The Responsibility of Bold Innovation

from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of SchoolHead's Message

I have to admit I am a big fan of dystopia books, film, and television. Favorite books include “The Stand” by Stephen King and “Swan Song” by Robert McCammon, movies such as “The Day After Tomorrow” and “I Am Legend”, and television shows like “The Leftovers” and “The Walking Dead.” It’s not that I like gloom and doom or enjoy blood and gore. Rather, I see dystopian literature, films, and television as windows into the human condition, what humans are capable of in the face of horrific conditions, great suffering, or terrible injustice, and the triumph of the human spirit.

Living through the last several weeks, let alone the last 18 months, has been all too much like a dystopian novel. Wildfires in the west, hurricanes in the south, the drought here in Minnesota combined with the lingering effects of the pandemic, all present a series of challenges that are testing the fabric of our society. Like characters in a dystopian movie, we are learning a great deal about ourselves, what we value, and what we are willing to do to endure.

Imagine my surprise last week when dystopia seemed to invade my professional life when I came across the article “Schooling in the ‘Fifth Season’” by Justin Reich in the latest edition of one of my favorite education journals, Educational Leadership. What caught my attention was a quote from a study conducted by the United States Change Research Program, “Humans are re-engineering the geo-chemistry of the planet to be inhospitable to our current civilization. As average temperatures rise and extreme weather events become more common, there will be more fires, more floods, more freezes, more novel disease events, and accompanying migration, civil unrest, and conflict.” (Reidmiller, et al., 2018) While I’m not sure I agree with this assessment, I believe that conducting school no just like we did 18 months ago would be a mistake. Educational systems must be inherently structured to pivot and change and to become more agile and proactively responsive. Read More

A Commitment To Growth

from Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School Head's Message

On Wednesday morning I had the pleasure of attending the first Lower School CHAMP assembly of the new school year. If you are not familiar with CHAMP, it stands for “Character Happens At Mounds Park.” My day began greeting students as they entered school wearing a rainbow of designated colors unique to their grade level. The assembly would ordinarily take place in person, but instead students gathered via Zoom to engage joyfully in song, learn about the attribute of the new year, and listen to a book read by librarian Nancy Lage. Afterwards, classroom teachers invited students to share their thoughts and experiences on the theme.

Now in its eleventh year, the CHAMP program will continue to focus on its primary philosophy of guiding students to act with a specific set of traits to produce responsible citizens. As explained by Renee Wright, Lower School Director, classes will continue to focus on the eleven attributes in order to endorse real-life application of Friendship, Compassion, Respect, Inclusiveness, Courage, Self-control, Responsibility, Cooperation, Mindfulness, Integrity, and Perseverance. The focus this year will be on being accountable and students will focus on being accountable to self, family, school, and community. Read More

The Magic Of A Noisy Classroom

upper school students giving classroom presentationAfter several months of quiet and sometimes eerie peacefulness, the hallways and classrooms are abuzz with energy and joy this week. And so, it should be as the MPA family comes together again for a new school year. With 139 new students and an overall enrollment of 577, much of our time over the last week has been dedicated to building community and developing relationships with one another.

There are volumes of research demonstrating that when students feel like they belong, self-esteem, positive peer relationships, classroom engagement, academic achievement, positive attitudes toward school and learning, resilience, and many other positive attributes increase. One of those volumes collecting dust in the stacks of the University of St. Thomas Library is my own dissertation on the importance of creating a school culture that is grounded in relationships.

Late last week, I was drawn to a classroom by the laughter emanating from it. Rather than be concerned, I simply smiled, for I learned early in my career as a teacher and administrator that there is magic in a noisy classroom. What on the surface may seem a bit chaotic or messy can in reality be a very intentional experience with students engaged in their own education, building relationships, and learning collaboratively, in a robust and captivating place. Read More

Providing A Joyful Light

by Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of Schoolhead's message

Welcome home! I hope that you had a wonderful summer, filled with plenty of time with family and loved ones. Although I enjoyed the slower pace, I am thrilled to start a new school year. We begin the school year with 575 students, the highest enrollment in more than 10 years with 138 new students, several grade levels full, and others close to capacity. Our growing enrollment is surely an indication that “Dream Big. Do Right.” speaks resoundingly to the hearts and minds of a growing number of families in the Twin Cities. With confident humility, we acknowledge our place among the very best independent schools in the nation.

I love to read but find very little time during the school year to tackle a good novel while also staying abreast of journals, the most current educational research, and professional reading. During the summer, however, you can find me reading on the deck, the dock, the boat, or on long car trips (in the passenger seat, of course). Of all the books I read this summer, one stands out, the Pulitzer Prize winning “All the Light We Cannot See.” It is one of the most beautifully written books I have ever read and is deeply, deeply moving.

As I was thinking about many reasons why MPA is a unique and special place and the tremendous growth of the school over the last several years, I was inspired by a line in the book:

“So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”

The mission of MPA over the last 40 years, as captured by our school motto, “Dream Big. Do Right.” is dedicated to bringing light to a world that all too often seems darkened. Each child holds within them immense possibility and potential. By igniting and nurturing the light within each student, our students are better able to bring that light to the world. Through cultivating critical thinking, creative inquiry, and social responsibility, we inspire and empower our children to improve an ever-changing and sometimes, challenging world. We do that by truly knowing each student and though a rigorous, yet joyful, education delivered by an exceptional faculty and staff dedicated to fostering caring relationships with their students.

Thank you choosing MPA and entrusting your children to us. It is going to be a fantastic year!

2021-22 COVID-19 & Back To School

first grader in art classby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

Even though it can be a little quiet and sometimes lonely working over the summer, it is a delight to witness how the grounds come alive. My office overlooks the rain garden and reclaimed prairie at the north end of the campus and the indigenous flowers that only bloom in the summer are stunning. From time to time, I also stroll through our gardens outside the Middle School and our new garden outside the Harrison Library. We are fortunate to have such a beautiful campus and a committed cadre of teachers, staff, students, and parents who lovingly care for it over the summer months.

Great care has also gone into preparing for the new school year. This email serves as your re-introduction to life during a pandemic on campus at MPA. We’ve spent a great deal of time this spring and summer researching the progression of the pandemic, consulting with educational and medical experts, and seeking guidance from our Community Advisory Group to design a plan that continues to be flexible, nimble, and always attuned to the latest science. Just like last summer and even throughout the school year, please know that the plan and all of our safety measures will change based on emerging information, both locally and nationally. We remain wholly committed to being safe, being smart, and being kind and ask all of our families to recommit to that intention. We cannot wait to have the entire community back on campus this August—including families! Read More

A Legacy Of Resiliency And Perseverance

Prek students at track and field dayby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” –Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

As we close out the school year, I couldn’t help but think of the prologue from “A Tale of Two Cities” by Charles Dickens. The series of paradoxes in the prologue rang true as I reflected upon this past year. We are living though one of the most extraordinary moments of our lives when just about everything has been turned upside down and called into question. Who could have imagined all that we would be faced with this year—a world-wide pandemic, social unrest, political discord, and racial reckoning?

If the pandemic has been a paradox, then this school year has been nothing less than a triumph. In the midst of darkness and despair, we found light and hope, resiliency, and perseverance. And while I sometimes take it for granted, I am reminded that is no simple feat to remain open throughout the school year and preserve the continuity of learning. It is true we’ve had our share of challenges and low points; our community is stronger and more resilient than ever.

In my first Panther Post message of this school year, I quoted author Diane Coutu who observed that resilient people possess three characteristics—a staunch acceptance of reality; a deep belief, often buttressed by strongly held values that life is meaningful; and an uncanny ability to improvise. As I reflect upon this school year, I believe that our school and students have certainly demonstrated these characteristics. Resiliency and perseverance will be the legacy of our collective journey this year.

Even as this school year draws to a close, the Administrative Team has been hard at work throughout the spring planning for our next school year. Like we did at this time last year, we began by naming the values that would guide all decision-making, beginning with the health and safety of our community, on-campus and in-person learning, and a joyful, whole-child hands-on, experiential, exceptional learning. While there may be some necessary mitigation strategies, we will be monitoring the guidance from the CDC and Minnesota Department of Public Health throughout the summer and adjust plans accordingly. However, as vaccination rates climb higher and higher and young children begin to be vaccinated, fewer and fewer health and safety measures will be needed.

This is certainly a week to celebrate and I am pleased to bring back so many of our time-honored traditions, such as Kindergarten Graduation, Moving Up Ceremonies for the fourth and eighth grades, Lower School Vocabulary Bee, Track and Field Days, and Yearbook Assembly. On Saturday, we will bid farewell to a group of amazingly talented leaders and students who I am certain will continue to dream big and do right in all that lies ahead of them.

I want to thank you for entrusting your children to us. I also want to express my gratitude for investing in the school and our faculty and staff through your philanthropic giving. I am continually in awe of the generosity of our parent community and the strong partnership we have. Have a wonderful summer and I look forward to coming together again in August.

Celebrating What’s Next To Come

Karen Widerskiby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

As the school year hurries to a close and we look forward to celebrating the graduating Class of 2021, we are also celebrating two employees, payroll and benefits administrator Karen Widerski, and Middle School math teacher Dan Ethier, who are graduating on to other endeavors.

Karen came to MPA in the 2012-2013 school year after a long and successful career in human resources at Target Corporation. In her time at MPA, she has made wonderful impressions with colleagues. Rose Wick, who works alongside Karen in the business office, shares, “Karen is a true friend, the most hilarious person I have ever worked with.” Other coworkers describe Karen as “awesome,” “a hard worker,” “fun,” and “humorous.”

Karen purchased her father’s home on Child Lake in Hackensack, MN, where she will surely continue to the throw the best fourth of July party on the lake, complete with a fireworks show. She is very close with her family and will enjoy spending more time with her husband Jim, daughter Jess, and son Keith. Her father and brother live nearby as well. Karen is a pet lover who has raised several black labs, including her current dog, Jax. Up North, Karen will get to continue her love for the outdoors, especially, snowmobiling and cross country skiing, and she’ll have lots of time for the annual family trip to the Caribbean each winter.

“Karen came at a time when there was much change at MPA. She brought an amazing sense of calm and confidence, and she is always willing to do whatever it takes to get things done,” says CFO Gina Wallraff. “She is a major team player with an amazing can do attitude. We have relied on her tremendously and she just takes care of things. She will be missed.”

We all wish Karen a wonderful and happy retirement.

Mr. Ethier teaching math class

Dan Ethier joined MPA in the fall of 1992, and for 29 years, has been a fundamental part of the Middle School, as well as a highly successful and much loved cross country running and math league coach.

In the classroom, Dan exemplifies MPA’s experiential, hands on approach to learning. He built his curriculum on solving rigorous problems and he’s an expert on crafting open ended problems that require his students to apply their deep content knowledge in creative ways. Rather than giving students problems that have a clear, procedural approach, Dan instead sought ones where the methodology was not obvious nor straight forward from the start.

Dan’s problem solving approach connected academic rigor to real world concepts. Whether it was learning about investing and interest or measuring the depths of craters on the moon using trigonometry, his students have found themselves solving problems that apply mathematics to life.

Dan’s personal sense of curiosity and love for learning made him a great teacher as well. “Students ask good questions. I make sure to spend time pursuing those questions and demonstrating interest in them,” he says. “Sometimes I raise the questions myself. It’s about being curious myself and letting that spill over into the lesson.”

Though a math teacher, Dan fiercely advocated for all subject areas, and especially championed the fine arts. “The arts allow students to see the world in new and different ways, and that new vision will allow them to apply their science, technology, engineering, and math knowledge with the creativity and innovation our 21st century world needs.”

In the end, what most propelled Dan to the upper echelons of the teaching profession was his knack for truly getting to know each student he came across. He was known for writing a comment on every problem that a student answered incorrectly with advice on where they went wrong.

“Dan has been, and always will be, a cultural icon of sorts in the Middle School. From his silly stuffed animals, to his dry sense of humor, students have come to know math and themselves better in this great big world,” says Middle School director Jenn Milam. “We will all be better for having shared this journey with Dan–his passion for mathematics and teaching is out-matched only by his passion and love for Middle Schoolers.”

Dan also poured his heart and soul into Mounds Park Academy cross country. He took over the program in its infancy, and through his guidance and passion, turned it into a perennial contender and one of MPA’s most successful athletic programs. He took three teams to the state meet, placing as high as second in 2013, earned section 4A coach of the year honors in 2008, and coached six all state-athletes and two state champions.

Dan’s connection to his team is clear. He is invited to and attends nearly every graduation party, creates individualized race plans for each varsity runner at every meet, writes detailed recaps of each race, and is a true master of making everyone on the team, from state champions to sixth graders, feel welcomed, included and special. It’s no wonder that so many seniors on the team ask Dan for a letter of recommendation when heading off to college.

Dan coaches the right way, with humor, care, and respect. He instills a terrific work ethic in every athlete and transforms a sport that some find monotonous and difficult into something enjoyable and rewarding. Whether it’s the annual run to Dairy Queen, the game of “Foxes and Hounds” or the professional quality end of season banquets, Dan brings joy, sportsmanship, and camaraderie to the team.

As Dan moves on from MPA into retirement, I hope he will get to enjoy more time with his passions outside of MPA, including drone photography, distance running, astronomy, app development, and current events. And I know he will always be rooting for the next generation of MPA runners.

Please click here to leave farewell messages and well wishes for Dan and Karen!

Preparing For The Post-Pandemic World

8th Grade engineering showcase in the makerspaceby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

The pandemic has disrupted nearly all aspects of our lives and society. Families, civic life, the economy, and our government are just a few of the institutions that have been negatively impacted by COVID-19. At the expense of being branded “Captain Obvious,” education has also been tremendously impacted by the pandemic. Most of the conversation has been about what students have lost, and rightly so. Many educators have great concerns about a significant learning gap for students who spent the year learning remotely. Poor mental health resulting from sustained isolation is also worrisome.

While there have been losses, students have also experienced tremendous gains. Over the last year, students were confronted with numerous challenges that they had never encountered before that they needed to overcome. Students had to learn how learn remotely, to discover new ways to express themselves and their ideas, and develop a measure of autonomy, independence, and personal responsibility. They also learned how to care for themselves and overcome isolation. They learned how to push though difficulty, bounce back after failure, and try something new. Read More

Diligence Is Needed

ninth graders testing their mousetrap carsby Dr. Bill Hudson, Head of School

If you’ve been in an airport recently, it certainly appears that the pandemic is waning. Having just returned from a short trip to Charlotte, North Carolina to visit my 81-year-old mother whose health has been failing, I can attest to that. The lines to get through security are getting long again and planes are beginning to fill up again. It’s almost as if life is back to “normal” but we know that it is not, at least not yet.

There is good news as more and more people are getting vaccinated. Minnesota is near the top of the list of states with the highest percentage vaccinated with 64% of Minnesotans 18 years and older having received at least the first dose of the vaccine. And with the FDA recently authorizing the vaccination of children 12 and older, we may be in the last leg of the pandemic.

With all the positive news, it’s easy to forget that we haven’t crossed the finish line just yet. According to the Star Tribune, pandemic activity remains at high levels in Minnesota, which had the second highest rate of new infections in the latest White House COVID-19 state report released last Tuesday. While it is true that the risk is lessening as more people get vaccinated, given the rise in variants, our on-campus dial stop one mode, and increased cases in recent weeks, diligence is needed now more than ever. Read More

A College Choice Day Unlike Any Other

Isak Dai '21by Dr. Bill Hudson, head of school

I remember sitting in the bleachers in the upper level of Jenison Fieldhouse at Michigan State University to witness the graduation of my father. At five years old, I had no appreciation for the sacrifice he and my mother made for that to happen. I didn’t know that my dad joined the Navy after high school to help support his family and that afterwards, he worked full time to put his younger brother and sister through college. I didn’t know that over the course of seven years he drove 80 miles round trip to attend classes at Michigan State all the while working a full-time job, leaving my mother to care for three small children. I didn’t know any of that, sitting in the bleachers that hot May afternoon in 1969. But I did know how important college was as I spotted my dad cross the stage to receive his diploma.

MPA seniors, together with the entire MPA community, will celebrate College Choice Day this coming Monday, May 10. Sporting their chosen college apparel, seniors will gather in and around the Upper School Commons to create their college pennants and feast on individually pre-packaged cookies and beverages. “This class has my heart,” says director of college counseling, Lisa Pederson. “The pandemic literally shut down campuses last spring break as many were arriving to tour campuses. They rebounded and conducted the rest of their college search almost entirely online, demonstrating an amazing degree of resilience, imagination, determination, optimism, and support of each other.” Read More