As part of its mission, The New Century School embraces diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) wholeheartedly. However, DEI must be continuously reaffirmed and new ways found to continue making TNCS a welcoming environment for all students. So last school year, the TNCS Parent Council’s Anti-Racism and Social Justice Committee in partnership with the TNCS administration decided to take the temperature of the TNCS community regarding race-related issues at TNCS.
An anonymous survey went out to families on April 8th with the message that, “Findings from this survey will help TNCS administration and the Parent Council assess where we are on the journey and identify the path forward toward ensuring a diverse, inclusive, and equitable TNCS community.”
On June 10th, Head of the TNCS Parent Council Tilly Gurman shared preliminary results with the TNCS community via email focusing mostly on participant demographics:
A total of 70 parents submitted surveys, and we are currently in the process of analyzing the data. Thank you to everyone who participated. Below is a quick snapshot of participants:
• 70% have 1 child at TNCS and 27% have 2 children at TNCS
• Average number of years at TNCS = 3.7
• Approximately 46% from people of color households and 54% from white households
• Relatively even distribution of number of children (n) in pre-primary (n=19), primary (n=20), and K-2 (n=20), with smaller representation among upper elementary (n=14) and middle school (n=9)
During the summer months, Ms. Gurman, Jay Golon (Chair of the Anti-Racism and Social Justice Committee), Roberta Faux (TNCS Co-Executive Director/Co-Founder), Shara Khon Duncan (former TNCS Head-of-School), and Tad Jacks (current TNCS Head-of-School) met “to go over the findings and to begin discussions about practical implications.” By early August, the Committee had synthesized survey findings and were ready to go public.
Although Immersed cannot publish their findings in their entirety, this effort deserves acknowledgment as the first of its kind at TNCS and a giant step in the direction of helping TNCS maintain an actively diverse, equitable, and inclusive atmosphere. We’ll offer some highlights here, and a link to the full results was shared with the TNCS community (if you did not receive it, contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
The primary upshot is that most parents (64%) talk to their children about race and racial identity, believe that participating in broader discussion about race and racism is important (94%), and feel that TNCS is a welcoming environment for every student (96%).
Are you interested in doing some of this amazing and important work? Visit the TNCS Parent Council page on Blackbaud to join the Anti-racism and Social Justice Committee or any of the other wonderful PC groups. In the meantime, the TNCS Parent Council will continue working with the TNCS administration to determine how to implement and apply what they learned from the survey to actionable and meaningful initiatives around campus and throughout the curriculum.
For the 2021–2022 school year, the Pollyanna curriculum that cultivates racial literacy will be taught weekly.
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!
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.”
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!
The graduation ceremony was moving and beautiful and took place under a tent on the playground. In addition, TNCS celebrated the Moving Up ceremony for 5th-graders, who are officially now done with elementary school and ready for Middle School in September. Our four graduates, meanwhile, are headed for Friends School of Baltimore, Baltimore City College, and Cristo Rey High School. The TNCS community could not be happier for them as they embark on this chapter of their lives . . . and no more proud of these four wonderful, talented, kind human beings.
The event included good luck messages from all divisions, speeches from the students themselves, a lovely speech from Señora Duncan, and even a Tribute to our dear Head of School, who is stepping down after 3 years of superb leadership.
All in all, it was a lovely way to close out a simply amazing school year.
Here, we give you Immersed’s latest conversation with this artist, activist, and all-around wonderful human being just before her culminating project with her elementary and middle school students was about to begin.
Immersed:Since the last time we sat down for an interview, a lot in your professional life has probably changed. AH:Yes! Currently, I teach a class at Johns Hopkins that I’ve developed on creativity inspired by The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I took a workshop with her a few years ago, and it changed my life, so I’ve incorporated some of her teaching. Each unit is different, from visual arts to music to writing and then performance. And in the past year the class was looking at how do you overcome trauma using creativity so that that’s how the class was structured. I have also produced a storytelling show called “Mortified*” for the past 6 years or so. We were not having live shows last year, although we did a few zoom shows to raise money for the Creative Alliance. In this show, adults share their childhood diaries, love letters, poetry—things they created as kids. So we look at the submissions and curate them, and then they share these things on stage. And it’s funny because at the time they were writing they never think they’re going to share it with anyone so it’s messy and hysterical and ultimately very cathartic. I’m also getting an MFA in creative writing and publishing arts at the University of Baltimore. Immersed:Are you still doing anything with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company? AH:I am not actively teaching classes with CSC now but have been involved with their Veterans ensemble. Immersed:When did you actually come back into the school? AH: I started teaching in person about 2 months ago and virtually in November. Immersed:Teaching theatre virtually—was that difficult? AH: I was working with an acting teacher taking classes as a student myself all last year, and I learned that there’s so much you can do to create some of the intimacy of being on stage through zoom. That really helped me. I also usually don’t teach as young as kindergartners, but I have lots of puppets so with them we were able to move around a lot and keep the younger students engaged. It helped keep them going because they spend so much time on the screen, so much of my class was up and active. It was interesting because they would listen more to the puppets than to me! Immersed: That sounds wonderful (and funny!). So how was physical reentry for you and when are you here? AH: On Mondays I’m here for the K through 2nd-grade classes and Wednesdays I’m here for 3rd through 8th grades. Also on Mondays the 3rd through 8th grades get an asynchronous assignment from me, and the K through 2nd-graders get one on Tuesdays. The first day back was a bit overwhelming because some students were still at home and some were in the classroom. I talked to my actor friends who also teach theatre to ask how they approach this, because we can’t be together in this space, we can’t hold hands, we can’t see each other’s whole faces. How do we do this? But this collaboration with my peers and a lot of creativity paid off. We started with the kids writing their own stories—kind of creating their own model of who they are. We did scenes from Shakespeare, “Into the Spiderverse,” and “Harry Potter the Musical” to start with material they’d be more familiar with. After that first day, though, it was pretty joyous. Immersed:Wonderful. And yet it’s difficult to imagine how you pulled it off with students in two very different spaces. AH: Oh, well, there were challenges. Sometimes they couldn’t hear each other, for example. But we did lot of yoga and movement and breath and meditation. With the younger kids, especially, we played more theater and movement games. Or, I’d read them a story and then have them act out the scenes according to their own interpretations. We’ve also done a lot of improvisation. Immersed:Tell us a little more about how you created your curriculum. AH:You know, theatre is fun, and I think the stuff that I’m teaching is fun. I know I was leaving the classroom each day feeling good, and the kids were laughing. I really tried to do things with them that they would enjoy and ask for their feedback. Sometimes I pull stuff from the Kennedy Center or from live theatre performances and have them watch a play or a musical or even some dance. It’s different for each class depending on what we’re doing at the time. I often had to adapt my curriculum in the moment, so that was stressful in a fun way. I also feel like I’m on stage all the time and, like,
‘Oh no, what am I not getting through to them?’ Because I ultimately just want them to believe in themselves. Theatre does that. So it has definitely been exciting and a creative challenge, but I’m up for that! Immersed: If we know anything about you, it’s that you are certainly up for creative challenges! And now here we are at the end of the year! What are students presenting for you today? AH: Well, I knew we couldn’t pull off a traditional play, but I thought, why not do some standup? The past year has been really difficult; let’s end with a laugh! I interviewed a few of my friends who are professional comedians, and I presented the interviews to the kids as their asynchronous assignments to familiarize them with how to craft standup. Unfortunately, standup is usually geared toward adults and not appropriate for kids, so I had to be very careful. But, basically, kids are the funniest creatures in the world, so it’s not that hard to access the funny. I think the biggest part of it is getting over the fear of being by yourself up on stage with a microphone. The microphone makes it so much more real. Immersed: So what kinds of things did you teach them to “access their funny”? AH:In crafting comedy, you look at the things that are the most difficult in your life . . . things that bother you, things you want to change, the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. We’re seeing more of that sort of comedy, and it shows that everyone has problems. Immersed: And through comedy, we can start to come to terms with them. AH: Exactly. Everyone’s life has been affected this past year, so how can we reflect and talk about it? As you’re talking about the things that bother you the most, everyone’s going to connect maybe not on the exact same things, but it’s that you’re honest and you’re respected for being up there. That takes a lot of courage, so I really tried to stress that we must be supportive of each other, and we’ve been working on helping each other with crafting our pieces. Everyone gave a pitch of what they want to talk about, and we provided feedback about what was funny, what we liked, or how to use your body your body language to tell the story more effectively. So that’s we’ve been working on, and everyone is going to come up on stage for 2 minutes and do their thing!
“I ultimately just want them to believe in themselves. Theatre does that.”–Alex Hewett
Without further ado, we give you the TNCS Comedy Troupe! We even have a recording from a student who was virtual the day of the presentations (and she slays!).
“The microphone makes it so much more real.”
*Read more about “Mortified” in this great writeup!