In early August the side door to the 1509 building was replaced. The maintenance team contracted with craftsman Ben Davis ‘06 for the project. The old door had been there since the day the school opened, and had been repaired many times. It was a well-used door: two generations of children and adults, thousands and thousands of people had gone through it. Some of the students from the original oldest junior high class have now retired. The door remained.
The door has been practically and symbolically the entrance to 1509 Ponce, our original building. The entranceway is humble and does not presume to overwhelm those who pass through it with institutional grandeur. I went to a college which epitomized institutional grandeur; it washed over you like an Atlantic tidal wave, and for fear of being swept away, many never took a breath to enjoy the surf.
That’s not the dynamic one wants for children in an elementary and secondary school. Schools should welcome children, not intimidate them. Our entranceway leads to a corridor as humble as our side door. The corridor is neither wide nor well-lit, but children descending from the upper floors can build up a respectable sprint as they fly past my office door. The playground awaits. They seem to go even faster when they shout.
Paideia is a successful school by almost every criteria people use to measure success in schools. We attract engaged families, eager students, and talented teachers; the budgets are balanced with respectable surpluses, there is a half century of good governance by trustees, and widespread loyalty to the community among parents, alums, and alum parents. We do a good and steadily improving job opening our eyes to blind spots, our own and those from the larger community; most recently we have been working on doing better widening the door to enhance diversity and equity. Paideia has been able to get better because we do not think ourselves perfect.
As we enter our second fifty years, we should find comfort in the school’s successes. But rather than puff up with institutional accomplishment and splendor, let us attend, as we always have, to the emotional and intellectual growth of children as well as the magical interplay that occurs between a young learner and a supportive community. We want Paideia to be seen in the shadows cast by our students, not the other way around.
Fix the doors when need be, but focus mainly on the all the important and good things within.