SGIS New Schedule Data: Powerfully Positive

In today’s post I am providing data from a recent survey we gave students, faculty, and parents at St. George’s Independent School regarding a new daily schedule we implemented this semester for students in grades 6-12. Without describing the new schedule in full, its key components include: longer classes (70 minutes) that meet less often and a significantly later start to the school day (8:30 a.m. start Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and 9:00 a.m. start on Wednesday). Our goals were to unify our Middle and Upper School schedules, to provide opportunities for deeper, more engaged learning, and to improve student life and balance. In order to assess our progress at this stage of implementation, we surveyed students, families, and faculty. When over 90% of each of these constituencies reports that the schedule is an improvement over last year, it becomes resoundingly clear we are on the right track. The data provides tremendous support for the schedule and should provide us with additional momentum.
















A couple of notes:

  • We would like to have a larger sample size (though the data represents a strong sample size). We may extend the time the survey remains open when we next do a similar “pulse” survey.
  • We separately surveyed new students and families. I did not include that data, as it did not represent a different story-line from the data provided by returning students and families.


St. George’s Bunkhouse Opens! A Video and Two Talks from the #SGBunkhouse Celebration

Ribbon-Cutting with L. to R. Alton Stovall, David Skudder, Ross Peters, Beth Skudder, Jere McGuffie, John Carroll, Jeff Riddle
Ribbon-Cutting with L. to R. Alton Stovall, David Skudder, Ross Peters, Beth Skudder, Jere McGuffee, John Carroll, Jeff Riddle

In partnership with Serve901 and Living Hope Church, St. George’s Independent School opened the St. George’s Bunkhouse on Mclean Boulevard in Memphis, TN on Tuesday. The beautifully renovated space can sleep up to over 110 people provides access to the church’s sanctuary spaces. Located between Rhodes College and the Crosstown Concourse, the school will use it for many purposes, largely focused on community engagement.

The SGIS Board of Trustees met in the well-designed and appointed break-out room for their meeting late yesterday afternoon before joining well-over 125 guests who were there to celebrate the ribbon-cutting, eat some fantastic Gus’s Fried Chicken and tour the space. As that gathering ended around 8:00 p.m., members of SGIS’s Class of 2017 began arriving to enjoy a sleepover in the Bunkhouse. The event was fantastic–it is great to reach this point and turn to the exciting work to begin to make great use of the space. Below I have included the introductory video,  my remarks, as well as Alton Stovall’s remarks from the ceremony. Alton is a member of the Class of 2017 who has played a vital role in helping us get to this point. Alton’s words brought the house down.

My remarks…

Good evening and welcome! The ending of the video is where I will begin—with a thanks to David and Beth Skudder for starting the ball rolling that made this all happen. Not only did David bring Justin Miller from City Leadership and me together in September 2015 to begin to dream about what we might make happen together, but the Skudder’s also created the substantial funding that underpinned the recreation of the Bunkhouse space. The St. George’s Bunkhouse represents both their love for St. George’s and their earnest commitment to Memphis and Shelby County. PLEASE JOIN ME IN A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR DAVID AND BETH…

Just yesterday afternoon David, Justin and I met to reflect on the remarkable year that has led to this moment. What David had to say was wonderfully helpful and offers clear perspective on what we are trying to accomplish here. Here are a few of the things he said to us:

  • “If you want to be part of the community you have to step in, you have to be a presence.”
  • “Through St. George’s I’ve seen all the good that comes from kids learning to be helpful, learning to leave it better than you found it.”
  • “In order to make things better you have to get involved—one brick at a time, one good deed at a time.”

The St. George’s Bunkhouse gives our school largely unprecedented way to live toward the ideals David described. Imagine just a sliver of some of the possibilities for our students on each of our three other campuses:

  • Class gatherings like the one the Class of ’17 will have tonight and tomorrow morning here.
  • “Amplify Memphis”, a summer course studying the cultural richness and key issues of Memphis residing here during all or part of its three-week session next June.
  • Groups of students and faculty members using the space as a hub for service learning opportunities and for cultural experiences.

The number of great ideas for how to use the Bunkhouse will outpace our ability to follow-through on all of them. The conversation we have as a community about how to best use the space will be generative and rich.

Members of St. George's Institute for Citizenship are joined here by St. George's faculty members Timothy Gibson, Jason Hills and Jessica Hardy
Members of St. George’s Institute for Citizenship (L. to R. Omar Yunus, Grace Optican, Winston Margaritis, Julie Ann Joyner, Alton Stovall, Megan Lenoir, and Becca Chandler) joined here by St. George’s faculty members Timothy Gibson on the left,  Jason Hills in the middle, and Jessica Hardy on the right.

Education is a gift that is not simply for the recipient alone. Our education as individuals exists only as we make meaning from it and as we are moved to action in the world as a result of it. With that in mind, the questions I have for all of us who have had the privilege of an education such as the one at St. George’s Independent School—the questions I believe are particularly apt on this day when we open the St. George’s Bunkhouse are these–

  • What will we make happen as a result of our access to the St. George’s Bunkhouse?
  • How can we use our footprint here to impact the world around us?
  • How can we continue to learn from people who have different backgrounds, different opinions?
  • How can what we already know lead us to want to learn more, understand more, impact more?
  • How can we make our education not simply about us? How can we use the St. George’s Bunkhouse in ways that help us better understand what it means to be a good neighbor?
  • And, importantly as well…how can the St. George’s Community use the Bunkhouse in ways that bring our own community closer together.

It is easy to limit the definition of neighbor to the people who live next door or across the street from us. However, the bold vision of St. George’s Independent School, and the St. George’s Bunkhouse, calls us to think of our neighbors far more broadly to include not only our school, but our city, our county, our state, our nation, and our world. As an independent school drawing from well-over fifty zip codes, we include people who might live far away from us as neighbors, and we include people with whom we might often disagree under the umbrella of our idea of neighbor. At St. George’s, we name our school’s effort to be a good neighbor, SG901. And the physical representation of that effort is the St. George’s Bunkhouse, which will serve as a hub for our community engagement.

Becoming educated inherently includes the demand that we learn not to see ourselves as living in a vacuum, but rather that we see ourselves as inextricably linked to one another.  The St. George’s Bunkhouse, created in partnership with City Leadership and Serve901 is a powerful manifestation of that belief within our school.

I am particularly grateful for the roles each of the next speakers has played. Alton Stovall, member of the Class of 2017, who you will hear from next has been the key student leader in the process that has led us to today. Following Alton, John Carroll and Jeff Riddle will speak. Our school could not be more fortunate in its partners in this endeavor. I for one can’t wait to see what happens next.

Alton Stovall, Class of 2017, speaks at the St. George's Bunkhouse Opening
Alton Stovall, Class of 2017, speaks at the St. George’s Bunkhouse Opening

Alton Stovall’s remarks:

Before a handsome butterfly emerges from its cocoon, it must first spend its days as a not-so appealing caterpillar. When I first stepped foot on this site, what I saw was a basement. A basement cluttered with boxes, worn-out equipment, and objects that made you question how they were useful before they were put into storage. Indeed it was a rough space, but it was a space with potential. And what was done with that potential and how that potential was maximized to the fullest extent is something I find truly amazing. This is not to say that getting there was not a long journey, because it certainly was. Nevertheless, I personally had my fair share of fun along the way. From choosing a perfect name, to timidly speaking to reporters about my experiences, to even picking a paint color for the walls…(by the way I will truly never understand how there can be so many options for one single color. I mean there’s white, but then there’s eggshell white and satin white and high gloss pearly porcelain white and anyway)… All of that is to say this- what we have the privilege of experiencing here tonight is a butterfly getting ready to spread its wings and fly away. Where it goes is up to us… and that’s the beauty of it all.

The possibilities of what we can accomplish with this space are endless from class retreats, to service projects, to simply a fun night in Memphis. God only knows the full extent of what we can do here, but I thank Him for what was already done here. I am thankful for having been involved in this project from the start, I am thankful for all of the amazing people I met along this journey, and, most importantly, I am thankful that this is not the end of the road. In fact it is just the beginning… the beginning of a movement against the grain of society. Where the world seems to be moving apart, tonight we are moving one step closer together. And just as this space now joins many other campuses to form one campus. We are on the road to joining many communities to make one community. The full extent to which we do that is up to not one of us, not some of us, but all us. In order to do that to the best of our abilities, we must too undergo our own transformations. So as we move forward, I ask of you, I plead of you, I charge you to get ready, spread your wings, and let’s fly.


My Candidate Questions Haven’t Changed


Just over a year ago I posted a list called “Nonpartisan Questions for Presidential Candidates.” What a year it has been since then! I have revised that original post and expanded it. I was reminded of this post when I read a story this morning indicating that as many as 100 million people would tune in to the first debate this evening. 

We are a country that is uncomfortable in our own skin. We are at odds; there is powerful friction between us. We are wrestling with our identity to a degree that has at times driven thoughtful consideration of candidate positions and character under the wheel of the campaign bus. While the list of questions below may seem naive in the context of what is happening in this campaign, I stand by them.

In part, my desire to post my questions is a result of disappointment with the news media for failing to play its full and necessary role. It has too often defaulted to soundbites and a strange kind of pretend that it can play its vital part as the fourth estate through 140 character posts and gotcha video clips. As print journalism seems to be starving less because of access to quality reporting than because of lack of readership, we see coming to fruition the flaw of television and internet journalism, that is, it often prioritizes entertainment and partisan advocacy ahead of delivering news as accurately and completely as possible. With only few exceptions individual media outlets seek to grow, solidify, and sustain market share by working more to preach to the choir of their specific audience than to tell the story before them as truthfully as possible. As a result over time that audience becomes more extreme in its views and more righteous in its expression of them.

With this in mind, I have compiled a list of questions I would like the candidates to answer. What questions would you add to the list?

  • What is your definition of the American Dream?
  • What percentage of your income do you donate to causes other than political campaigns?
  • What are you reading? What book has had the greatest impact on you?
  • When did you and how have you reached out to someone or to some group with viewpoints different than your own?
  • As president, which would you value more: the responsibility to represent the people who voted for you or the people of the United States?
  • When have you gone against the majority in your own party?
  • Give an example of when you have chosen the hard right over the easy wrong?
  • What contribution do you most want to make during your presidency and what makes you think you can accomplish it?
  • Imagine you can add or delete one amendment to the constitution: what would you delete or add?
  • How do you spend your limited free time? (question suggested by a former student, John Kutteh, St. George’s Independent School Class of 2016)
  • To whom do you go for good counsel?
  • Describe a mistake you have made and reflect on how you would go about approaching the same situation differently now?
  • What is a lesson you learned as a young person that has stayed with you?
  • What is the most important lesson you have learned about yourself in the last five years?
  • Imagine you can construct your cabinet from only historical figures–who do you put in the cabinet? Who is Secretary of State? Defense Secretary? Etc.

Updated reflections on The 9/11 Seawall and the The Empathetic Community

(The World Trade Towers and the QEII Photo:Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

[As we head toward the fifteenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, I am reposting (with some revisions) something I wrote several years ago that still reflects my thinking about the primacy of creating and sustaining a community that prioritizes empathy. Since posting this in January of 2012, I have seen many examples of people on a kind of figurative seawall facing challenges that threaten to become overwhelming. Additionally, I recognize that we have all stood on our own seawall at various points in our lives. When we are in immediate and pressing danger like those in need of rescue on 9/11, it is human nature to raise our hands and voices for help. It is more difficult to raise our hands when the challenges we face are less visible.  Living within an empathetic community makes it more possible for those who suffer in silence to gain the strength to raise their hands for help, and an empathetic community rises to the occasion when called. Beneath my reflection on the video entitled “Boatlift” are comments I made to an assembly on September 11, 2011 at The Westminster Schools on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.]

“Boatlift”, the story of the boatlift from the lower end of Manhattan on 9/11 is compelling viewing for many reasons. I found it especially fascinating because I had no prior knowledge of the fact that there was a significant boat evacuation on that day, and I certainly did not know it was the largest such evacuation in history. Even more significantly, however, I was drawn to the heroic actions of the people who moved so quickly to help others while placing their own safety in  jeopardy. Please watch it:

At about the 4:18 mark in the video, I was struck by the statement of  Kirk Slater: “It’s just human nature…you see people on the seawall in Manhattan begging you to pick them up, you have to pick them up.” I found myself thinking that while we are not running from collapsing buildings and faced with the potential prospect of having to jump into the water to avoid the smoke and dust of the Twin Towers, we have all spent some time on our own figurative seawalls (though our seawalls probably don’t lend themselves to dramatic soundtracks, and Tom Hanks is not likely to accept the job of narrating the documentary). On 9/11 the clarity of calling and purpose was clear to the men and women who stepped up to help the people stranded at the furthest edge of Lower Manhattan. It is far more difficult to assess and react to the seawalls upon which other members of our community may find themselves.  The routines of our lives allow us to forget others at times. We can find ourselves living as if the other people are merely actors in our play.

Successful communities discover ways to fend off this kind of empathy forgetfulness. Such communities create and maintain high expectations for our awareness of and respect for others. These places bring to day to day life many of the same skills that were manifest in the actions of every person who reached out helping hands on 9/11.


September 11: I Could Not Stop Watching Because I Could Not Begin To Understand (A Reflection on the occasion of the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks):  

On September 11, 2001, I was teaching at a boarding school in the mountains of Western North Carolina, and I remember that I had a distinct sense that the events of that day would be etched in the memory of each of my AP Literature students for the rest of their lives. I wanted, more than any other moment in my career, to be a good teacher that day.
During my classes while we listened to the fast moving news on a sorry old portable radio, we wrote and talked about what was most important to us, and we struggled to reconcile the startlingly beautiful and verdant view out of my fourth floor classroom windows with the reality of events in New York, in Pennsylvania, and in Washington DC.  In the days to come I watched the footage of the planes disappearing into the World Trade Center over and over and over again.  I could not stop watching because I could not begin to understand.
Just days earlier in August of 2001, the nation had been focused on a debate about the relative merits of stem-cell research.  It was an intense debate—the president, the Congress and the news media had the topic running on the high rotation of the 24-hour news cycle and the high octane of charged rhetoric.  Many pundits were positing that this debate would in the end define the legacy and the relative success of George W. Bush’s Presidency.  The events of September 11, 2001 suddenly made the Stem Cell Debate seem like ancient history and the effort to define a president’s legacy seem trite.
Nearly 3,000 Americans lost their lives that day—ordinary citizens, firefighters, police, and rescue workers. Those who died were on airplanes, in the World Trade Center, or in the Pentagon, and in a couple of hours the lives of their families and this nation were forever changed.  Since that day close to six thousand U. S. Service men and women have been killed in the conflicts that have grown out from the 9 11 attacks, and many times that number have returned home as casualties.
So today, in anticipation of this sad anniversary, we honor the memory of the victims of that attack, and we honor those that serve the public good and put their lives in harm’s way in response to those in need.  We also honor all the members of the armed services and their families for the unfathomable commitment they have made to our country since that horrible day in 2001.  We cannot understand the extremes of such commitment and should not pretend to unless we have made it ourselves; instead we should simply say thank you and do all we can to support them, while recognizing that the price for preserving our nation rests unequally on the shoulders of our citizens.