School Visit: looking back

Planned on writing this yesterday, but had no internet connection at Reflections Café, or at least couldn’t make it work.

About 8:30 am yesterday, I drove up to MA to visit a former colleague and school technology officer at a school in the Pioneer Valley. We had a good visit. I was a little awkward, I’ll admit. We’ve not seen one another in a few years; he’s a fan of my gaming work, and would like me up there as a gamer, among other things, but we’d never had the chance to develop a really deep friendship. We may yet, if I wind up going there to teach next year.

Positive thoughts about the campus and the school. First, it’s a lot more compact than here. The lower school, upper school and middle school are sort of in separate buildings, but separate like the buildings of a monastery are separate: everything is no more than 10-12 steps from any other building. The dormitories are at one end of campus exclusively, and it’s about a 10-minute walk from the dorms to the school. So there’s processing time between school and ‘home’, which is good. I didn’t get to see the apartment where I’d likely live, but I gather it’s very small. The classrooms are spacious and well-lit, with plenty of bulletin board space and whiteboards and chalkboards. The hallways are wide with cubbies rather than lockers. The school’s tech policy keeps kids in the common room and not in their (shared) bedrooms. The number of boarders is small, and the days-off policy on weekends is pretty liberal. The lunch area is homey, as are the dormitory common rooms. There’s no chapel program for me to run.

Not as good: the library is at some distance from the rest of campus. There’s no wireless access for teachers or students, so you can’t look up things quickly or easily from inside the classroom. Each classroom has one computer, so you can’t easily teach online computer skills (on the other hand, students can have laptops, so you can expect papers to be typed or e-mailed to you). The upper school is on PC platform machines using Windows, while the lower school uses Macs. I’d have to learn a whole new computer system and attendant programs. There’s not much of a poetry scene in the Pioneer Valley, near as I can tell.

Things to be aware of: The school was on vacation, so I did not meet too many people, and particularly no students. Their dean of upper school and the upper school secretary seemed like good people; my friend, of course, is there; the lunch ladies and the maintenance staff with whom we had lunch seemed good; so did their business manager. The head was out on vacation.

This is not a ‘move-up’ job, more of a lateral move. I’d be teaching, coaching, running a dormitory, just like here. I’d be closer to some friends, farther from others. I’d have to give up my continuing education responsibilities in CT, which has been invaluable to me in building contact lists and extending my network. The salary is probably higher, but there will also be moving costs and higher taxes with which to contend. There are also a smaller number of colleagues, because it’s a smaller school and has more day students. They also have no better solution to the problem of a fencing program than here does. It’s debatable whether they want an outdoor education program at all.

Things I really liked: a sane technology policy. A sense that their master plan and their constructions have worked within an evolving master plan as opposed to “build what the donors pay for”. A sense of family: everyone was involved on more than one level; even the maintenance guy ran what amounted to a miniature dormitory of one. Little sense of hierarchy — everyone works together to make this place work. Student involvement in learning. Some sense of tradition even in a fairly liberal school.

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