One day after the President’s State of the Union Address, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly delivered his address on the State of the School. Organized by the President of the Parents’ Association (PA) Andrea Madaio P’23 and her team, the All School PA Meeting and Dinner provided parents with updates on programs across the school’s four divisions as well as notice of the PA’s future initiatives.
The PA, which serves to raise funds and strengthen the community within the parent body, is the unofficial “fifth division of Horace Mann,” a phrase coined by Kelly, Madaio said.
According to Chair of the Board of Trustees Laurence Grafstein P’11 P’12 P’15, the purpose of the dinner was to facilitate a conversation between parents and the school. “It’s important to be able to have channels of communication and transparency for the parents, so that they can evaluate and assess the priorities of the school,” Grafstein said. “It helps parents get a more granular feel for the school.”
Kelly was the “main attraction” of the night, Madaio said. “Dr. Kelly is a phenomenal speaker; everybody’s here to find out what he has to say.”
Indeed, Ian Harris P’23, whose son has been a student at the school since kindergarten, came to the dinner primarily to hear Kelly speak about the school’s latest initiatives, where the administration is putting its resources, and what issues the institution deems most important, Harris said.
The night began when Madaio thanked Kelly, Grafstein, Executive Assistant to the Head of School Anne Joao, and Director of Development Melissa Parento for their help organizing the event. Following Madaio’s introduction, PA First Vice President Sally Zhang P‘26 briefly discussed event highlights from each division, which included the Middle Division (MD) and Upper Division (UD) book fairs and international food festivals, the UD faculty and staff appreciation breakfast, and the Lower Division (LD) winter festival.
Zhang then passed the microphone onto Grafstein, who introduced himself and his work at the school. Despite having never attended the school, Grafstein said he was drawn to the institution through his three sons, all of whom graduated, and his interactions with the school’s alumni during his college years. “[The alumni I knew] had more than intellect,” he said. “They all had a sense of grounded values and intellectual curiosity—and I didn’t think it could be random.”
Now, as Chair of the Board of Trustees, Grafstein said he thinks that the board’s job is to keep the school “the marvelous place that it is.” To allow the school to hold itself to a global standard, the board will continue to be supportive of initiatives from students, staff, and teachers. “We really view ourselves in support of Tom and his team,” Grafstein said. “It’s the faculty, administration, and staff who make the magic at the school happen.”
Kelly started his speech by thanking the board, which he described as invisible yet omnipresent. “Because of their intelligence, because of their foresight, and because of their discipline, in celebration they’re with us, and in sorrow they’re behind us,” he said. “They give us the ability to care for kids that is not the norm in other schools.”
Kelly described the school beyond “the As and the Bs” by outlining a few changes in each of the four divisions. The Nursery Division has a new playground, Kelly began, and the LD is delving deeper into its study of diversity. “Decades ago, we would’ve said they’re too young; they’re too fragile,” he said. Now, though, the school strives to teach students as young as kindergarteners how to lead, and lead graciously.
Furthermore, the MD is changing its approach in both advisories and assemblies with the goal of encouraging students to be “awake, engaged, and excited about the topics they are exploring,” Kelly said. And by next year, within the UD, there will be 15 new courses offered to make “AP courses look pedestrian,” he said. “If this school is going to do something, it’s going to do it right.”
Above all else, Kelly’s speech furthered Bipasha Chatterjee’s P’23 understanding of the school’s new academic vision, she said. “I saw Tom Kelly’s interest in making the future for the kids quite experimental and creative, almost like a college environment.”
Kelly also announced that the school will give students the day off for two more holidays next year: Lunar New Year and Eid al-Fitr, which helped Bharti Malkani P‘23 P‘27 see the administration’s commitment to inclusivity, she said.
From Kelly’s speech and the night in general, Grafstein hoped parents came away with two major lessons. “Number one, that there’s an openness, a willingness, to talk about almost any issue that affects either an individual child or the community more generally,” he said. “[Number two,] that there’s a genuine desire to improve, because as great as Horace Mann is, and wonderful as the traditions it has are, there’s a necessity and imperative to continue to improve.”
For Lou and Yuko Royer P’20, who regularly attend school events such as musical performances and theater productions, going to this year’s dinner was especially meaningful since their daughter is a senior, Yuko Royer said.
Both Lou and Yuko always look forward to speaking with parents from other divisions who they don’t usually cross paths with, Lou Royer said.
Madaio, who has been involved in the PA since her daughter was in preschool, recognized that the school is a “commuters school,” so ensuring that parents feel connected to one another is key.
Events like the all school dinner also allow Yuko Royer to compare notes about the school’s different divisions, she said. “That’s always fun; we can tell them our experiences because many people may not know about the Dorr activities and other things.”
“We want to thank you for giving us your kids and for making us a priority,” Kelly concluded. From the ND to after college, the school will support its students and alumni, he said. “We’re here for life.”