Letter from Steve Piltch, May 2016

May 2016

Dear Shipley Families:

Throughout the year, I have written and talked about the Shipley Method on a regular basis. On our website we describe it this way: “Strong relationships between students and faculty are at the heart of everything we do. Because our teachers know our students as learners and as people, our students develop the confidence to explore, which enhances their creativity, and leads to deeply rooted learning and greater success.” Put succinctly: great process (The Shipley Method) leads to the best possible results (deeply rooted learning and greater success). Although it may be difficult to appreciate the interaction and cumulative impact of all of these things in the moment, the culminating events of the year present great opportunities to see how good process impacts results. In fact, earlier this month, I almost became overwhelmed as I observed four different and important examples of those results in the same day.

My day began by attending the second grade’s culminating project: The Desert Zoo. As I and many others walked around our Lower School gym and listened to our second grade zoologists, we learned about tarantulas, coyotes, bobcats, woodpeckers, and other animals and birds. In the process, I was impressed by the second graders’ knowledge about their animals and the confidence and ease with which they presented the information in a well thought out and clear manner. Of course, the presentations did not just happen; the students did a significant amount of research and practice in order to achieve their goals. (If you would like to see some of the process, go to: For some, it was their first experience in public speaking; as nervous as they were, they did a great job. The students were proud of the work they had done and of their presentations and will take many lessons and skills with them as they move to third grade. Not surprisingly, many of our older students who were second graders here remember the Desert Zoo experience with great fondness.

From the Zoo, Mark Duncan, our Athletic Director, and I went down to the Schuylkill River to watch a number of our rowers, girls and boys, compete in The Stotesbury Cup Regatta, the biggest high school regatta in the world. Since we were there for the preliminary round, the boats were racing against the clock to qualify for the semi-final heats when they rowed against each other head-to-head. While we could see how our boats were doing relative to the boats that started just before and just after, we could not tell how they were doing relative to all the others in each race. This made it harder to appreciate in the moment just how much went into the event. But, upon closer inspection (and upon seeing and talking with some of the rowers), it was clear just how dedicated each individual was to the effort. Although a number of boats moved into the semi-finals, none of them qualified for the finals or earned a medal. However, I know that the student rowers valued the experience and that it had special meaning for our seniors who rowed their last races that weekend. They include: Addison Leavy, Jaylah Shannon, and Giulia Acchione, who with tenth grader Charlotte Norris made up the varsity quad for the girls’ team; and Micah Salamon and Doug Ramsey, who with eleventh graders Nick Hannon and Roy Xu made up the varsity quad for the boys’ team. (With relatively few seniors graduating from the program, the returning athletes are very excited about next year. I will look forward to watching them develop and seeing them row at the 2017 Stotesbury Cup Regatta.)

Though the rowing was easy to see, there were also other results on display, beyond the athletic competition at hand; our rowers were also dedicated to being thoughtfully engaged with and supportive of those who were doing the work to make the regatta happen. This became clear to me when I received an email from one of our semi-finalists in the regatta following the race: “Today I had my semifinal race at the Stotesbury Cup Regatta,” he said. “The reason why I am emailing you is because the person that was holding my quad in the stake boat at the starting line told me that her uncle is Steve Piltch. Now, usually when I am at the starting line I will say thank you to the person for taking time out of their day to volunteer. I was so focused on the race that I forgot to do that, and I would appreciate it if you could tell your niece that Nick, Doug, Micah, and Roy say thank you for volunteering and holding our boat at the starting line.”

Upon returning from the river, I was pleased to find a large group of fans, parents and kids from all grades, ready to watch our baseball team play Moorestown Friends for the Friends Schools League title. I was touched even before the game began as I watched one of our seniors, center fielder Philip Johnson, perform the national anthem on his violin. It was the second time I have seen him do this, and it captures the essence of who we are and what we believe. We love that our students are individuals who do not fit in to any one mold. They may be academics, athletes, artists, actors, musicians, or whatever activity they choose, and any combination thereof, which I truly value. Philip is a good example, and on that day, we got to appreciate his terrific abilities as a musician and athlete. I must admit that as I heard him play, I was feeling confident in the team’s ability to put things together. After all, the last time Philip had done both, the team had an impressive win against Abington Friends on Senior Day.

Well, the game could not have gone better. The team found a way to do all of the little things well. From the start, sophomore Blake Rodack pitched a fabulous game. He had the poise, presence, and ability to pitch himself out of difficult situations. Meanwhile, Nick Wojtelwicz went 3-3 at the plate with 2 RBI and 3 runs scored and made a number of great plays in the field. The team collectively played a nearly flawless game and took advantage of enough opportunities to take an early lead and go on to a 5-1 victory.

In a season that has seen the team have good games and bad ones, they put it all together when it mattered and the team won its second straight league title. For the seniors on the team – Phil, Nick, Pete Sobelman, Evan Spector, Jordan Yarmark, Chris Riley, Will Robinson, Griffin Daly, Trevor Stokes, and Wyatt Page – it was a very powerful way to finish their Friends Schools League careers. It was no less important for the coaches or parents. Adam Wojtelwicz, CFO and assistant coach, said: “What a game! It’s clear that the kids bought into the process. It is amazing what can happen when kids stick together, work hard, and push each other to do great things.”  

I finished the day by attending the Upper School presentation of Macbeth, which was truly spectacular. Emma Gibson, our resident director of Shakespeare, does an incredible job teaching the intricacies of the Bard and helping each actor put his/her best foot forward. The terrific acting was incredibly well complemented by equally impressive costuming, lighting, and sets; the special effects were almost beyond belief. I have no doubt that if Shakespeare were alive, he would have been impressed by every member of the cast and crew. And, he would have taken special note of our seniors, who make up one of our most talented and accomplished performing arts groups in our history. Many of them have performed in our one act plays and/or musicals, have sung in The Shipley Singers or Glee Club, and have contributed in so many other areas too. Those in the show included: Mallory Avnet, Lucy Connell, Elise Dadourian, Lauren Grajewski, Shannon Smith, Allegra Rapoport, Adam Gordon, and Ben Kimmel.

Although it is more than a week since the day I just described, I am still in awe of our kids and their wonderful commitment, ability, and accomplishments. I recognize that the feats of that day – and those of all our students, whenever their work is made visible to all of us – are but snapshots into the lives of our kids. Such events are, in essence, rites of passage that will provide wonderful memories for those involved (and their families) and will serve as the basis for our students to take new risks and better develop their confidence to explore and creativity so that they meet the challenges they will face moving forward. Isn’t that what good education is all about?

Here’s hoping you enjoy the culminating events of the year and that you and yours have a wonderful summer, one that provides everyone with the opportunity to be together, to learn, and to grow, and one that creates the basis for more rites of passage and accomplishments to come. Thanks for a good year, and have a wonderful summer.

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.