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Welcome to MCS: A "Beacon of Light in these Dark Times

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Summer Reflections

While school-year calendars have defined my life for more than thirty years, the excitement and anticipation of a new school year never fades. These years of building a bigger school and community seem (without regrets) to have shortened my summer months. During July, MCS City Camp and Farm Camp affirm that children in mixed age groups can flourish well beyond the usual dimensions of a school year. I also appreciate the chance they provide our high-school and college-age alumni to gravitate back to the MCS community as teachers and mentors, and young MCS students and their parents the chance to see what lies ahead.

289 Students Enrolled for 2018-2019

A record 289 students are enrolled at MCS this year. Many were at Farm Outing Day in June, where record-breaking attendance climbed all day -- 500, 600, 700. Thank you! Among the returning and new families, a few siblings and a few children of alumni, MCS enrollment this year mirrors the diversity of New York City, many neighborhoods in the 4 boroughs and commuters from further away, speakers of a dozen languages, and transnational experiences that this city attracts.

Staffing Grows Too

New faculty and staff will be introduced at the Opening PA meeting on September 20 and in profiles published in the second issue of Nuestra Semana. I am looking forward to seeing what they add as we redefine this place that has nourished our faith in a community and a program academically rich and socially inspired. We owe a lot to administrative staff who worked some part of the summer.

Changes on West 85th Street

MCS 2020 was a strategic plan initiated in 2011 to enroll twice as many students. We have reached the half-way point as the 4-5s through 8-9s all have two sections this year. Accommodating the growth, maintaining our sliding-scale tuition model, expanding teaching spaces on 85th Street and at the Farm, and supporting teachers are built into the Expanding Purpose Campaign for the Future of MCS. You may remember that Akemi announced a matching challenge to be met by the end of September. That generated several large gifts over the summer, and lots of smaller ones. Thank you to all the families who contributed or solicited gifts toward this end.  

I returned from time in the Adirondacks to find signs that we are near, but not quite at the end, of an ambitious summer construction project. Two new classrooms on the 6th floor will be stunning additions to the teaching space for 7th and 8th grades. They won’t be entirely complete and ready for classes when school opens, but we expect they will be ready soon after. We will issue regular updates.

Other changes you may notice are a new wall that separates the library from the library annex (formerly the computer lab) on the 3rd floor. On the 4th floor, the computer lab is relocated to the old Spanish room overlooking the library. On the 5th floor, two adjacent 8-9s classrooms are right off the stairs.

New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) Accreditation in November

“Beacon of Light Shining in these Dark Times” is the title a parent committee gave the summary of a schoolwide survey done last spring. Thank you to the families who responded, and to the large number of volunteers who gathered in July to pull out the essential takeaways. A full report will go to a NYSAIS committee that will conduct our ten-year accreditation from November 11-14. It is perhaps not surprising to read that families list the “diverse school community,” “progressive education,” “sliding-scale tuition,” “values of equality and justice,” and “MCS farm and sustainability curriculum,” as the qualities that attracted them to MCS initially and they continue to appreciate. The survey also contains fruitful insights into changes and areas of improvement that could make it even better. 

“Beacon of Light” aptly describes how I feel when school opens, as I witness children from 4 to 14 make their joyful entrance high-fiving George, greeting friends and teachers, curious what they’ll learn, or packing their bags on the bus for a trip to the MCS farm. “In these dark times” is a subject occupying this community in complex personal and professional ways. With alumni, faculty, and parents so alive and active, I am confident that as adults we will find ways to learn deeply from one another about what we share and our differences. I also trust we can work together so our voices will be heard as a community.

“Reimagining Education: Teaching and Learning in Racially Diverse Schools”

One of the highlights of my summer was attending a week-long conference at Teachers College. A group of current and former MCS administrators and parents joined over 350 other participants from a wide variety of schools (primarily public, urban and suburban, from across the US and a few from other parts of the world). Integrated schools and school districts are the exception rather than the rule. With demographic shifts, there is a perceived opportunity to re-shape that history today.

Amy Stuart Wells and Philip Smith, TC professors and researchers in the forefront of thinking beyond racial injustice, economic inequality, and undemocratic education policies, convened the conference calling for “reimagining education” around “vision-driven justice.” The “Reimagining Education” conference featured panels of speakers who revealed multiple perspectives on challenges they confront in pursuing “culturally- sustaining pedagogy” that works for all children. Their presentations also provided insights into the creative ways people are working to institutionalize a vision of justice for all. Sessions featuring young people a little older than MCS 8th graders, in theater productions or sharing their stories about organizing for justice, made “reimagining” seem possible. I came away with greater understanding that “centering youth” is a productive pursuit in our resolve to embrace “vision-driven justice,” “racial and cultural literacy,” “equity pedagogy,” “culturally-sustaining leadership.”

Spending a week at this conference, there was much to appreciate about MCS, founded to reimagine education more than fifty years ago. There’s something for others to learn from what we do but no room for complacency about our own practices and our role in a broader movement for reimagining education.

Like any other year, children will come to school this fall asking a lot of questions. To the educators who will be helping them make sense of their worlds, treating children’s questions seriously matters. Validating children’s multi-layered identities matters. So do their daily experiences building a respectful, equitable, and democratic community. Classrooms are already being set up as stimulating learning environments, inviting children to be full participants in their growth. The work and the fun of it is what adds up, one year at a time, to what gets our 8th graders admitted to high school and on diversely interesting paths for life. I can’t wait to be stretching the minds of curious children and, in your company, building a diverse community that will carry on a history of reimagining education based in equity and justice together.