by Abe Asher
On Monday, OES announced that a member of the Class of 2016 had chosen not to return to the school for the remainder of the year.
The effects of that decision are likely to be widespread in the school, and could impact OES going forward in a multitude of predictable and unpredictable ways.
After the announcement on Monday, the OES administration met with the entire senior class. US Head Jordan Elliott ran the meeting, in which he took questions from various class members. Fair to say, the events of the last several months have hit different students in different ways.
“I’ve had a lot of individuals come to me after the lunch meeting, and my feeling is that if there are 76 people in the class, there are 76 different opinions on this,” said Dean of Students and Dig Advisor Kara Tambellini.
Many of the students who asked questions in the lunch meeting were extremely frustrated — both with non-answers, a sense of betrayal from the school’s administration, and the fact that certain people in that meeting were unwilling to acknowledge and accept responsibility for the school’s failure to keep students safe. In this case, that frustration is not necessarily a bad thing for anyone.
“I worked the night shift at a battered women’s shelter right out of college… the women who were angry were able to move forward and put their life back together. It was the women who weren’t angry that were despairing, that had no agency, and that I really worried about. Anger is good. Anger is healthy,” Kara said.
Other members of the class were introspective. Others, certainly, were indifferent.
“The meeting was absolutely useless, because none of the questions were answered directly. It was hard to care about the meeting because it was so unproductive,” said Adam N.
“The meeting was useless for most of the seniors because many of us have not seen the letter, which the meeting was based around. I felt like I couldn’t contribute to the discussion. It was a waste of forty minutes that could have been used any other way,” said Yinka L.
That complaint — a lack of access to the letter in question — was echoed by a number of members of the senior class.
After the meeting, the authors of the letter — which was sent to key administration officials over Winter Break and has now been shared with the entire Upper School faculty — discussed publishing the letter in its entirety for students to read.
However, due to privacy concerns and other matters, they decided not to publish the entire letter unedited. You can read their statement here.
Key excerpts from that letter can be read here, in a story The Dig published last week.
These events have also hit different faculty members in different ways. The faculty meeting on Thursday morning was devoted to this subject, and several ideas — including reforming the advisory system — were brought up.
“I made the point that in the old system, we had much more time to meet with advisees, and therefore it was possible to meet with students and discuss issues as well. Under the new schedule, we have very little time to meet as an advisory” said US Religion teacher VJ Sathyaraj.
“I feel very much like I don’t know my advisees in the same way as I used to know them before. So I asked the administration to take a look at adding more advisory time back into the schedule,” he continued.
“The care of students cannot be left only to the deans, counselor, and assistant heads of school. All of us can be of huge care to students, but we need that opportunity.”
“My broad philosophy of education is that we don’t just help students grow intellectually. The primary task of teachers is to develop a relationship. Without that, even intellectual growth is not possible. Students learn best when they think well of the teacher and thinks highly of the learning,” VJ said.
“OES has the opportunity to do this. That’s the advantage of being a small school with small classes. But if we don’t know anything about what students feel, or their struggles, the rest of what we do won’t have as much impact. Those kinds of relationships last forever.”
There is also a sentiment from a quieter but sizable group of people that the administration is doing as well as it could do under a very difficult set of circumstances.
Julie Sikkink, drawing on her experience running the Dorms, told me, “It’s super sensitive… very hard to balance responsibilities to different constituents. I definitely know what it’s like to be told part of a story and have nothing solid to go on. You’re left standing there saying, ‘this is serious, we have to do something,’ but it’s harder to figure out the next steps.”
“Sometimes the most productive things you do, people don’t know about — because you’ve done them really well. You can’t tell people the things you did do well because you’d be ruining someone’s privacy. I’m really struck by the way adults in leadership positions are trying to listen and be responsive and support students.”
It does seem fair to say that there is a will for productive change throughout the school’s hierarchy. How that change is going to come about — and what it is going to be — remains a point of contention.