As I enter my fifteenth year as Colorado Academy’s Head of School, it’s important to reflect on the power of the CA community. I vividly remember when I first set foot on the campus as a semi-finalist in the interview process. I met with the interview committee on a Friday and then was invited to swing by the Homecoming traditions the next day. I was so impressed by everything I saw and could sense the joy and pride that permeated the campus. I saw the carnival and loved hearing the kids laughing as they played various games. Everyone gathered for the dedication of the then new tennis courts. I met alumni and committed parents. I watched exciting soccer and field hockey games with fans cheering on their schoolmates. By that stage in my career, I had visited enough schools to know that Colorado Academy’s culture was something incredibly special, and I knew that this is where I wanted to be.

I have always felt that one of my most important tasks as the leader of Colorado Academy is to protect CA’s unique culture. Early on, I faced pressure to make some changes to our program that would have impacted the culture and nature of our school. About two years in, I knew I had to better understand our community and asked myself some questions. Why were people simply so kind? Why did we have a parent body that was so generous with their time and resources? Why were the faculty so positive and supportive of one another? This is not something you see at many schools. Who are these children that perform at such a high level in academics, arts, and athletics and yet are not cut-throat and competitive with one another? Why are these students so trusting of adults when they face a crisis or have concerns about a peer and take action to support themselves and their friends? I immersed myself in understanding our culture and worked with many others to create programming and practices that would protect and preserve what made CA special. This work initially involved digging deep into what behaviors we wanted to see more of on campus; and eventually it evolved into a succinct mission with concepts that every member of our community—from four-year-olds to Seniors, to parents, to faculty and staff, to alumni can easily understand. We landed at creating curious, kind, courageous, and adventurous learners and leaders.

As we all know too well, our students and school community persevered through a global pandemic. We were able to support one another through this uncertain time. We kept our school family intact while so many other institutions were wrenched apart. Now, we face new challenges. Our students are witnessing immense division in our country, and they are impacted by it. They know they live in a world in which saying or doing the wrong thing can result in social exile and public condemnation. Social media doesn’t typically reward kindness as much as it does judgment and meanness. Our students watch adults in positions of influence not ask questions or try to understand a different perspective. They rarely see grace being given. And the impact of the political division on America’s educational landscape is troubling. Across the nation, we are seeing teachers leaving the profession in record numbers because of political division.

CA is committed to academic excellence and nurturing students who are going to be courageous and kind. We want our students to be critical and independent thinkers. We want them to be guided by evidence and facts. We want them to question their own assumptions and judgments. Our students ask questions about past and current events; and we want to help them process a complex world in responsible ways. Our teachers do their best not to impose their bias, but so many issues have become weaponized by politics, and our faculty find themselves in a challenging position.

For us to live up to our mission, we need to lean into hard conversations—even uncomfortable conversations. It’s important to remember that our children and students are capable of learning about real-world subjects. They can learn about the past that can be troubling, and it will help them be more confident leaders. Of course, we do this work in age-appropriate ways. This year, one of our goals is to encourage more debates on campus. We want students to learn how to argue for a position with which they may not agree; to encourage ideological diversity and be respectful in our debates; and, perhaps, most importantly, ask questions.

When world and national events happen, they reverberate inside the CA community in ways that I have never seen in 26 years of independent school education. Whether we are students, parents, alumni, or faculty and staff, we need to work together to keep our community the special place it has been for so long. We just had our All-School Picnic. The joy that was present was equal to the joy I felt 15 years ago. Let us sustain the joy and happiness of our school. Every person present has their own unique story and perspective. Let us honor that! A key strength of CA is our community. Let us sustain that by supporting rigorous learning, by being respectful to our teachers, and by doing our most to see the humanity and dignity of every individual on our campus.