I recently read a back-to-school letter written by John Allman, a colleague of mine at Trinity School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The letter was featured in a New York Times article titled, “Can Prep Schools Fight the Class Wars?” The article speaks of private schools as “the places in which the affluent receive the most intimate exposure to the obscenely rich.” I have known John in passing for twenty years, mostly by reputation, and he is a remarkably polished headmaster who moved from Upper School Head at Lovett School, to a very successful tenure as Headmaster at St. John’s School in Houston, and then on to Trinity.
My initial reaction was one of concern when I saw his back-to-school letter referenced in an article discussing Manhattan’s class wars. Rarely does something good come to a headmaster when you are quoted in the Times, particularly headmasters in the rarified air of prep schools like Trinity which struggle to balance the egalitarian desires of independent schools with the reality that, as schools, they are populated by the top fraction of the ‘one percenters.’
So, it was with relief when I saw that John’s letter was being admired for speaking out against a “default understanding of Trinity as a credentialing factory” and a call for Trinity to “shift in ethos to the common good, toward social justice and activism.” He called out his own families for using Trinity “exclusively to advance their child’s narrow self-interest.” One must understand that this is akin to a politician saying he is going to raise taxes or cut social security. These are remarkable comments for a headmaster to make about his own school.
North Cross School is most certainly not Trinity School. Our tuition is not $50,000 (K-12) per year divided into two equal payments. Nor do we have seven applicants for every one spot in Kindergarten. Nor have we had 71 students over the past five years go to Harvard, Yale, or Princeton. But it is helpful, I think, to consider that some of what John said in his back-to-school letter is applicable to our situation.
John asks the question, “How ought we to educate our students so that they leave us with a commitment not just to advance their own educational interests, but also serve the common good and give generously to others for the rest of their lives?” While in Trinity’s case, this may be a question of noblesse oblige, here in Roanoke, we may ask the same question out of a religious sense of obligation or a well-defined understanding of community. In fact, our Mission Statement reads: “our graduates will act as leaders in the local and global communities, persons of intellectual and moral courage, and scholars in the service of others.
Recently, we established a program where our Upper School advisory groups will each spend a day out of class working at the Rescue Mission. I do not for one minute believe this is the ultimate answer to creating a commitment to advancing the common good but I was very pleased that our first visits were so well received by our students. I was disappointed to hear from a number of parents and at least one faculty member who felt that this commitment was not time well spent. I believe if John Allman can ask his school community to begin a discussion on engaging his city, nation, and the world, we at North Cross should join him in asking similar questions.
We will begin on Tuesday at our weekly Senior Staff meeting by discussing John’s letter and what implications it might have for North Cross School. I ask that you read John’s letter as well and when you have the chance, I would be interested in talking with you individually, or in small groups, about your reactions.
Christian J. Proctor, PhD
Head of School
Christian J. Proctor, PhD
Dr. Proctor, the ninth head of school at North Cross since 2011, has more than 26 years of experience in education, 15 of which have been at the head of school level. He has served as headmaster at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, South Carolina, St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie, Louisiana, Grace Episcopal School in Monroe, Louisiana, and as Interim Headmaster at Wesley Academy in Houston, Texas. In each location, Dr. Proctor’s tenure was marked by creativity, innovation, and school growth.