Letters from the Head of School

10-10-17: Honoring Our Diverse Community

Dear OES Community,

Fall is most definitely here. The mornings are cool and dark, and although the sun still warmed us on Homecoming evening, it chilled down quickly as the boys took to the field. Homecoming is a heartening event—bringing our community together to celebrate the opening of school, our championship sports teams, and our abiding connection to this extraordinary school. My sincere thanks to Homecoming Chair, Frances Phillips, and the countless parents, volunteers, and staff who worked hard to make it a memorable event for all of us.

In recent months, our country has experienced a widening political divide, unprecedented violence, and more than our share of natural disasters. People are more outspoken than ever about where they stand on the issues of the day. The instantaneous ways to disseminate news and share our opinions make our differences more obvious than ever as they are fast and easy to communicate. In this environment, it is particularly powerful to see our students engaging in the challenging and potent issues of our world. Our students, like all of us, are trying to figure out a complex world and seeking clear values and principles in which to ground their understanding.

In challenging moments in the world and at our school, I continually return to OES’s mission, vision, and value statements:

Our School philosophy matters: Grounded in the belief that the advancement of knowledge flows from open and rigorous inquiry, we cultivate the life of the mind and the whole person by connecting questions with exploration and discovery, theories with scrutiny, expression with art, and self with subject.

We are deeply committed to inquiry. Through our Episcopal tradition, we are equally committed to inclusion, and to hearing all voices. This is how we learn and grow. This is what creates a vibrant school setting. This is what we plan for, foster, and encourage in a place that strives to be open to all points of view and to honor the differences among us.

Welcoming new ways of looking at the world is built-in at OES—it’s inherent in our inquiry-based teaching model. We ask questions and we observe. Noticing and respecting how others see the world is a natural byproduct of being in community with people from ages four to 70-something who possess different viewpoints and come from all corners of the world.

We all benefit, and we all grow, by engaging with our diverse community.

Our Vision: Connecting people, ideas, and cultures to advance knowledge, create solutions, and enhance meaning.

The diversity we treasure is also represented in our faculty and staff, within our family population, and among our alumni network. At OES, we believe we all have something to learn from each other and work to build a community of openness, tolerance, and respect.

As a school, we challenge ourselves to be open to the ideas of friends, families, teachers, politicians, and anyone with whom we come into contact. We teach our students to respect the opinions of others—whether or not they agree— while also thinking critically so that they can create their own path and ultimately find their power for good in the world and share it with others.

This path is different for everyone and we may not all reach the same conclusions. But if we respect each other along the way, we believe we can create an intentional, thoughtful, and interesting community right here on our own campus. There have been some recent exceptional examples of students standing up for what they care about—the Volleyball team supporting a teammate potentially affected by the travel ban, and students at the Homecoming dance confronting inappropriate language, as examples. I applaud and appreciate whenever I hear stories of students making their values widely known among their peers.

My goal over the next few months is to continue to explore ways in which we can have difficult conversations as a community, to engage and learn from one another. For example, as a faculty and staff, we read Renée Watson’s compelling young adult novel, Piecing Me Together over the summer. Our Director of Inclusion and Community Engagement, Dori King, then led us through an engaging exercise to explore our own identity and understand each other better. And just this week, our Upper School is beginning opt-in conversations on challenging topics between students and teachers. This is the power of the arts, academics, and the overall school environment. As we continue this exploration, true to our Episcopal tradition, I urge us to listen and be open to the differences around us. I also welcome your feedback on this difficult and important process. We take this path together, not knowing the obstacles and joys that await us along the way.

Warmly,

Mo Copeland
Head of School

08-16-17: Parent Welcome Letter

Dear OES Families,

Welcome to the 2017-18 school year! After a beautiful Portland summer, and some time away, we are excited to have teachers, students and families returning to campus to engage in our ongoing programs.

A new year brings new faces, and I am delighted to welcome Associate Head of School Peter Kraft and Upper School Head Asha Appel to our community. As Associate Head, Peter will oversee all aspects of the OES program—including academics, athletics, dormitories, and spiritual life. Peter comes to us from Park Tudor School in Indianapolis, where he previously served as Associate Head and Interim Head of School. He, his wife Kim, a Physical Therapist, and daughter Gabby—a new 7th grader at OES—relocated to Portland in early June, which enabled Peter to attend graduation and our end-of-year meetings.

Our new Upper School Head, Asha Appel, previously worked as Director of Teaching and Learning at Kingswood Oxford School in Connecticut. She and her family also made the big move west in June and have settled quite close to school. Her husband, Nick, works in medical administration; their sons, Milo—a new 10th grader, and Kai—a new 8th grader—will both attend OES.

The Division Heads have been working all summer with Peter on our next steps in designing program around inquiry-based learning and our Essential Competencies. As you know, this has been a multi-year endeavor—first, framing the competencies, then evaluating and reviewing them. This summer Peter and the Division Heads have begun the process of integrating them even more fully into our curricular and co-curricular programs.

This work has been energized by the remodel of the former Lower School building, which previously housed the library and classrooms for grades 3 through 5. We have reconfigured the building to accommodate urgent needs in several areas, including athletics, which will get new offices, meeting spaces, and a spacious and airy fitness center adjacent to the trainer’s facility.

In addition, Associate Head Peter Kraft’s office, as well as that for our Director of Inclusion and Community Engagement, Dori King, and Director of Extensions Kati Stenstrom, will be housed in the renovated Lower School.

Perhaps most excitingly, the renovation of the former Lower School has afforded us the opportunity to turn a number of classrooms into what we are tentatively calling the EC3 Design Center (EC3 stands for the Essential Competencies—Explore; Create; Connect; Commit): a maker space that will be available to all classes and teachers on campus, beginning in the 2018-19 academic year. The design of this space is ongoing, with this year’s task to gather input from teachers, tech personnel, students and others to help us determine the best way to coordinate, schedule, lay out, staff and furnish this creative working space.

The building as a whole has been named “Fariss Hall,” in honor of our long term headmistress, Gertrude Fariss, who oversaw the move to this campus from downtown over 50 years ago. The opening of the Lower School last year, and the addition of Fariss Hall this year, are a visible commitment to our inquiry-based program. Both buildings have been designed to encourage exploration, discovery, connection and commitment.

Many of you will remember that I postponed my planned sabbatical last year when my parents’ health began to decline and our former associate head moved to a new school. This year, however, with three excellent Division Heads and an experienced Associate Head, I fully intend to be on sabbatical during the months of March, April and May. I will be here through State of the School presentations in February, and back for the end of year commencement activities. The goal of my Sabbatical will be to step away from the daily work of running the school in order to pause, reflect and re-engage as we approach our sesquicentennial, which will be celebrated in 2019-20. The focus of my reading while I am away will be driven by our strategic plan, focusing particularly on the area of inclusion, civil discourse and diversity of thought; curricular innovation, and the future of education itself. This time away will prepare me to steward OES for the big shifts that are facing independent education—including reconfiguring schedule and calendar, using new tools including technology to incorporate more research and inquiry and to individualize learning, and looking carefully at our financial model to ensure we are sustainable over the next 150 years.

I look forward to seeing all of you at the Bell Tower on September 6th. Enjoy the warm weather, read some good books and get outside into the beautiful northwest.

Warmly,

Mo Copeland
Head of School

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