The football game tonight at New Hampton will reveal the way competition courses through the Lakes Region schools. We like to compete against one another, and the contests can be fierce. No school in this grouping, which includes KUA, Holderness, New Hampton, Tilton, Vermont, and Brewster, likes to lose. No player, no coach, no fan. That will be clear tonight, or on Saturday at Tilton where so many of our teams compete this weekend.
What sometimes gets lost in the miasma of contests is a deep respect and caring for the collective mission we serve: creating communities that help young learners mature into self-directed, compassionate, and collaborative young adults. We guide. We nurture. We challenge. And it is not just Proctor that does this, but all schools. Each has their own distinct “brand”, their own slightly altered pedagogical approach, but in the macro sense we are much more alike than different in the Lakes Region.
Part of my week, from Sunday afternoon through much of Wednesday, was spent visiting one of these neighbor schools as part of a NEASC accreditation team. Every ten years an independent school – boarding or day – must go through this process. Leading up to the visit, there is a year of self-reflection and assessment by a school. After the visit, and if accreditation is granted by NEASC, there are interim steps a school must take on the major recommendations coming out of the visit. No school gets a pass. No one comes through the process – nor do they want to – without a handful of initiatives to work on and the impetus to get better. It’s fascinating work, long hours and little sleep, but revealing and affirming.
What it reveals to me is that our neighbors – like Proctor – constantly tinker with the models of learning, always trying to find a better way to support students, always using their mission to help guide that quest. It is never about finding that “win” in an admissions match-up. It’s not a football game. Not a soccer game. It’s about an intrinsic drive that each of these schools has to get better at what they do for their students and their families.
When I hear criticism of the independent school world as a string of elitist islands in the broader sea of education, part of that criticism registers. We do have much in our schools that is enviable: infrastructure resources, financial resources, time to work with students, small class size, and wide offerings. We should be mindful of those resource privileges. We should be humbled, always grateful. But ashamed? I don’t think so. If greater opportunity for learning is “privilege”, we should work to change the model not the opportunity. Why downgrade the opportunity?
Competition is good, and we will be reminded of that tonight and tomorrow. Many skills are taught, many values instilled through sports, but we must remember that when anything is reduced to simple competition – sports, business, politics, education – it is somehow reduced from the greater grace of what could be. If I could transform secondary school education (Anybody know of a massive foundation looking to join a movement?), a string of Proctor-like schools would spring up as fully funded, fully accessible islands of opportunity. But it wouldn’t be just Proctors I would create. I would have more schools like the other schools in the Lakes Region as well. Good schools with good missions, all on that arc of improvement, all ever mindful of the students they serve and the world these students must navigate and impact as citizens.
Mike Henriques P'11, P'15
Proctor Academy Head of School