The Joys And Challenges Of A PreK-12 Schedule

from Bill Hudson, head of school

I am deeply touched by the outpouring of kind sentiments I’ve received since announcing my intention to retire at the end of the 2024-25 school year. This decision was incredibly difficult, as I have found immense joy in serving as the head of school at MPA and feel privileged to lead such a remarkable community. Each day, I eagerly anticipate coming to school, recognizing the rare fortune of a job that is both professionally rewarding and personally fulfilling.

As I look toward the future, I have full confidence in the board of trustees and the search committee to find an exceptional successor. Rest assured, my commitment and passion for MPA remain unwavering, and I am dedicated to giving my all over the next 16 months.

Looking ahead to the 2024-25 school year, I am excited to share some exciting changes coming to the Middle and Upper Schools. Throughout this year, the academic administration has carefully reviewed feedback on the curriculum and academic schedule from students, parents, faculty, and staff. Our commitment to continuous improvement is guided by our school’s mission and values, ensuring we meet the evolving needs of our students.

Developing a master schedule and academic calendar that caters to students from PreK through 12 is indeed challenging. I often liken my role as head of school to managing a wonderfully messy family with three different schools, each with its own unique students, teachers, and parents—all under one roof. We are one school united by our mission, yet each division approaches the daily schedule with a focus on our students’ academic, social-emotional, and mental well-being. A committee of teachers and administrators, supported by our exceptional new registrar, Renae Wantock, has refined the master schedule to be even more responsive to our students’ needs.

Upper School
In the Upper School next year, we will offer an impressive 50 elective classes, with 29 available to ninth graders, 13 more in the tenth grade, four more in the eleventh grade, and four more in the twelfth grade. This breadth of choice is rare and reflects our commitment to providing an enriching academic experience. Read More

Generation AI And The Future of Education

from Bill Hudson, head of school

In recent months, I have initiated HeadSpace, inviting MPA parents to join me in addressing how best to ensure that MPA prepares students to “live, learn, and thrive in our increasingly complex and globalized society,” a priority outlined in our strategic plan for 2024ward. A startling statistic I recently encountered suggests that 70% of the jobs in 2030 have yet to be created, underscoring the urgent need for transformative changes in education.

On Tuesday evening, several parents and I engaged in a profound discussion regarding Generative Artificial Intelligence (GAI) and its potential to revolutionize education. GAI represents a unique subset of AI distinguished by its ability to produce new, high-quality content efficiently across various modalities. Unlike traditional AI systems, which primarily focus on analysis and prediction, GAI possesses the capacity for creative synthesis, generating original content such as audio, code, images, text, simulations, and videos. Powered by advanced algorithms, GAI models can learn from existing data to create realistic and novel outputs that emulate human creativity and ingenuity. This capacity for generative creativity holds profound implications for fields such as art, design, storytelling, and content creation, offering limitless opportunities for innovation and expression in the digital age.

Reflecting on how MPA can equip students to thrive in today’s increasingly complex society, I came across a Facebook post from our Alumni Association featuring Sofie Netteberg, an MPA Class of 2016 graduate. Sofie is currently enrolled in the MIT Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) program, where students earn both an MBA from Sloan and an MS from MIT’s School of Engineering with a focus on computer science and operations. A graduate of Williams College with majors in statistics and global studies, Sofie describes herself as a, “Life-long nerd who will use technology to ensure the health and happiness of future generations.” Read More

2024ward: An Update

from Bill Hudson, head of school

Mounds Park Academy has a long history of thoughtful strategic planning. Through the years, trustees, parents, faculty, staff, and students have come together to chart a path forward to guide the ongoing growth and development of the school in order to meet the evolving and emerging needs of our students. We are now in the third year of our current strategic plan, 2024ward, with the process to create our next plan beginning in the fall. I want to highlight a few accomplishments and share some emerging plans.

PRIORITY ONE: Empower Students to Live, Learn, and Thrive in an Increasingly Complex and Globalized Society.

  • A committee of faculty and staff created a Portrait of a Graduate. The portrait is a representative statement and visual heuristic that conveys our commitment to teaching and learning at MPA.
    Standards for equity and inclusion, social-emotional learning, innovation, technology, and digital wellness were created by faculty and staff. Together with content-specific standards, they will guide a comprehensive curriculum review next year.
  • The Portrait of a Graduate and the newly developed standards guide the creation of a competency framework devised to articulate and make actionable the transferable skills embedded in the Portrait of a Graduate and prepare students for the world ahead.
  • In the past year, we have been researching international organizations that reflect our mission, vision, and values in hopes of establishing a partnership with an international school. Such a partnership is designed to foster cross-cultural competence and global citizenship. There have been some exciting developments that I hope to share with you very soon.

PRIORITY TWO: Ensure An Equitable and Inclusive Community.

  • A 16-member Equity and Belonging Committee composed of faculty and staff was convened in the fall of 2022 and has created shared diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) language for the MPA community. In addition, the committee developed DEIB-related curriculum standards that are reflected in the school’s Portrait of a Graduate and the emerging competency framework.
  • Together with the Equity and Belonging Committee, the director and assistant director of equity and belonging developed an extensive DEIB resource guide for all MPA employees that was deployed in September 2023.
  • For the second year in a row, MPA student representatives participated in the Student Diversity Leadership Conference, and faculty and staff representatives attended the People of Color Conference, both sponsored by the National Association of Independent Schools. And, MPA is a founding sponsor, together with SPA, of a new and local Twin Cities Student Diversity Leadership Conference to be held on February 16.

PRIORITY THREE: Affirm and Inspire our Exceptional and Dedicated Faculty and Staff through Competitive Compensation. Read More

How To Know A Person

from Bill Hudson, head of school

If you’ve read my previous Panther Posts, you probably know that I am a big fan of David Brooks. Earlier in the year, I wrote about an article he penned for The Atlantic, “How America Got Mean,” that touched me deeply. It prompted me to purchase his latest book, “How to Know a Person: The Art of Seeing Others Deeply and Being Deeply Seen.”

I found it both sobering and inspiring. It is sobering in that more adult Americans are increasingly experiencing sadness, hopelessness, and depression. Sadly, our young people are not immune from this pandemic of declining mental health. The most recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 42 percent of high school students in 2021 reported feeling so sad or hopeless for at least two consecutive weeks in the previous year that they stopped engaging in their usual activities, up from 26 percent in 2009.

I am inspired because the antidote, concludes Brooks, is simple: we must become better at genuinely seeing others and ensuring one another is seen, heard, and understood. Brooks quotes psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk that healing from trauma begins by “knowing that we are seen and heard by important people in our lives can make us feel calm and safe.” I am inspired because I genuinely believe that ensuring students are seen, heard, and understood is something MPA does exceptionally well.

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Humility and Wisdom

from Bill Hudson, head of school

Since 2015, I have invited parents each December to participate in the Net Promoter survey. The Net Promoter is a standard industry measure of customer experience. Respondents are asked to answer a fundamental question, using a 0-10 scale: How likely is it that you would recommend MPA to a friend or colleague? It was created by Frederick Reichheld, a top management consultant at Bain & Company, to predict customer loyalty and measure customer satisfaction. Although it is geared toward Fortune 500 companies and is not common in education, it has been a valuable tool for MPA.

Our school-wide score is 48 this year, a noticeable improvement over last year. Historically, MPA parents have given an average score of 58, including a high of 74 in 2020 and a low of 40 last year. Like many companies and institutions, MPA’s Net Promoter score took a hit after the pandemic, a reflection of the uncertainty as society grappled with the “new” normal.

Approximately 78% of MPA families participated in the survey this year (although the numbers are skewed a bit because families were invited to take it several times if they had students in multiple divisions.) According to the Net Promoter methodology, survey respondents are grouped into three categories: detractor, passive, or promoter, based on the simple question of how likely respondents would be to recommend the school to a friend or colleague.

The breakdown for MPA is as follows:

  • Detractors: Fifty-nine parents (representing 16%) gave a score between 0 and 6 and are considered detractors or “unhappy customers.”
  • Passives: Ninety-five parents, or 26%, are satisfied but unenthusiastic customers, giving the school a score of 7 or 8.
  • Promoters: Two hundred and eight parents, representing 57% of those participating in the survey, gave a score of 9 or 10 and are classified as “loyal enthusiasts.”

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A Roadmap for Continuous Improvement

Students and Mr. Moran in the Makerspace I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. I’ve made them in the past and forgotten about them within a few weeks—workout machines that soon become a place to drape clothes or a gym membership that quickly goes unused. What I’ve learned over the years is that committing to continual improvement is more sustainable and successful than a one-time set of resolutions.

MPA is committed to continual improvement. The roadmap for improvement is defined in our strategic plan, 2024ward, and validated by accreditation by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States, ISACS. 2024ward resulted from multiple conversations with MPA constituents and a thorough study of what our students need to be successful now and in the future.

The first priority of 2024ward is to “empower students to live, learn, and thrive in our increasingly complex and globalized society.” How we do that is in part expressed in the second priority, “ensure an equitable and inclusive community.” To succeed, we need to “affirm and inspire our exceptional and dedicated faculty and staff,” as stated in the third priority. Finally, our school’s future will be secured by the fourth and final priority, “enhance institutional capacity by continuing to strengthen financial sustainability.” These four priorities and the goals, objectives, and action plans support and guide decisions and ongoing school improvement.

Priority One, “Empower students to live, learn, and thrive in our increasingly complex and globalized society,” can seem as though we need a crystal ball. It’s a bit daunting and pretentious to think we have a hold on the future, especially in a society and world hurdling forward at a breakneck speed. However, we know we can’t continue to live and learn the same way we have in the past. As celebrated educational reformer John Dewey said, “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”

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An Invitation to the Party: The Emotional Lives of Teenagers

from Dr. Jenn Milam, Middle School director

Editor’s Note: Periodically, you will find a guest Head’s Message here from members of the administrative team. We hope you will enjoy reading their thoughts and reflections about life at MPA.

“It is a deep comfort to children to discover that their feelings are a normal part of the human experience.” -Haim Ginott (1965)

“For teenagers, powerful emotions are a feature, not a bug. This has always been true, but these days it seems to be less widely understood.” -Lisa Damour (2023)

These two quotes, while written by two different people in two different centuries (wrap your head around that!), in what most would say are, societally, two entirely different worlds, point to the same thing—emotions are normal, for all of us, and are even more a hallmark of what it means to be a teenage human—regardless of decade, generation, identity status, or continent. Both Haim and Lisa are child psychologists, parent educators, and child advocates of the best kind—the kind that see childhood as a journey, a time of exploration—of really high highs and some rough lows. Bumps, bruises, broken hearts, and bad grades are partners (even co-conspirators) of the best kind to championship wins on the ball field or volleyball court, best friend adventures, all-night-giggly-sleepovers, a cute prom-posal, or a new pair of sneakers. It’s like a middle school dance where we stood on opposite sides of the gym, not sure what to do, but no one wants to miss anything, so we all stand around awkwardly hoping for something great—and wouldn’t you know, while we might not get asked to dance by our secret crush, our favorite song comes on, and we end up on the dance floor jumping around to “Shake It Off!” by T-Swift having the time of our life!

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The Good Fight

from Jennifer Le Varge, Lower School director

Editor’s Note: Periodically, you will find a guest Head’s Message here from members of the administrative team. We hope you will enjoy reading their thoughts and reflections about life at MPA.

Many years ago, near the start of my career when I was teaching in Lebanon, I worked with a wonderful human who became my mentor. Sadly, they recently passed away. In June of this year after yet another move to another new place—this time from Luanda, Angola to Beirut, Lebanon to St. Paul, Minnesota—I opened the cover of the book “Making Thinking Visible” found in a battered cardboard moving box, where this mentor had scrawled in blue cursive letters:

keep fighting the good fight.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, I was fortunate to join colleagues and student diversity leaders from Mounds Park Academy, alongside 8,500 other participants at the National Association of Independent Schools People of Color Conference (PoCC) in St. Louis. The theme of the conference was “Gateways to Freedom: A Confluence of Truth, Knowledge, Joy and Power.” As a first timer at PoCC, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I know that my experience was like no other professional learning opportunity I have encountered.

Firstly, this was not just any conference. Long-time attendees lovingly call PoCC the “family reunion,” and it truly felt like it even as a first timer. Since 1986, this annual gathering of like-minded yet diverse educators holds space for participants to fully see others and to feel seen in a real way. In a non-judgmental way. In a more genuine way than some of us might encounter in our daily lives and in our schools. I had the chance to attend various leadership sessions with a focus on people of color, hear from world-famous yet down-to-earth keynote presenters, laugh and learn with the Latinx affinity group, and lend my voice to the volunteer choir. As I reflect on my PoCC journey, certain themes come to the fore, which I share here in the spirit of collaboration. Read More

The Evolution of Digital Environments

from Bill Hudson, head of school

Next week, MPA will celebrate “Hour of Code,” an international movement of schools dedicating one hour to coding activities for students to introduce them to computer science. Instead of just one hour, MPA will dedicate the entire week of December 11-15 to activities designed to de-mystify “code” and demonstrate how anyone can learn the basics. The idea came from our Technology and Innovation Committee, comprised of our technology team and teachers from all divisions who meet regularly to better leverage technology to advance and enhance student learning and prepare students for college and life.

In keeping with our mission and values, technology is a critical aspect of a college-prep, progressive education that centers hands-on, experiential learning at the core of all we do. At MPA, our philosophy is that since technology surrounds us, its knowledge and skills are best learned through active participation. Our charge is to prepare our students to meet the challenges of this continually evolving digital environment with new ideas and new ways to use it that are spiraled throughout our curriculum.

I recently came across a quote that said that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t yet been invented. In a world of disruptive technological change with ever more rapid advances in generative artificial intelligence, I believe there is an urgent need for what Mike Walsh, CEO of Tomorrow, calls “citizen developers,” those who will be able to design work even if they lack formal programming skills. Likewise, director of academic technology Michael Moran shares, “By no means do we expect our students to become computer programmers; however, it’s our responsibility as educators to approach computer science and coding as a literacy.” Read More

The Joy (and Challenge) of Calling A Snow Day

from Dr. Bill Hudson, head of school

Of all the decisions I must make as head of school, there is one that I dread the most: calling a snow day. As a child, nothing was more magical than awakening to heavy snowfall, racing to the TV, and anxiously awaiting the name of my school to scroll across the bottom of the screen. While I still consider a snow day magical, deciding to close school is difficult and complicated. Someone once told me that if a leader tries to make everyone happy, they are not doing their job. This is particularly true in making weather-related decisions. Inevitably, someone is not going to be happy.

The decision to cancel school for an inclement weather-related event (which could be snow, ice, or sub-zero temperatures) is made by the head of school in consultation with the administrative team. The most important criterion is the safety of our community, which has 580 students and more than 100 employees who live in 82 different zip codes in six counties throughout the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The second criterion is to honor in-person learning. The number of school days is based on our mission and values, on what we believe best supports student learning, and on the needs of our community. Snow days are an interruption, and we would prefer not to have any interruptions.

Whenever possible, my goal is to decide by 6 AM at the latest. If a snow day is called, it is communicated by text, phone, email, the school’s website, and local television stations. Because MPA draws from such a large geographic area, it is not uncommon for the weather to vary, sometimes significantly. School closing or delay decisions are based on a number of factors:

  • Weather forecast
  • Timing of the event (morning or afternoon drive time)
  • Road conditions (MDOT traffic cams)
  • Feedback from First Student (our bus company), District 622, and peer schools
  • Feedback from Admin Team members (who live in areas across the metro)
  • Areas affected (we draw students from 82 zip codes)
  • Building conditions
  • Parking lot conditions

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