Monday, June 27, 2011

I'm sorry.

22,000 people thought they’d won the American Dream. And they had. But erroneously. And then the U.S. State Department shook them on the shoulder and awoke them from their dream and took it all away. It broke my heart to read this article in the Wall Street Journal. There’s a bit of a pit in my stomach for these people.

And then I remembered when I was the U.S. State Department. In a previous school in a previous time (with previous technology), we used to send a congratulations note from the headmaster a week after each candidate’s offer of admission. But those letters were run on the same day as the offers of admission—just post-dated. I don’t recall the circumstances (no doubt having suppressed them) or the details, but one year we changed our mind about a student after we’d run the letters, and we pulled their offer and instead sent a denial.

But we failed to pull the follow up letter from the headmaster.

You can imagine my utter confusion when I returned to my office one afternoon to a very excited voicemail from this student’s mother. She was completely baffled but didn’t care because their family dreams were realized and for reasons unknown we’d changed our mind and offered her son admission. Seemingly from the headmaster no less!

What can you do? It took a bit of time to figure out what happened and then I had to call the mother immediately before they told every neighbor, grandparent, and classmate. In the end, it still was not a good match and despite our mistake we had to hold true to what we believed was best for this boy, which was not to offer admission. It was one of the lowest and most difficult points of my admissions career. Proud dream maker had just become humbled dream killer.

I owned the mistake. I apologized endlessly. I explained what happened. I wrote a follow up note to both parents and kid. When I read about the 22,000 immigrants and conceived this post, I was going to title it “Not Proud”. But that’s not fair. I remember how I felt and can only imagine what those in the State Department are feeling this week.

For the boy in Philadelphia back in the 1990’s and for these 22,000 immigrants today, I’m sorry.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Just be.

Maybe it’s the fact that our school years have all come to a close and we’re all just a wee bit exhausted, but I have talked to more colleagues in the last month who seem to be teetering on the edge. And apparently I’m seemingly one of them as the chaplain recently called me into his office out of concern and to inquire how I’m doing. I thought I was doing fine. Best I not reflect too much and discover otherwise!

We seem tired from the year but also tired from what we perceive to be battles with heads, boards, faculties and even our own staffs. We’re restless, looking longingly on the other side of the fence to see if the grass is actually greener over there. There certainly have been an uncommon number of late spring director changes to invite curiosity. Upon closer inspection, however, it doesn’t seem to be. Even schools, directors and offices that appear from the outside to have a perfect admissions life really don’t when you peel back the cover. The diversity is never right, athletics is never happy, and/or the financial aid budget was never sufficient.

And then there are our schools. They seem restless as well, looking at colleagues and competitors down the road and thinking it’s seemingly better there. They appear to raise more money, generate more ivy league-bound graduates, and have deeper waiting pools. They appear… It’s not that our schools shouldn’t always strive to be better but they sometimes do so absent of taking an accounting of all that is good and actually going well. Goals are admirable but goals don’t negate the success and accomplishments of today. Or they shouldn’t.

What is going on? Why can’t we just be? Why can’t our schools just be? Hopefully the hallways empty of students and faculty and the slower pace of summer that comes with warmer, longer days will result in a quieter pace, a reflection on all that is good and promising in our lives and in our schools, and newfound optimism and enthusiasm for 2011-2012.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Chocolate Fudge Brownie

Hello from the Essex Institute, a wonderful (and rockin’) professional development opportunity for anyone in prep school admissions. I highly recommend it but just don’t let your spouse or head see where we stay.

This evening they made us do one of those hideous “get to know the person to your right and introduce them to the group” exercises. Actually, it was about a decade ago when I met my dear friend Pam McKenna from Hopkins Schools at the Essex Institute. We immediately bonded over our mutual loathing of such exercises. “I’m not here to make friends!”

Well, Drew Lineberger from St. James School had to introduce Craig from The Linsly School. This school is apparently the only boarding school in West Virginia (shocking!) and one of only two independent schools in all of WV. When this was pointed out, someone shouted out (was it you Shelia, from Packard Colleagiate??), “What’s your point”??!! Through the cloud of martinis, merlots, and beers, the question was actually quite valid. What was the point that they were the only boarding school in West Virginia?

Actually, I was next to Drew and my job was to introduce him. In our chat beforehand, he mentioned he had two kids. I asked him “who cares”? I told him that it was all about differentiation and that having two kids was nothing special. He then went on to tell me that he had two cats (I’ve forgiven him). Their names were “Ben” & “Jerry”. Bingo! Who cares he has two kids. Shortly after my introduction of him, someone across the table had two kids—of the same age! I elbowed Drew, hard!

Nobody will remember his kids—or the kids of the person on the other side of the table—but I bet you they remember “Ben” & “Jerry”. And who cares if you’re the only boarding school in all of West Virginia? Big whoop. Tell me something I care about and then I’ll remember your school.

Who cares about being unique. It’s all about being memorable and valuable. If you’re the only boarding school in a state/province that doesn’t care about boarding schools, what good does it do you? Being different doesn't fill schools or beds. Having value does.

On the other hand, do you think those two cats at St. James could fetch me some Chocolate Fudge Brownie or maybe some Cookie Dough??