Gold 50 Balloons on Walkers' Gate

For those who are first-time readers of “The Power of Three,” my blogs feature three segments, which may not always be connected. Here’s the first installment of the 2019-2020 school year!

Wow – what a magnificent 50th Anniversary Celebration it was for NPS last Friday. There was so much to celebrate, and celebrate we did! Now, one week later, I am filled with many thoughts and emotions as I reflect on the evening and the huge turnout of people representing NPS from 1969 to the present.

Above all, I am filled with deep gratitude—gratitude at my good fortune to be a part of this special community, and gratitude for those who have created such a strong and memorable 50 year history at NPS. In addition, I am filled with excitement about the future of NPS.

I am grateful for the members of the NPS community who showed up en masse (400 strong!) to celebrate and honor National Presbyterian School: current and former faculty and staff; NPS parents, both current and alumni; NPS alumni themselves; National Presbyterian Church pastors and staff; and current and former Board members.

For the remarkable event itself, I am grateful for our Development team of Mary Marra, James Woodward, Julia Hetherington, and Lisa Johnson, who, for more than a year, planned out every small and large detail, the result of which was a perfect event. Excellently done, team! And for Megan Finnerty in Communications, whose creative touches and slideshow captured 50 years of NPS history, traditions, joy, and excellence.

A big thank you to Woody Cunningham (husband of the late Patricia Cunningham, NPS’s first Director), Jane Harter, Jay Roudebush, Jim Neill and Jim Hendrix, for their leadership of the school as past Heads, and for their presence and reflections last Friday. (Also, a shout-out to moderator and former NPS parent Betsy Fischer Martin!).

Finally, thank you, all of you, for helping NPS grow to 50 and beyond!

At the Celebration, I spoke about Dr. Edward Elson, Senior Pastor of National Presbyterian Church at the time of the School’s founding. How wonderful to have Dr. Elson’s daughter, Dr. Eleanor Heginbotham, with us at the 50th Anniversary Celebration; she served on the founding committee that recommended that NPC open a school, and was also a member of the school’s first Board of Trustees.

I read to last Friday’s audience the clear and unequivocal words of Dr. Elson in announcing the opening of NPS in the fall of 1969.

 “This school,” he wrote, “will be open to children of all races and creeds.”

That vision of equity and inclusion was not universal in 1969, a year after the death of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., at a time when protests ravaged Washington, DC, and other parts of the United States. The country was divided, and many schools were not “open to children of all races and creeds.” NPS was—from day one.

The founders wrote a document —“A Summary of Conclusions and Recommendations For A National Presbyterian Day School”—in which they clearly expressed their desire for a diverse school with students “contributing a richness and variety of backgrounds that will make the experience rewarding for all concerned.”    

For 50 years, NPS has maintained that same commitment to diversity. This year, we are pleased to have a Diversity Coordinator for the first time in our school’s history, and we are fortunate to have Tianna Butler, also the Associate Director of Admissions, serve in this capacity.

At last Friday’s Parents Association meeting, I provided an overview of the position and the vision for it, before introducing Ms. Butler, who conveyed her enthusiasm at stepping into this role and shared her goals as NPS Diversity Coordinator.

The position description reads:

“The Diversity Coordinator at NPS helps lead the school’s diversity, equity, and inclusion work with all constituencies. The Diversity Coordinator will collaborate with many different groups, act as a school-wide resource on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion, and help NPS navigate and understand broader issues faced by the community…. the Diversity Coordinator serves as a part of the administrative team and will provide focused, strategic leadership to sustain and strengthen current diversity practices and programs in the areas of equity and inclusion.”

We are excited to carry on the excellent work begun at NPS in 1969 that has continued over the years. I am confident that our founders would be proud of our school’s efforts, 50 years later, to live out our mission statement to be “a loving and inclusive community.”  Moreover, I am grateful to them for their vision.

Tomorrow, NPS faculty will be participating in a day-long Responsive Classroom training to develop strategies to create kind and inclusive classroom communities.  Among other areas of focus, the workshop is designed to help our (outstanding!) NPS teachers:

  • Gain a deeper understanding of how key Responsive Classroom strategies create an inclusive environment, and examine and create lesson plans to specifically teach about aspects of inclusivity;
  • Foster community, cooperation, and inclusivity through the Responsive Classroom approach to teaching—in other words, introduce and reinforce strategies that support students working together;
  • Identify, understand, and respond to “gateway” behaviors (defined as “an action initiated by the individual, which takes place within a ‘gateway’ moment and can set in motion a chain of behavioral changes. Response strategies can focus on any or all of these components to influence outcome behaviors.”

Research has illustrated that the Responsive Classroom approach is associated with higher academic achievement in math and reading, enhanced school climate, and higher-quality instruction. It has also been described as one of the “most well-designed evidence-based social and emotional learning (SEL) programs” (Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning).

NPS has utilized RC strategies for decades, and many of our teachers have undergone Responsive Classroom training. To have a full day of RC training for our entire faculty is something we are looking forward to—and which we know will have a long-lasting impact on the students at NPS and the entire school.

Have a great long weekend—and feel free to reach out with any thoughts, questions, or comments!

Malcolm Lester
Head of School

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