to tell and accept the truth. We have to admit and overcome error. We have to try again. (Think of writing and rewriting as an example.) Wouldn’t you say that one who approaches learning this way also makes a very good friend—truthful, listening, respectful, willing to help again and again?
It was one of those moments that left me humbled, moved, and grateful to be a member of the St. Albans community. While it took Ted Eagles to find the right words and to strike the proper tone, I have no doubt that what he said resonated with everyone present. In 2018-2019 and beyond, we will do well to honor and respect the “moral dimension of learning.”