Monday, February 29, 2016

The Deck House Changing (and not changing) with the Times...


I’m actually thinking of making bracelets, seriously, which say WWNT.

What Would Ned Think??

As many of you know Ned Hall was our founder.  I had the privilege and honor to work with Ned for three years, and while at the time (I was only in my mid 20’s) I didn’t fully appreciate his dedication and vision, I now (in my late 40’s) can see the method to his madness a bit more clearly.

Ned was relentless, some would say dogmatic, with his vision.   He felt very strongly that this was to be a school where young men learned how to live life, not just how to conjugate a verb or solve a word problem.  Ned was always telling me that the true education was outside the classroom, and the best lessons were taught in our tired old Suburban or on the tennis court.  Most people who met Ned felt he was old school, that he was stuck in his ways.  But I would argue that he was actually ahead of his time.  That the ideas he brought forth to start this little school were cutting edge for 1979, and most are relevant in 2016.

But this is not 1979.  Things have changed.  Milk isn’t  $1.62 a gallon and a stamp isn’t 15 cents.  Just as I can’t get away with wearing my bell-bottoms and wearing my hair in an Afro, we cannot run the school exactly the way it was then. What we can do, however, is stay true to Ned’s vision; we can ask ourselves, WWNT.

With our commitment to community service, co-curricular activities, Monday school cleanings and community dinners, we are holding true to what has made our school a unique and special place that has educated young men struggling in the academic mainstream for over 35 years now.  We doggedly hold onto these principals because they define us, and more importantly, they work.  Young men who spend time up here still get the support, academic rigor and care which Ned envisioned.

Like Ned did back in 1979, we continue to think outside the box and try new things.  For example, academically we utilize technology that was unheard of even a few years ago and will soon be working in conjunction with Boothbay Region High School to offer full college courses.  On the non-academic side, we are now lining up internships and work opportunities for the guys where college isn’t in their immediate future, and we can now have our guys fully participate in all of the extra-curricular activities offered at BRHS, including interscholastic sports  Some would say we are changing too much, but I’d like to think Ned would have been pretty excited that we are doing all of this and still deliver a first class  education up at his little school.

Yes, Ned would be upset that dinner is no longer at 7:30, and that we no longer have a formal dinner Sunday night.  But I know he’d be happy that we now gather as a community every morning to talk about what’s coming up today, and to share any concerns any of us may have. 

So, what would Ned think?  I think he’d be proud of where Deck House is today.  I think he’d love the classes we’re teaching, I think he’d be mad he would be banished to smoking his pipe only in his office, and I think he’d want us to keep going, to keep tinkering and to keep teaching.  I think he’d love playing backgammon with the guys, and telling them stories; all the while teaching both the boys and himself.   Most of all, however, I think he’d be upset that I spent this much time talking about him!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Moving Forward at The Deck House School

As many of you know, I am now the Interim Head of School here at my beloved Deck House.  While I only (re)assumed this role about 10 days ago, in many ways if feels like I’ve been here since that early fall day I arrived as a Housemaster in 1989.

While yes, many things remain the same up on the hill; the kitchen is still in a constant state of upheaval, the boys still drape themselves in amazingly colorful and mismatched clothes and classes are still that fun mixture of serious and fun, many things have changed since that September so many years ago.

No longer do we spend hours splitting and stacking firewood, nor do we have students living in different buildings on campus.  We don’t have Art class in the laundry room, and we don’t have the constant fights over who gets to use the phone next. 

Instead of having to listen to the guys battling to use the school computer, we now have laptops for each boy.  Additionally, in lieu of splitting and stacking 10 cords of firewood, we now have a full afternoon activity program taking advantage of academic and enrichment opportunities on the peninsula.  A morning meeting now offers the opportunity to talk through what’s coming up and, more importantly for the boys, what’s been going on in the house.

Even with all of these changes, the beautiful thing is this; we can still serve the same guy we always have.  We still have an environment where a young man who thrives with positive male role models, challenging classes and fun can excel.  We still offer great opportunities for young men to discover who they are, and who they are not.  The staff and students still cook all the meals and do all the cleaning therefore, much to the chagrin of some of our boys, we still offer the opportunity to learn how to take pride in a well-cooked meal, and a freshly cleaned kitchen.  All of this goes back to when Ned ran the school and I remember him teaching me many of these lessons.  Not only is there a certain practicality to a lot of these activities, they are also the core of the mission of the School. 

Certainly we have a lot of work to do up here on the hill.  Our census is lower than we like, and we need to make a concerted effort to do some serious fundraising, but as I sit here looking out my window at the Sheepscot River, I can’t help but feel a sense of optimism.  The boys we have here have adapted to the changes we have instilled with great enthusiasm, the energy and dedication of the staff is unparalleled and friends of the school, both new and old, have been amazingly supportive.

We are all pretty excited up here on the hill, and I’d love to tell you more about it, but I have to go do my share of the school cleaning…