Head of school Lee Thomsen talks to lower school parents and head of lower school Christy Vail in the Winters LIbrary on Oct. 15. (Photo used by permission of Emily Allshouse)

Head of school meets with parents to address questions, concerns

Once every two weeks in October, head of school Lee Thomsen met with parents, by grade division, to give them a chance to discuss issues or topics about the school.

Thomsen met with middle school parents on Oct. 1, lower school parents on Oct. 15, and high school parents on Oct. 29. The meetings were in the Winters Library and lasted about an hour and a half. Eight parents attended the high school meeting.

Thomsen has hosted these “Coffees with Lee” since coming to the school three years ago. In his first year he met with all the parents at once. However, for the past two years, Thomsen has divided the meetings based on grade.

This year, Thomsen said, he wanted to discuss the new strategic plan, which comes out every five years.

“I wanted to talk about how (the strategic plan) might impact people,” Thomsen said.

The overarching plan is for the school to continue to grow STEM electives and after-school opportunities, such as Makerspace, Robotics, Game Design and Web Design, starting with the development of computer programming.

With the new computer lab finished in the high school, the next biggest changes will be in the middle and lower school, according to Thomsen.

“We’re seeking to hopefully, by the second semester, add some sort of computer programming elective in middle school,” Thomsen said.

Thomsen added that there were two big topics that were brought up by high school parents.

“Questions came up about APs (Advanced Placement classes) and prerequisites for APs,” Thomsen said.

  “There’s a culture here of wanting to get as far ahead (in math and science) as possible.”

For example, parents asked what students who had finished AP Calculus BC should do.

“We talked about some possibilities, (such as) potentially offering an online class because we don’t have a teacher-taught class here yet,” Thomsen said.

Thomsen added that he is looking out for the best interest of the students, especially regarding summer classes.

“One can bring up the argument about taking Pre-Calculus Honors for four to six weeks over the summer,” Thomsen said. “Is it really as valuable an experience as taking the class all year long?”

Thomsen said that the motive for taking the biology summer course is similar to that of Pre-Calculus Honors.

“Students want to take multiple APs,” Thomsen said. “(But) if you have to take regular chemistry, regular biology (and) regular physics before taking APs, it’s almost impossible to get through all those classes.”

Unless, that is, students take those prerequisite classes over the summer. Therefore, some students who have taken physics, chemistry and biology before their junior year have two years to take AP classes.

But offering summer classes might not be in the interest of all students.

“By offering these opportunities, are (we) creating an arms race for students to build up the fattest resume they can, and does that create competition among kids who feel like they have to keep up with their peers?” Thomsen said.

For now, there will be no changes to the summer classes, but Thomsen wanted to make sure he discussed both sides of the debate with parents.

The second big question was about Latin classes, as teacher Jane Batarseh is retiring at the end of the year.

“A question came up about a student in Latin 3 and whether they could complete Latin 4 by the end of the year (before Batarseh retired),” Thomsen said.

Jennifer Scott, mother of junior Spencer Scott, said she was concerned about the hiring process.

“(I) expressed my concern that the administration not repeat whatever hiring process led to the disastrous year of sophomore history,” Scott said.

Scott added that Thomsen was eager to hear her concerns and that he did not want to relive that experience.

“I felt that Mr. Thomsen heard my concern and responded with relevant information,” she said.

Thomsen said that they discussed moving high school Latin to an online platform, but that won’t be happening.

Instead, middle school Latin teacher Brian Billings to teach combined level classes of high school Latin.

Thomsen said that the plan is to combine Latin 1 and 2 in one class and Latin 3 and 4 in another. Currently, Thomsen said there are no students scheduled to be taking AP Latin next year.

Scott was satisfied with the solution for Latin, but she said that her concern of the lack of a math class beyond AP Calculus BC has yet to be resolved.

George Claire, father of freshman Arjin Claire, said he found it worthwhile for Thomsen offering time to meet with parents.

“I appreciate Thomsen being willing to listen to any concerns (that) parents had,” Claire said.

On the topic of Latin, Claire said that as long as students are learning and understanding material at the required pace, he’s happy with the solution.

—By Ethan Monasa

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