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Speaking and Writing

I don’t speak very much — but sometimes…

Eastside Prep named a building after Will and me — the Levinger Poole Commons. Here are my remarks at the ribbon cutting:

Thank you to everyone for coming today and for the wonderful honor you have given to all of us who have been involved in starting and supporting Eastside Prep.

On April 1, 2003 I signed a three-year lease on an office building in Kirkland – what we now think of as the middle school building. We had five students signed up for school in the fall. I came home and said to Will, “You know, we might be leasing office space in Kirkland. I hope you’re okay with that.”  He was.

I know the date was April 1. I am somewhat of a practical joker and we had a board meeting that afternoon. Another board member and I put our heads together and decided to play an April Fool’s Day joke on Terry and the rest of the board. I told them the lease had fallen through. This was the start of a decade-long recreation in which Terry and I competed to see who could play the most original April Fool’s Day jokes on the other.  I hit my pinnacle in 2011 and she called a truce in 2012. Clearly she could not top me.

On a more serious note, I am often asked why we started Eastside Prep. Originally, it was an issue of supply and demand – Overlake was the only secular secondary school on the Eastside and Overlake was difficult to get into. But that would not have been enough to sustain the effort it took. What really kept me – and I believe the other founders — motivated was the idea of a school that provided its students with the skills necessary to be successful in life. Think about it: Our kids may live 80 – or even 100 – years after they graduate from high school. We cannot even imagine what they will encounter in the future. But we have to prepare them for that future.

My father is 84 years old. He grew up in South Dakota during the depression. So much has changed in his lifetime. Still, he could sit down in almost any classroom in this country and feel perfectly comfortable. The whole world has changed. Except for our schools. So I worked very hard at Eastside Prep to create a school where my father would feel uncomfortable.

I believe that as parents and teachers, our responsibility is to give our kids the tools they need to deal with whatever the future holds. They will need to be able to integrate and synthesize information, to communicate well, to think critically and creatively, to problem solve, to ask good questions, to lead and to follow. They will need to be resilient, persistent, innovative, compassionate.

This last year, I read a great book called “Creating Innovators” by Tony Wagner. I highly recommend it. Wagner quotes a Harvard Business Review blog about Innovation.  It says, “By the time [children] are 6 ½ years old, they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions.”

I don’t believe that is true of Eastside Prep.

Terry and the faculty have designed a program that captivates students so they want to learn, that encourages questions, that intertwines life skills into the curriculum, and that engages our kids in relevant ways so they are not cramming for tests and forgetting everything the next day.

Both of my children graduated from Eastside Prep. William is a senior at Brown University studying physics and doing DNA research. I just brought Sarah to Lewis and Clark in Portland where she is starting her freshman year. Sarah is artistic and empathetic. She painted the pictures on the back wall there. Sarah also has dyslexia and struggled at school, but the teachers at Eastside Prep worked with her and she ended up doing great. In fact, both William and Sarah did well at Eastside Prep. They were comfortable enough here to take risks. Both were engaged and learned a lot. Their teachers knew them and respected them as individuals. And they are now on their way to being happy, independent adults.

Our program is not perfect but it is improving every year.  This work is difficult –creating a program where the kids are comfortable, yet challenged means that we adults will probably not be comfortable. Progress is hard. It’s easier to fall back into ways that are familiar, to teach the way we were taught, to cram for tests than to really think. So I challenge everyone to embrace a program that is forward thinking today and that anticipates tomorrow.

I want to finish by thanking everyone again. Although only some of us are being honored today, none of us would be here without the vision, creativity, and support of dozens of people – board members, faculty, staff, parents, students. I want to especially call out Patricia Friel and Maureen O’Hara who were with me from the beginning. And I want everyone to acknowledge Terry Macaluso—because we would not have a school if it were not for her.

Eastside Prep is growing and changing. The future will require new ways of doing things. And it will require that new people step forward.  I hope everyone will answer the call – because we are doing more than just educating our kids. We are creating a future.