Letter from Steve Piltch, March 2016

March 2016

Dear Shipley Families:

It is hard to believe that spring break is upon us. The year so far has gone far too quickly. Nevertheless, I know that students, parents, and colleagues are ready for some downtime. With the fast pace of life, it is essential for everyone to get some time to slow down and have fewer expectations and demands on them; this is particularly important before things become even busier during the last couple of months of school.

When we return from spring break, we’ll be opening our new Learning & Research Center on the Upper Campus. Formerly our dining hall, the area has undergone a remarkable transformation over the last year. From the shoring up of the building and reinforcement of the foundation last August and September, to the remodeling of the facility, it was a long and sometimes difficult process.

Fortunately, the result will speak for itself. With little awareness of the foundational work that needed to be done, people who have seen the laying of the carpet, the finishing of the floors, the brick work, the wainscoting, and other finishing touches have been remarkably impressed by the appearance of the facility and are excited to see it in use. As one of our eleventh graders said after I gave him a tour of the facility: “This is incredible! I am so excited that I am going to be here for another year to be able to use it.”

While the new Commons, which opened in September, serves as the social and artistic hub of the School, the new Learning & Research Center will serve as the academic hub. The use of these two facilities will go a long way toward shaping the experiences of our students in the Middle and Upper Schools. And it so happens that one of the nicest views on the campus appears when you come through the door at our Yarrow Street main entrance and look straight through the Learning & Research Center to the Commons at the opposite end of the quad (as captured in the accompanying picture).

It is not a coincidence that our academic and social hubs face each other; they will serve as models of integration across the different areas of school life. Symbolically, the design represents our ongoing commitment to the education of the whole student. Teaching both the “harder” skills generally associated with schools and society, such as reading, writing, math, and science, and the “softer” skills, emotional literacy, character development, and other aspects of our SEED Program, is fundamental to the school that we are and will continue to be.  

Hard skills are termed as such not because they are more difficult to learn, but because they can be assessed in a concrete way, while assessing soft skills is far more qualitative. For decades, conventional wisdom held that success in school (and life) revolved around hard skills. We now know that success in life is borne out by the balance of the two – and that those with great interpersonal ability and emotional literacy often far surpass those who possess knowledge alone. The recent article “There’s Nothing Soft about These Skills” written by Jeff Wagenheim for the Harvard Graduate School of Education, discusses this reality. I felt privileged to be interviewed by Jeff for the article and agree with Mandy Savitz-Romer, co-author of the book Ready, Willing, and Able: A Developmental Approach to College Access, who insists that the skills often construed as “soft” skills drive education. “They're foundational,” she says. “They are the building blocks for more academic skills.” I believe we can go even farther, though, and say that soft skills are the building blocks for life.

Looking to the future, the Board of Trustees just last evening approved the basis for our new Strategic Plan, outlining the goals and strategies that will guide Shipley over the next generation. The goals associated with the plan collectively reflect our long-term mission and speak directly to our commitment to educational excellence, love of learning, and compassionate participation in the world. This is captured in the vision of the plan as developed by the Strategic Planning Committee and adopted by the Board of Trustees: We seek to inspire and prepare each of our students to live a life of purpose: to grow intellectually, act compassionately, and lead courageously.

The Plan will push us to further transform our educational program; to enhance our teaching of both the hard and soft skills; and to continue to be a school driven by excellence and “best practices” in everything we do. We look to enhance our academic program with more interdisciplinary work, greater integration of STEAM, and with the ongoing development of our students as people. We want to be sure, as David Brooks, a New York Times columnist and author of The Road To Character, suggests, that our students have both “the résumé virtues, the skills that you list on your résumé, that you bring to your job market, that lead to external success, and the eulogy virtues, which are deeper, the skills and attributes that get talked about at your funeral and are at the core of your very being – whether you are kind, brave, honest or faithful.”

Our new Learning & Research Center, along with the Commons and other facilities, will offer important resources and tools for us as a school to deliver on our vision. Of course, in the end it will be the people who define our community – students, parents, colleagues, board members, alumni, and friends – who will make it a reality. Thank you in advance for the role you will play in the process.

The official opening of the Center will take place on Alumni Weekend, and we would love to have you visit then. If you have not done so already, you will soon receive an invitation to the ribbon cutting and community BBQ on Saturday, April 30. If you’d like to visit sooner, please stop by after spring break.

I wish you and your family a safe and restful spring break, and I hope to see you at our Alumni Weekend festivities.

Warmest regards,

Steve Piltch,
Head of School
The Shipley School is a private, coeducational day school for pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students, located in Bryn Mawr, PA. Through our commitment to educational excellence, we develop within each student a love of learning and a desire for compassionate participation in the world.