Letter from Steve Piltch - September 2018

September 30, 2018

Dear Shipley Families,

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I can’t tell you how many times during my 27 years at Shipley I have said I’m the luckiest Head of School in the country. In the first few weeks of school, this feeling has been reinforced for me many times over. We are fortunate to have a student body that is remarkably bright, talented, thoughtful, and committed, parents and guardians who partner with the School to do what is best for their kids, a group of colleagues second to none, and alumni and friends who believe in and support Shipley. In turn, it is no surprise that we are as proud as we are to be a school committed to educational excellence, love of learning, compassionate participation in the world, and the celebration of each student as an individual.

As we enter into our 125th year, one of our goals—as defined by our strategic plan—is to continue to enhance the engagement of all constituencies of our School. Over the first few weeks, I have been incredibly impressed by people’s participation and involvement in anything and everything we’ve done. Whether it was the Back to School Nights, opportunities to meet with the new Head of School candidates, our Volunteer Forum, our first All School Assembly of the year, or Super Saturday (which just took place yesterday), people showed up in droves and with enthusiasm, conviction, and a commitment ensuring that everyone had a great time. A huge thank you goes to our colleagues and volunteers who helped to make these events happen.

In particular, thanks go to parents and guardians who have been there not only to support their own children, but also to reach out and find ways to make a difference in others’ lives and in the School. One hallmark of our community is the way in which each fall returning Shipley families, in various planned and spontaneous ways, reach out to welcome and offer support to new families. Entering a new school community and culture can feel daunting and overwhelming, particularly because parents are concerned about their children and whether their transitions will be smooth and comfortable. Although it’s easy to talk about the big things that people do, it’s the small things, like holding of the door, introducing oneself to someone new, grabbing food or a drink, or just asking someone who may be confused if she or he needs help or has a question, that really define what this community is about. I thank each and every one of you for helping to build the sense of commitment, closeness, and involvement that exists here at School. Not surprisingly, we know from surveys administered by Lookout Management, Inc. and studies done outside of School that when parents/guardians are positively involved in their children’s school(s), the children – our students – do their best work and have a greater chance of thriving.

At our All School Assembly, in one of the most touching moments of the school year, our 98 seniors—our Mighty Oaks—welcomed our Little Acorns—our Pre-K, K, and 1st Graders—with pencil boxes to commemorate the start of the school year. The ceremony is generally one of expectation about the future for parents of our Little Acorns and nostalgia for the parents of our Mighty Oaks. I must confess that, this year, I was certainly in the latter camp, as I thought back to 1992 and my first All School Assembly when we began the tradition. Believe it or not, any number of our former students who were involved in this ceremony during the earlier years of my tenure are now parents of students in the School, watching their children go from being Little Acorns to Mighty Oaks. Their children’s time here will go very quickly, just like theirs did!

Meanwhile, Super Saturday told our story in a different, dynamic way. From 10:00 in the morning until almost 10:00 at night, we had people celebrating our 125th anniversary at the fair, BBQ, games, and other activities. Thanks and congratulations to all the wonderful people who made the event possible and enjoyable. A special note of congrats goes to our teams – girls’ tennis, field hockey, boys’ soccer, and girls’ soccer – who competed on our behalf. Win or lose, they represented themselves and the School with pride and passion. It was particularly heartwarming to watch our girls’ soccer team play the first game ever under the lights on our fields and to hear and see our student fans, lovingly known as the SWAMP, dressed in their SWAMP t-shirts and support the team with such enthusiasm and energy. I hope playing under the lights becomes a new tradition at Shipley. (Our thanks go to Lower Merion Township for making it possible to use lights on the Wolfson Athletic Field Complex on the Upper Campus.)

I am optimistic that the energy, enthusiasm, and involvement that have been so prevalent during our opening weeks of school will characterize everything we do throughout the year. It’s not often that you get to celebrate a special anniversary like this one, and it’s exciting to know that people are taking it to heart. I’ve already enjoyed countless interactions with our parents and guardians, and I will take my memories of those moments with me through the years.

One such discussion that brought a smile to my face took place just after one of our parents had left one of the Head of School candidate sessions. I said to him, having seen both of his children, “Wow, your kids are really growing up.” Though he had a smile on his face, I could sense some ambivalence from him from when he said, “They have grown up, and it’s wonderful.” He went on to say, “It was so much easier when they were younger and I could fix everything.” Anybody who is a parent or guardian can identify with his ambivalence – excitement about their growth and hesitancy about our evolving role as parents as our children mature and develop into their own beings.

As I suggested in my first Head’s letter last month, we want our children to do the things necessary both to thrive in the classroom and to meet the challenges they will face in their lives. Of course, along the way they have to slip, fall, and make their share of mistakes. Otherwise, they will not be able to learn. Our job as they do that is to step in less and to be there to support them so that they can get back up and ultimately thrive. As they become more independent and autonomous, we need to appreciate who they are and where they’re going, and we must find ways to help them get there. After all, among the most important things they can do is to develop their own voice and to share it in a positive and constructive way. And as they share their voices, they (and we) also need to listen to other people’s voices. Among the most important things we can do in School is to have people listen to, respect, appreciate, and understand each other’s voice (and opinion).

As we move into the fall and towards the heart of the school year, I invite us all to do the little things that will help our students develop their voices, be proud of who they are, and, ultimately, to flourish. Thank you in advance for the time and effort you’ll put into this work. Thanks for being part of Shipley. Have a wonderful fall. My thoughts are with you.

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.