Welcome to the Headmaster's Blog where you'll find updates, thoughts, and events regarding Saint David's School, the education of boys, and other items of interest. This is by no means meant to be a complete account of all that happens at Saint David's. Please refer to the school's website for more complete details -- it's more a Headmaster's musings.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Girls of Nightingale ...

 ... joined the boys of Saint David's for a morning gathering of music making April 29th.  It was a delight to see the boys perform, with such gusto and confidence, especially the theme song to Mission Impossible.  Mr. Hough proudly conducted the ensemble.  The girls were wonderful guests and talented musicians.  It was a focused social with a purpose--playing music together!  Thank you, girls.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


The habit most associated with charity as a virtue—generosity—is the giving freely of time, talent, skill, or resources without the expectation of something in return.  It’s a noble notion, literally.  The etymology of the word, from the Latin root, literally means “kin” or “clan.”  The earliest usage of the word reflected an aristocratic sense of being of noble lineage or “high birth.”  Over time the meaning changed.  Generosity began to identify a nobility of spirit, rather than family heritage; to signify character traits and actions associated with the ideals of actual nobility such as gallantry, courage, strength, gentleness, and fairness.  Today, the meaning of “generous” has changed further to mean munificence, open-handedness, and the liberal giving of money and possessions. Over the course of centuries, the meaning of generous has shifted from an ascribed status restricted purely to the “nobility,” that was either truly earned or not, to be an achieved status of admirable personal quality and action, that is achievable, although not easily, by anyone*.
As I continue to reflect on our school’s theme for the year this word generous surfaces often.  I like the democratization of the word’s meaning over time.  It is no longer given by right; but truly earned by actions and behavior, by habit.  But it has to be achieved.  To achieve, to earn something takes effort, work.  Work is hard. Today, I escorted sixth grade boys, members of the Headmaster’s Service Club, on their final visit to Cardinal Cooke.  They played trivia bingo and conversed, and shared stories with the residents. They worked hard.

The boys gave freely of their time to visit with the old, the sick and the infirm.  They exercised patience, kindness, gentleness, and a selflessness--all in the late afternoon, after school had closed for the day.  They have done this every month for a year.

If part of “the good” can be found in the virtue “charity” by way of “generosity,” then the sixth grade volunteer members of the HM Service Club have found this part of "the good" for sure; and they achieved it the hard way.  They worked for it.  Thank you boys for your exceptional, generous and noble service to our extended community.  We are all richer for it.

* History of the usage of 'generosity,' in part, from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A New York Moment--Stanford White: Architect

Inside the magnificent Veterans Room at the Park Avenue (7th Regiment) Armory Thursday evening last, Sam White presented a captivating talk on the life and work of his grandfather Stanford White.  It was a fitting venue for this 4th annual social event organized by the Alumni Parents Council under the dedicated leadership of Dorothy Faux and Linda Foran.  With more than 100 people in attendance, Sam not only explained in detail the room we were occupying, designed by his late great grandfather, but also walked us through his great grandfather's life's work--the Farragut Monument, Villard House, Payne Whitney House, Church of the Ascension, Newport Casino Theatre, Metropolitan Club, Madison Square Garden, Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, The Century Association, Herald Building, NYU's Guild Library, Tiffany and Co., NY, to name a few.

The Seventh Regiment was known most famously for its service during the Civil War.  Its Armory is an incredibly interesting New York City landmark.  Within it, the Veterans Room, designed by White and his firm in the late 1870s-early 1880s, has been described as "Greek, Moresque, and Celtic, with a dash of Egyptian, Persian, and Japanese."  The Veterans Room and adjacent Library capture White's distinctive style and the Regiments unique character.  An architect that incorporated an eclectic array of media and style, White is credited with an American architectual movement.  His life, as Sam states in his book, was "extravagant" and his death "sensational," tragic.  At the height of Stanford White's influence and impact, an assassin's bullet took his life.

Sam, an alum from the class of 1960 is one of five brothers that graduated from Saint David's in the late '50s through early '60s.  Sam and his wife, Elizabeth, co-authored the book Stanford White: Architect.  The Council hosts several events each year aimed at bringing the extended Saint David's community together.  Listening to the incredible story of Stanford White as told by his great grandson inside the room he designed at a defining time in American Architectural and cultural history was a classic New York Moment.  In my opening remarks that evening welcoming Sam, I quoted his headmaster, Mr. Hume, "Sam was one of our earliest graduates to go on to such incredible success."  That success was truly evident this night.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Some Days I Love My Job ...

... more than others.  Today was one of those days -- Headmaster for a Day -- a day that someone else carries the heavy mantle of power!  My third grade companion, Jackson B. began this day early in the morning welcoming everyone to school with a handshake and a smile.  After some 500 handshakes it was off to 7th and 8th grade Chapel to hear Mr. Kilkeary deliver an eloquent, morally rich reason why we should all "love our neighbor".  Following another round of handshakes beneath the "frescoed" Shepherd David, we took a tour of the classrooms to announce the much anticipated "HM For a Day Policies" -- always a highlight of this special day.

We began these announcements in the Pre-kindergarten and worked our way up through the school to the 8th grade.  It is fair to say, in response to the first of the policies announced by the Headmaster -- no homework tonight, not a stitch -- that our ascent in altitude was equally calibrated with the applause and cheers that grew in volume and intensity with each passing floor.  To ensure that this policy was fully executed by the faculty and understood by the boys, Jackson made sure that not a single remnant of "homework evidence" was left on any whiteboard in the school, calling upon a lucky boy in each classroom to rise and come forward to the board for a "ceremonial erasing of the homework"-- and each did to excited cheers, great fanfare and the elation of his peers.

It was only later, over a power lunch at Mars 2112 on 51st and Broadway, that I learned from one of Jackson's invited guests that this was all, obviously, part of a far greater, more elaborate plot.  "Research confirms, Dr. O'Halloran," my little friend announces passionately as I begin sipping my Diet Pepsi, "that homework before the 5th grade results in absolutely no substantial gains in knowledge.  There is no benefit to homework at a young age; therefore, we should abolish it!"  It became quickly clear that my three lunch companions had conspired; my power lunch was moving in a dangerous direction.  But not to worry, I thought secretly to myself, we were at Mars 2112.  How bad could it get!  With freaky looking Martians moving around this darkened cave-like enclosure illuminated, if only barely, by a mix of hues from the red light spectrum, and an unusual pill type object hanging high above our heads that changed colors randomly and for what seemed to be no apparent reason, it was hard to take anything too seriously.  I just had to stay relatively quiet, keep my opinions to myself, and pray that that the soon to arrive Martian food would move the conversation in a whole new direction.

The second policy involved a casual dress day in the later spring, and the third, my personal favorite, was for each boy to record an act of kindness or a good deed, as many as each boy wanted or could do this week.  It was to be written on an index card and handed in to their homeroom teacher.  The homeroom teachers will collect all the kind acts and good deeds done throughout the week and share them with their classes in a special session this Friday--that's 403 boys doing multiple acts of kindness and good deeds for a week.  Jackson, in his first leadership role, has left an indelible, memorable mark on this institution.

Other duties and activities consumed the remainder of the headmaster's day, including the reading, with great poise and pacing, intonation and expression, of Elmer to the PK.  After taking a few questions from extremely well-behaved, and quite inquisitive 4 year-olds, it was on to a series of meetings and appointments, including the important power lunch at 2112 previously mentioned and a tour of the "secrets" of the school.  Jackson also met with important administrators and planned some of the layout for the next Saint David's Magazine.  He also wrote a few letters on official stationery.

I enjoyed my day with Jackson tremendously.  It reminded me of how much I love my job, the joy of childhood, and the unique and special place that Saint David's School is.  Jackson was a respectful, responsible, and intelligent headmaster.  It was a pleasure serving Saint David's School with him today.

In the first photo above, Jackson executes at the Headmaster's Desk.  In the second, we see Jackson announcing policies to a 7th grade class.  In the third photo, Jackson and his guests are looking for the elevator at 51st and Broadway.  To their great amusement, it just never comes! In the final shot, Headmaster Jackson is seen, in full control, reading to the PK.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Earth Day All Day, Every Day!

Without contributing to the often politicized nature of issues environmental, I think we can all comfortably agree that learning to respect and appreciate the limited resources of our planet; to be conscious of our need to conserve, and in certain cases protect these resources is something we can all agree on. Earth Day has a special meaning at Saint David's and a long history of celebration. We were one of the first schools involved in the first NYC Earth Day in 1970.

This morning, Saint David's Chamber Singers under Phyllis C's direction, assembled on the sidewalk to welcome everyone to school in song. The boys' performance, enjoyed by the hundreds spread across our 89th Street sidewalk included: Kum Ba Chur Atzeyl, a Hebrew folk song about waking up, Now I Walk in Beauty (Text Navajo; music G. Smith), Old Brown Earth (words and music Pete Seeger), I Thank You, God (text E. E. Cummings, music E. E. Levine), This We Know (Text Chief Seattle; music R. Jeffers), Music is God’s Greatest Gift (various composers; melody in Latin, Spanish and English).

The Environmental Awareness and Action Committee is an active and engaged group of interested and concerned faculty, staff and parents. Formed a few years ago and chaired by Jenna B. and Jeremy O'G., the group is responsible for raising awareness of things environmental at Saint David's. They are doing an incredible job. Their accomplishments have been notable. Two of their videos follow. The first was produced for the faculty and staff last year to promote the EAAC campaign aimed at reducing paper consumption. We did by 10%--probably because of this video; and the second promotes this year's aim to reduce paper cup consumption. Prepare yourself:

Today also saw the conclusion to the Green Cup Challenge and the Green Champions/Green Heroes programs, three additional initiatives sponsored by the EAAC that ran from January 11 through March 5. We achieved 100% participation on the part of Saint David's 403 boys in all these programs. During lunches today, awards were distributed celebrating the achievements of class 8 Pi who won 5th place with 124 activities; 3 Pi and 4 Pi who won 4th with 125; 5 Pi, achieved third with 129; 6 Theta won second place with 131; and 3 Chi won the prestigious Gold Cup with 132 energy saving activities.

We also concluded our Energy Saving Competition with the girls of Nightingale. Comparisons of total kilowatt hours used in buildings 12-14 in February ’09 were made to usage in February ‘10 and a corresponding equivalent square footage at Nightingale for the same period. Saint David's achieved a reduction of 1% compared to Nightingale's .09%. reduction. Saint David's won, just, making us Green Kings ... for now at least. The total combined reduction in usage amounted to well over 1400 kw/hrs between the two schools. A very special thanks to the girls of Nightingale. See slide show below shown to the boys during lunch today.

Other Earth Day activities included a Green Lunch featuring all locally grown produce and no ovens, and a Parents Association initiative to collect and recycle cell phones for Haiti.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Does it Get Any Better?

As we head home from Randall's Island on what is now a beautiful sunny, spring day, we do so victorious on two counts. Down 2-1 after 5 innings, White scores 3 runs off clutch hits. Briggs B. knocks in two to put us ahead. Colin J. ties it up with a single to left field. John W., commanding the mound, closes out the game with 2 of his 10 strike outs. Final score after an incredible comeback, 4-2 Saint David's.

Red v Buckley: Earth Day Closeout

Red outplays Buckley with a second run in the top of the 6th by William G.  Exceptionally strong defense and closing pitcher Nicholas C. prevent any chance of a Buckley comeback. Vincent M. pitches a confident, strategic 5 innings.  Game concludes with a line drive catch by JJ, 2-1 Saint David's.  As the sun sets on this Earth Day Thursday, this headmaster stands speechless and spellbound! Buckley plays a hard game.  The win did not come easily.

Mid-game Update 4/22/10 Red v Buckley: Intense.

Red vs Buckley. Top of the 4th. 1-1. Solid pitching by Vincent M.  A confident Will B. behind the plate. Good solid defense, especially middle infield; Arthur C. in particular with several assists and a nice fly ball catch at the top of the 3rd. Tense game. Buckley's offense is unexpected, shaking a little of Red's confidence, but I think we'll hold 'em.

White v Buckley: Earth Day Showdown at Randall's

Bleak afternoon weather wise. White team holding Buckley. Bottom of the second.  0-0.  Colin J. behind the plate holding the game.  John W. pitching strong. Good base running; some nice hits--Jimmy P. with a double.
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

We can do everything that your students can do ...

... but we can do it in two languages.” Recently, an independent school colleague of mine was visiting a school in Lima, Peru.  During an interview at the school, one of the students commented: We can do everything that your students can do; but we can do it in two languages.  As our boys enter the world of work in 2020-2030, this will be their reality.  They will be competing for jobs, not only with friends and neighbors as our grandparents did, or with people from nearby towns and cities as our parents did, or even with a national pool as many of us did; they will be competing with people from all over the world; and many of them will have proficiency in more than one language.

As we truly begin to think about and come to terms with the impact of a new century, a new reality, on our existing institutional infastructures and practices, our culture and society, we will be challenged.  One of Saint David's most important and ongoing strategic initiativies has been our curriculum inititative--a critical examination of the what, when, why and how we are teaching, now in its fifth phase.  One new commitment that has emerged from this work is to develop a practical fluency and proficiency in a second language.  The pilot "Second Language Program" introduced to all kindergarten boys this year has been incredibly successful.  Plans are afoot to continue the program and move it through the school, thoughtfully.  More to come ...

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Moon Bears and Haiti

I love it when boys get involved in their extended communities.  Today, in the midst of dealing with several typical headmaster issues, two second grade boys appear unannounced at my office door.  George N. then proceeds to present me with a beautifully penned letter addressed to the Government of China acknowledging their recent efforts to "protect" the moon bear. 

Asiatic black bears, commonly called “moon bears,” suffer terribly on Chinese “bear farms” where crude catheters are implanted into the bear's gall bladder through a hole made in the abdominal wall. The bile, extracted or "farmed" from the bear's gall bladder is used in Traditional Medicine practices throughout China and other parts of Asia. 

I can honestly say I know very little about the moon bear and its plight.  But George and the second graders are very aware.  They were looking for signatures to attach to their letter of petition.  They feel that the Chinese Government is not doing enough and are respectfully requesting a more vigorous defense and protection of the bear.  I signed.  Their passionate case was irresistible.  On another front, Student Council President Tommy R. reported to me today that the students have been successful in raising some $38,000 to aid the work of the Passionists of St. Paul of the Cross and Fr. Rick Frechette in Haiti.  Incredible!  And they are not done yet.  This is completely a result of the work of the boys.  I was totally surprised ... and proud!

Moon bears and Haiti, Saint David's boys pursuing their passions and their interests; making the world better.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Lighthouse or a Clubhouse?

Saint David's School is a lighthouse.

One of the aspects I enjoy most about my work is the opportunity to spend time with children.  They constantly remind us of our inadequacies and shortcomings, are full of optimism, and have this insatiable thirst for knowledge.  Eating lunch today with the 1st grade was no exception.  After listening to a thousand stories about double, triple and super-x squared black diamond ski experiences during spring break, over rigatoni with meat sauce, one of my little neighbors asked, "So, Dr. O'Halloran, what do you ski?" "The Bunny Hill," I replied.  This, it goes without saying, became quite the novelty for the rest of lunch.

At a Saint David's function tonight in thanking a particular group for all their efforts, I told the story of the lighthouse and the clubhouse.  One day, a community of concerned coastal dwelling townsfolk who lived by a rocky reef and shoal pooled their resources and decided to build a lighthouse to prevent ships from wrecking on their reef.  The lighthouse, they thought, would serve as a beacon to those who were lost and distressed.  Shipwrecks decreased, but they still occasionally occurred.  In response, the townsfolk decided to form a rescue squad that would set out from the lighthouse to brave the stormy weather and rocky shoal to rescue those stranded by their wrecks.  Not content with mere rescue, they soon expanded the lighthouse again to provide accommodation and meals to stranded sailors until they had recovered enough to embark on their journey home.

Over time these original townsfolk passed away.  The newer members began to question why they were putting themselves at such great risk to save such careless travelers.  They also grew increasingly concerned and uncomfortable about inviting strangers into their community, soggy and wet, spoiling their beautiful accommodations; and the upkeep of the lighthouse, the waste of resources, the cost of the electricity.  The light in the house soon dimmed and eventually went out, all without anyone really noticing.

The new residents and their successors continued to beautify and expand their "facility by the sea" until one day they decided to change it from a lighthouse to a clubhouse.

Saint David's is a lighthouse.  To keep it so we must constantly reflect on our mission and philosophy--our reason for being--and reinforce those values and traditions, those ideals most important to our core function.  Today the first graders, even though a little crudely, reminded me of that.  It's about the boys.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

That Guy in the Glass

We reopened on this beautiful spring morning in full swing as if not a day had passed since we broke March 19. Saint David's has traditionally chosen the two consecutive week option for spring break, as opposed to the alternate week in late winter and week in mid-spring option.  Two consecutive weeks allows for real recharge--for the boys and their teachers. With that said, I love the days the boys return after vacations.  Without them, after all, we don't really have a school ... just a building.

One of the books I'm currently reading is Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood by Jeffrey Marx.  In it, the author makes reference to a poem he read as a child hanging outside the Baltimore Colts 1974 locker room entitled "That Guy in the Glass."  It follows:

When you get what you want in your struggle for self
and the world makes you king for a day,
then go to the mirror and look at yourself
and see what that guy has to say.

For it isn't your mother, brother or friends
whose judgment you must pass.
The person whose verdict counts most in your life
is the one staring back in the glass.

You can go down the pathway of years
receiving pats on the back as you pass,
but your final reward will be heartbreak and tears
if you cheated that guy in the glass.

Although a little longer in the original version, penned by Peter "Dale" Wimbrow, Sr. in 1934, and entitled "The Guy in the Glass," the poem sums up nicely the sentiment of the book.  I'm not sure I buy Marx's full premise, but I do think this short poem carries an important message for us as we reflect on our school-wide theme "The Good" during our final term.