TNCS Canta y Baila con 123 Andrés!

Singing and dancing have always been regular activities at The New Century School. But when the TNCS Parent Council sponsored a virtual end-of-year concert by 123 Andrés on June 4, 2021, those traditions took on a special new meaning!

The Latin Grammy-winning music duo is well known to the TNCS community, and this joyous event brought us together in a new way. It was a first for the TNCS community to be sure, but it was also one of many firsts for the TNCS Parent Council. So let’s take a moment to reflect on their stupendous achievements! Tilly Gurman, the head of the Parent Council put it best:

I am so proud of all the activities we, as a Parent Council, have collaborated on over the last academic year. Considering the obstacles, in addition to many activities that we have done in years past, we pulled off the first Silent Auction, the first Earth Day Volunteer Activity at Patterson Park and now the first school-wide, real-time virtual concert to come together as a community and celebrate this amazing year!

And that’s really what the 123 Andrés concert was all about—celebrating our successes throughout the 2020–2021 school year, and the “beauty and resilience that is the TNCS community.” Revisiting this wonderful celebration seems like the perfect way to start the 2021–2022 school year on the right (dancing) foot!

TNCS families were given proprietary links to view the concert recording, which, due to contractual obligations with 123 Andrés, we cannot reproduce here. We can, however, enjoy these digital images from the event and some screenshots of the happy audience!

Concierto de Familia, con 123 Andrés

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Where There’s a Band, There’s Merch!

Although these aren’t really for sale, TNCS upper elementary students designed and created these beautiful posters for each of 123 Andrés’ songs.

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. . . And here’s to another year of one-of-a-kind learning and fun at TNCS . . . and hopefully plenty of signing and dancing!

Tad Jacks Joins TNCS as Interim Head of School!

On July 1, 2021, Tad Jacks joined The New Century School as Interim Head of School. Before he had even started, though, he expressed how much he was looking forward to being part of such a multicultural environment. TNCS Executive Directors and Co-Founders Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner told parents that, “[Mr. Jacks] comes to us with a wealth of experience, pedagogical expertise, and leadership skills.”

Let’s explore that wealth!

An Abundant Career

Mr. Jacks’ road to TNCS stretches far—overseas, in fact. He was born and grew up in the King of Prussia area of Pennsylvania, but he began his career in education at the American School in London as a student teacher and baseball coach. Although his love lay with working with kids, his first job out of college was as a college admissions officer before re-entering the independent school realm. Re-entering? Mr. Jacks attended Friends’ Central School, a Quaker co-ed day school, in Pennsylvania as a student, so it was a good fit for him to join Friends School of Baltimore. At Friends, he wore a variety of hats, from admissions to development (for example, he started up a a center for Russian language and culture) to teaching (for example, a high school class called “US society 1900 to 1960”) and even coaching golf.

After 23 years at Friends and all of those many hats, he was approached by The Odyssey School to become their Head of School. Although Odyssey’s mission is to provide an education environment conducive to learning difference like dyslexia, they wanted Mr. Jacks for his extensive experience with governance, strategic plans, accreditation, admissions, and development. Within a few years, though, his athletic daughter was about to go to college. He needed the flexibility to attend her matches and provide all the support college students need. As she was attending school in New England, he decided to take a position as Assistant Head of School at the Wooster School, in Danbury, Connecticut, alongside the Headmaster who just happened to be a dear friend of Mr. Jacks’ as well as his former teacher. He actually commuted to Connecticut from Baltimore for 5 years! And called it fun!

Back in Baltimore, he embarked temporarily on a project to lead and support the Middle Grades Partnership with the Baltimore Community Foundation. Before the next school year began, Mr. Jacks was contacted about heading The Craig School in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey. That 7-year stint came to a close just last year when the commuting finally did get to him (he was only home in Baltimore on weekends and holidays). “I decided that I’ve done this commuting enough, and I’m going to come home,” he explained. “So for the last year, I’ve been doing really interesting projects for people, mostly in education.”

TNCS and Tad Jacks: A Natural Fit

All in all, his career in education spans 42 years, a career he is grateful for. The depth and breadth of such an illustrious career might have tired out a less high-energy person than Mr. Jacks, but it’s clear he’s got plenty of ideas still to develop. And that brings us to TNCS. He says he had heard about TNCS both from friends of his daughter and from his natural habit of staying abreast of the independent schools in the area.

He has also worked side by side on diversity programs with our former Head of School Shara Khon Duncan. “I’ve known Tad since the 90s,” she said, “and TNCS is in good hands. He has a heart for diversity, and he digs right in and does the work.”

(Mr. Jacks says he is also eager to gain a little Mandarin Chinese and Spanish, not that multilingualism is his forte per se.)

Not surprisingly, given his background in development, he has begun to shape a vision of what his time at TNCS could mean.

I want a concept—a spirit—that as a school in Baltimore City we must continue making a difference for this city. And maybe it’ll come out in different forms along the way. There are so many problems that come to school even before a teacher can get to work with education. So I’ve always asked how I can make a difference in the city. I have way too much energy to not be in school right now. I just feel like it’s not just where I want to be, it’s also where I need to be.

Of course this kind of empathic orientation aligns beautifully with TNCS’s commitment to service learning, and Mr. Jacks says that’s another aspect of TNCS that attracted him. “It would be nice to put a solid foundation in place so that every year students in the different divisions know what big projects they’ll be working on,” he said.

That’s not to say that Mr. Jacks plans to make drastic changes—instead, he’s here to help. In an email to staff, he wrote:

My hope is that I will learn more during each meeting and want to hear from you about your roles, your interests, and how best I can help you. My pledge to all of you is that I will do my best to help each of you in your work and to support you on your objectives and goals. During the coming year, I plan to immerse myself in the life of the school, capitalizing on opportunities to build school spirit and support progress in key areas. I will be listening for ideas that foster relevant, engaging, and inspired learning.

And he’s eager to advance TNCS’s Core Values of Compassion, Courage, Respect, and Service. “In my first few days here, I have found that many individuals are compassionate about working with young children, have the courage to help a parent understand that their child may need more attention, have a respect for each other, and are in service to our community,” said Mr. Jacks.

Said Ms. Faux and Ms. Lawner: “It was clear from our interactions and from his amazing references that Tad’s philosophy of education, commitment to children, and auxiliary skill set would make him a fantastic fit for TNCS. We are confident and enthusiastic that this next step will move TNCS to an even stronger future as a leader in progressive, diverse, and joyful education.”

Although it may seem like he’d have time for nothing else, given his involvement in so many facets fo education, Mr. Jacks also has a personal life complete with hobbies and predilections, like contemporary music and visual arts. And yet, somehow, the conversation always swivels back to education in the best way. Mr. Jacks still remembers being in high school—elementary school, even. “I’m in education because of things that happened in the 4th grade; 4th grade and 11th grade were two watershed years, and I don’t think that’s any different for students now.”

How fortunate that TNCS’s current student body will have at least one of their watershed years under such capable and compassionate leadership. Welcome to TNCS, Tad Jacks!

Look! We Have Come Through!

Look! We Have Come Through! is the name of a collection of poems by D. H. Lawrence that recount what it’s like to go through an extended period of stress and strife and the subsequent state of exultation achieved on the other side of that traumatic journey.

After more than a year of living through a pandemic with plenty of social conflict thrown in, we can all relate to that experience of crisis. As of this spring, though, we can also begin to feel that we have survived something momentous. At The New Century School, the TNCS community not only survived, but somehow also managed to flourish, to grow, and to deeply appreciate each other. This post is your year (plus) in review, our coming-through story.

Although you’ve seen many of these moments before, collected together, they depict the beauty and resilience that is the TNCS community.

Spring and Summer 2020: Our World Goes Upside Down

Friday, March 13, 2020 was the last day of in-person school for the 2019–2020 school year, as the world as we knew it shut down. What a scary time unlike any other for most of us . . .

. . . And yet, within days, TNCS Virtual School was up and running. It was nothing short of miraculous. Here is an excerpt from “Virtual TNCS: A School and Its Student Body Continue to Thrive“:

TNCS is a success story in this otherwise quagmire of uncertainty. TNCS admin and faculty had already begun working feverishly behind the scenes to prepare for what would become known as “distance learning.” By Sunday, March 15th, a team of student volunteers had been appointed to help transition all TNCS students to a virtual learning environment. In other words, classes would continue, just like every other day, but TNCS students would “attend” from home, meeting up online. On Monday, March 16th, the student volunteers sent messages and made phone calls to the parents of the younger students on their lists to get them set up in Google Classroom, an online platform to “organize assignments, boost collaboration, and foster better communication.” Meanwhile, staff were being trained on the new platform and designing and adapting curricula. By Tuesday, March 17th, nearly 100% of TNCS students were up and running (yes, even preschoolers!), and parents received a very welcome message: “TNCS Virtual School begins tomorrow!” (Read the message in its entirety here.)

From preschool to middle school, TNCS students didn’t miss a beat.

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See more great photos and videos of those initial days of TNCS Virtual School here. We even had guest blogger Kathryn Hardaway (and then–TNCS 8th-grader) provide suggestions and advice for transitioning to a new way of life.

As TNCS students and parents adapted to virtual learning and remote work, we became acutely aware of what a sisyphean task TNCS administration and staff were undertaking to keep students happy and learning. TNCS had even become an official Essential Personnel Child Care (EPCC) site within 48 hours of the initial shutdown, run by TNCS’s beloved Jatiya Richardson (read TNCS Emergency Personnel Child Care: Heroes Helping Heroes! for more).

So, the gratitude started pouring in, in the form of handmade cards, photos, and thank-you videos. Revisit A Spring Break Message to Thank You, TNCS! to see more like this:

Despite the circumstances that obviated our normal day-to-day, the TNCS community found ways to overcome and rise to new heights. We had:

The firsts just kept coming, and the feeling of hope growing. Where many were experiencing debilitating inertia and then stagnation, TNCS began to bud.

Fall and Winter 2020–2021: We Can Do This!

On September 1, 2020, TNCS pulled off yet another amazing feat: partial reopening. It was hard, really hard. But, again, admin and staff dug in and did what it took to educate TNCS students using a hybrid model of part virtual students and part in-person students. “Welcome to the 2020–2021 School Year, TNCS Community!” tells that stupendous tale, but here are some visual highlights of the physical measures taken to keep everyone safe:

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New teachers, new roles, and new ways of being in the classroom (at home, in person, in small pods) soon became the norm. We even managed virtual Pot Lucks!

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Campus was off limits to anyone not authorized to be there, and TNCS succeeded in staying open continuously throughout the entire year. This coup is due in no small part to the TNCS Wellness Team’s behind-the-scenes efforts and community Q&As. In fact, what soon emerged as one of the silver linings of the pandemic was how committed everyone was to making this work. If we couldn’t participate in our normal activities and enterprises, we could sure transfer that energy to other things and continue on a positive—and fruitful—trajectory. Besides the Wellness Team, the TNCS Parent Council also stepped up in a big, big way this year: read “TNCS Parent Council 2020–2021 Hits the Ground Running!“.

There were hiccups, of course, and low points. Teachers began to feel terribly burned out, not surprisingly, with their dual roles of in-person and virtual teaching. Fortunately, they had allies, including former Curriculum Coordinator, now Dean of Students Adriana Duprau. They also had the TNCS community, who, at the behest of the TNCS Parent Council, undertook an initiative to never let them forget how appreciated they are.

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Also read “Caring for the Community” to see how TNCS students and families spread some love over the winter.

And, it must be said, through it all, TNCS was under the sure guidance of former Head of School Shara Khon Duncan. Read her inspiring words to the community in Holiday message from Sra. Duncan and revisit her legacy in TNCS Head of School Bequeaths a Beautiful Legacy. Sra. Duncan and our intrepid Co-Executive Directors/Co-Founders Roberta Faux and Jennifer Lawner sacrificed untold hours of sleep and personal life to keep TNCS operating smoothly.

Under their leadership, we were able to maintain many of our annual traditions, like:

Through it all, the blossoming continued.

Spring 2021: We’re Back, and It’s Going Great!

As Quarter 3 dawned, a transformation began. Nearly all of the student body was attending school in person, and, even with all of the safety measures in place, things started to feel almost normal again. But, in true TNCS fashion, “normal” wasn’t going to be good enough, and lots of new and wonderful initiatives débuted.

Former middle school homeroom teacher turned TNCS School Counselor Daphnée Hope began holding sessions to give TNCS students space to work through some of their pent-up anxiety, including a couple of fun trips to The Sandlot. The TNCS Parent Council held its first-ever Silent Auction. TNCS primary students held rain-making ceremonies.

And then, the floodgates opened. By the month of May, the energy around campus exploded, and the joy was palpable. We had stand-up comedy. We had field days, visits to B’more Licks, walking tours of Fell’s Point, teddy bear picnics and fairy tale stage plays, park clean-ups, a visit to a pet resort, a preprimary family picnic, and even our very own private concert with 123 Andrés—all of which are covered in “Highlights from a Triumphant 2020–2021 School Year at TNCS!“.

Finally, we had some farewells. We tearfully said goodbye to the TNCS Class of 2021 in a moving and beautiful graduation ceremony. During that ceremony, the TNCS Parent Council also included a farewell tribute to Sra. Duncan to convey our gratitude for all she did for TNCS and to wish her well along the next leg of her journey. Her End of Year Message also sums up the last 18 months in her eloquent, honest voice.

And Now . . .?

And now we turn to the future, having come through.

TNCS is a one-of-a-kind place. We’ve said since its opening more than a decade ago that it’s magical and that magic happens within its physical (and now we can add, “virtual”) walls. But March 2020 through June 2021 not only substantiates this idea, it also gives it new meaning. Although it’s difficult to express such wondrousness in words, when you see the faces of the children who reap the benefits of this special realm, you can nevertheless begin to feel it, too. We can’t wait to see what delights the 2021–2022 school year promises at TNCS.

TNCS Head of School Bequeaths a Beautiful Legacy

This spring, The New Century School community learned that our beloved Señora Duncan is stepping down. Although this news was sad to many of us, in some ways, her reasons for leaving TNCS and the legacy she leaves behind are more than adequate consolation. All in all, the story of Sra. Duncan and TNCS is one of success after success in overcoming obstacles, turning pitfalls into opportunities, and strengthening the TNCS community, and she closes the tale with a happy ending.

Sra. Duncan is a thoughtful, reflective individual, so she had already done some introspection on what her time at TNCS meant to her and to the school. She says that, initially, she could not point to anything that “wasn’t what anyone would have done because things needed doing.” But that quickly dissipated (how many of you readers are thinking, ‘she can’t be serious!’?), and she realized that she accomplished her original goals and then some. It must be acknowledged that she also shepherded TNCS through the many crises brought by the pandemic with grace, kindness, and steady leadership. She sees her legacy as trifold.

The first relates to her original goals, which hark back to Immersed‘s first conversation with her: Shara Khon Duncan Joins TNCS as Head of School!. “Infrastructure was my goal in the beginning and I think I really did accomplish all that behind-the-scenes work,” she said. “There’s still work to be done—there’s always work to be done—but I put a lot of systems in place to help things move more smoothly. We also made and documented internal and external policies to formalize processes that have made this program better.”

Read more about Sra. Duncan’s tenure at TNCS from Immersed‘s archives:

The second part of her legacy lies in her commitment to social justice and keeping important social issues in the community’s awareness. She is always ready to both talk about tough issues and, more importantly, to work on them.

This one took her by surprise a bit, though, and arose in part from the world in turmoil over racial injustices and the conflict inherent therein.

Every time I had to sit down and write a letter about something horrible happening in our country, such as George Floyd’s death, it was so hard, but at the same time, it’s just such important work. I really didn’t expect social justice to be part of my legacy at a school that’s so wonderfully diverse, but at TNCS we’ve gotten so much further along than others in a lot of ways. And it rang home how much more work still needs to be done. But we have a community of people who are willing to do it, and that’s the thing that just amazes me and is so refreshing and wonderful about TNCS.

Sra. Duncan’s letters of wisdom, faith, and hope were solace, even beacons of light and hope, for many during turbulent times, and are certainly a mark of the true leader she is. “There were so many teachable moments in this past year,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine being radio silent on those issues. It’s just not in my nature.”

See her moving letters to the community here:

The third part of her legacy is one she is especially proud of: being a Head of School of color and a woman. “It’s just an amazing first in my life, and I am so proud that my daughters and TNCS students, not matter what color, got to see that this is possible. They see that positive role model.”

What’s Next for Sra. Duncan?

We mentioned a happy ending, but it’s really more bittersweet—happiness tinged with some sorrow. Sra. Duncan had not planned to leave TNCS after 3 years, but she says being a Head of School during a pandemic took a toll on her:

Being the head of a small school meant that I had on far more hats than I normally would have. The job was already tough enough before the pandemic, but the pandemic made it even tougher in that there just wasn’t enough of me to go around to make decisions and to keep people healthy and doing well. My focus was always the students and what was going to be best for them, and safety was really important, too.

Even though I’m usually pretty good at separating work and home, working from home made that much harder, and I had no downtime to process like I had when I drove back and forth to school. But even though it was a tough decision, in some ways I’m sad to leave.

She also laments leaving before seeing the pandemic all the way through, but recognizes that she steered us on a straight path through the worst of it, and, frankly, by far most of it. Finally, she wonders what it might have been like to stay at TNCS until retirement.

“It makes me sad that I won’t get to see everything that I wanted to get done, done. There’s so much more work that needs to be done, but at the same time, I did something to make it a better place (not that it was a bad place before), and that makes me feel happy that I’m leaving on a good note.”

See the tribute video below to see just how high of a note that is!

Of course, we’re all eager to know what her plans are for the future. In the days immediately after her time at TNCS ends (at the end of June), she plans to focus on her family. Big things are happening in her daughters’ lives, and she plans to be there for that. She also has set herself the goal of unpacking the moving boxes from her move to a new house in 2019. “It would be nice to get my literal house in order before I think about the figurative,” she joked.

As for next professional moves? “That’s the beauty of it” she said. “I’m leaving without going toward something else. It would be nice if I still had some kind of link to education, but I’m going to see what lands in my lap.” That kind of hopeful, positive outlook is just so Sra. Duncan. Whatever she chooses (or chooses her), we can be confident that the world will be the better for it.

TNCS is just such a magical place. When I first got here, I remember thinking, this is the reward. I finally get to be in an environment that’s such a wonderful mix of people. It was just so incredible to look out on the playground and see those beautiful children out there all playing together and to see the staff working together. I’ll never work in a place as diverse and as wonderful as this again, and that saddens me, but I’m glad to know that such a place exists.

We wish you joy in all of your future endeavors, and we look forward to seeing you on campus for those visits you promised! ¡Abrazos fuertes!