Front Entrances, First Impressions, and Final Walks
Please enjoy this beautifully written issue of Matt's Memo, a monthly letter from our Head of School Matt Gossage.
"If the temperature is above 40° F with no rain on Thursday and Friday mornings, I have committed to walking the perimeter of our campus.
I head out the Andrews Strength and Conditioning Center and walk to the construction site for The Grimmett Multipurpose Athletic Center. I shine the flashlight from my phone to assess progress, move into the bus circle, and greet the drivers who are beginning their morning routes. I proceed along side the Mill and reflect on the example of transformation represented there. Benefitting from the light from classrooms in the Middle School Addition (Yes, certain teachers are already on campus preparing), I slow down behind this building to study the outdoor basketball courts to see if there is a stray ball for one jump shot.
I consider the Arts Wing and the maintenance trailer the last traces of civilization before I move onto the emergency access road and into that darkness. I startle at the slightest rustling in the woods and worry when the young frogs in Coddle Creek stop their communication with one another. I duck under the locked gate, and I’m on Poplar Tent confronting the morning’s first true dilemma: endure the wet grass (and subsequently wet shoes) along the school’s front entrance or risk life and limb walking on the asphalt of Poplar Tent with eighteen-wheelers taking dead aim and coming full tilt down the hill to the light that is always green.
Most mornings I turn into the front entrance with wet shoes but a sense of relief to be on the campus of a school and removed from “semis” going sixty. Lately, this sense of relief has been accompanied by a renewed commitment to attend, to take it all in, to try my best to keep images in head and heart firmly planted even after the final walk. In the paying attention, gratitude has emerged as a preservative eager to assist in the holding onto all that has been so significant. It’s easier to remember those things for which you are most thankful.
On my walk, I look up to see the plaques on the first pier of our entrance. There is the perfect combination of old with new. On one side of the pier is the plaque recognizing that the Craig family provided the school with this amazing plot of land, and on the other side the list of families that gifted the school an entrance that invites all who pass by to slow down, take note, and come on in. I am thankful for the legacy of giving characterizing our community.
Under the light of a street lamp, I make out the speed-limit sign requiring drivers to honor the 19 MPH regulation while on campus. I am instantly reminded of the first time I entered this campus and how odd I thought the “19” was. Really? That is the speed limit? But for me now the “19” symbolizes a type of quirkiness that is who we are and important to who we are. Our LS honors the memory of Dr. Seuss with five quirky days. Our MS creates advisory games where smashing pumpkins (safely) is a highlight. Our US acknowledges Pi Day and cherishes The Day That Shall Not Be Named. I am grateful for the 19 MPH because it states up front that our school will embrace the constructively quirky.
The sign declaring our Core Values is next. I pause before it just as I did my first time on the campus. I think about the accountability for institution and individual that comes when you choose to place your core values on a sign on your school’s entry way. I pray for living models to ensure that each of these values stays vibrant and tangible:
Courage and Kindness – For me, these two are entwined like the "C" and the "S" on Cannon baseball hats. The courage required to be kind in today’s world, and the kindness found deep within courage to do the difficult thing out of love.
Respect – The ticket for admission into this community. You will receive respect, and you will be expected to show it.
Integrity – Our students see the presence or absence of it everyday when they process what I say and what I do. Our students are the experts in detecting integrity.
Teamwork – The methodology of the future for our country, this region, our school, our departments and divisions. Who will be willing to place self second?
Passion – That which drives individuals from within to go beyond the norm and the required and the expected.
I am thankful that in this final year a current parent helped me see that the key to “nurturing relationships” lies in seeking to own and live a commitment to our core values.
The CPAC looms large to my left as I make my way up the entrance road. I stop in front of the CPAC and am grateful for the coherence found in the impressive front to this building, the logic in the Bryant Family Central Green, and the sense of completion the US Building provides. I reflect on all the planning that went into creating this symmetry and balance, and I am thankful for the time that trustees, architects, and general contractors have given to the cause of facilitating learning at our school.
The final phase of the morning walk takes me down the side of the US Building to the back of the campus to a view of Randy Marion Field, Tysinger Family Track, the tennis courts, and Snyder Field. For just a moment, I am young again, and I recall what it was like to finish a school day and head to a practice to work on something truly challenging and important with a coach who knew me as well as anyone in my life and teammates who expected I would bring my best. I am grateful that teaching and learning continue after 3:00 p.m. in the CPAC and on these fields with directors and coaches who live the mission of our school. And what a blessing we have spaces, buildings, and fields where this learning can occur.
The walk concludes. I end up where I began. The sun is coming up. Now that is a sunrise. I grab my clothes out of the car. There will be a final walk but not today. There is just enough time for a shower before the day’s first meeting.