Please Welcome MPA’s Lower School Director!

Dear MPA Community,

I am overjoyed to be writing to formally introduce you to Ms. Jennifer Le Varge, MPA’s permanent Lower School director. The search for Ms. Le Varge began last September and engaged many members of the MPA community, extending from students to teachers to families and beyond. The search was wide and thoughtful in partnership with Carney Sandoe, resulting in many highly qualified candidates. We were fortunate that Jennifer was among the finalists. She rose to the top through the process based on her deep experience, varied skills, and beautiful alignment with MPA’s mission.

Ms. Le Varge comes to MPA from the Luanda International School in Angola, where she is the Primary School principal. Before that, she was the Seoul Campus principal at the Korea International School. For 12 years, she has served as principal at schools in Asia and the Middle East. Before that, she spent valuable time in the classroom teaching PreK and early elementary. She holds a Bachelor of Science in elementary education from Boston University and a Master of Arts in anthropology (ethnography of education) from the American University of Beirut.

One of the things that stood out most to me in getting to know Ms. Le Varge is her alignment with the MPA way. She believes in the power of experiential learning, the importance of collaboration over competition, and the significance of strong school-home relationships. She makes sure that student learning is at the center of all decision-making.

“During my finalist visit, the positive community of MPA stood out to me. Everyone I met was kind, enthusiastic, and focused on student learning. I was also impressed by the focus on creativity and well-being in the MPA approach. I am really excited to join the community as both an educator and a parent,” she shared. You can learn more about her professional philosophy here and more about her personally here.

I am so excited to introduce Ms. Le Varge to more community members! As her relocation plans fall into place, I will invite you to a series of gatherings on campus. Please be sure to look for those to be scheduled and shared soon.

I also intend to provide time and space to show our immense appreciation for Dr. Ann Jurewicz, interim Lower School director. We are all indebted to her for sharing her expertise, wisdom, and energy with us this year. Watch for opportunities to thank her for her service to MPA at the end of the school year.

Thank you in advance for giving Ms. Le Varge a warm MPA welcome. Please let me know if you have any questions. I wish you and your family a joyful spring break and look forward to seeing you on campus soon.


Dr. Bill Hudson
Head of School

Community Is At The Heart Of Our Mission

from Bill Hudson, head of school

I was away from school last week, attending the National Association of Independent Schools annual conference held in Las Vegas this year. I have to admit that it was a bit surreal. While the conference center was first-rate, staying in a hotel casino was disconcerting. At the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy (even using the word makes me feel like I should be a patient of Dr. Rick in the Progressive Insurance commercials), the noise level, the smoking, and gambling were discombobulating (more evidence I need Dr. Rick’s help).

However, the conference itself was very good. Independent school heads of school and educators from around the country gathered to learn, share best practices, and celebrate independent schools. There is much to celebrate, including record enrollment, academic innovation, and student success. There is also much to be concerned about. Social polarization, political acrimony, the “Great Resignation,” the lingering effects of the pandemic on learning, parental angst and anxiety, and the increasing accessibility of artificial intelligence are all negatively impacting the academic, social, emotional, and mental well-being of our children.

The news is not good. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH) recently released the results of their biannual Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). Forty-two percent of high school students report that they “experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness during the past year,” up from 36.7% two years ago. Females and gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth are struggling the most, although increases across all racial and ethnic groups worsened also. While there are many reasons to explain the worsening of the mental health of young people, the internet and social media seem to have the most significant effect. Read More

The Challenge And Inspiration of Change

from Lamar Shingles, director of equity and belonging

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

If you ask anyone who knows me well, I have a deep fascination with understanding how things work. My mother recalls many instances where her home and possessions became a canvas for me to explore my mechanical inclination, two of which would define me above all others. She loves to reminisce about how I used to take apart working kitchen appliances and put them back together before I was old enough for kindergarten. Infamously, there was the time she came home from shopping with a friend to find that her ambitious high schooler had rendered her car unroadworthy, determined to find the issue, and fix it. As she looked precariously upon the bevy of unidentifiable parts strewn across the front lawn, instinctively, her mind searched for ways to fix her car—and me. However, as she observed and allowed initial emotions to subside, she recognized the most important thing to do was embrace my intrinsic motivation to “work the problem.” Not only did this establish the necessary conditions for learning to occur in the moment, but it also expanded my capacity to identify and resolve problems in the future.

While I ultimately did not become the NASA engineer my mother probably assumed I would be, the lessons I learned influenced my career path, nonetheless. Diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging (DEIB) work is uniquely challenging. It is intentionally disruptive of the status quo. It is difficult to define, and few standards exist to guide the way. Progress and success can be even more difficult to identify as they are predicated on both individual and collective exploration and growth. I often think of the work as an iceberg, 10% is what everyone can see, while 90% exists below the surface.

2024ward outlines a strategic vision that defines the guiding principle of DEIB work: “Deepen our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging and ensure it is reflected in our policies, programs, and practices and in the life and culture of the MPA community.” Such a commitment requires an approach that must be as unique as MPA itself. It will also require resilience, creativity, empathy, and participation from all within our community.

This year has marked real progress in our DEIB journey. At the core, we are continuing to build our capacity to define and sustain this work while building off previous work. Administration has participated in True Colors and Intercultural Development Inventory trainings that enhance our ability to collectively and effectively lead MPA. Student support has been significantly elevated with the addition of assistant director of equity and belonging, Samantha Sanchez. Faculty have begun training in Culturally Responsive Teaching practices that will help us understand and address implicit bias in the classroom. Employee affinity groups have emerged. A faculty and staff equity and belonging committee has been established that is working to define shared language and equity standards that will dovetail with our curriculum review process. The MPA Parents Association established a DEI committee and paved the way for the creation of affinity groups for parents of LGBTQ+ and neurodiverse students, and the ability to form more groups going forward. We have also recognized and are actively working to improve how we address the needs of our international students and provide greater support for our host families, who selflessly open their homes to our international students.

Implementation is and will continue to be a multifaceted journey with many destinations. Guy Kawasaki once stated, “Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.” I have been asked many times, “why do you do this work?” My response brings me back full circle to the intrinsic motivation my mother helped to cultivate. This is challenging work. But most importantly, it is work with purpose that is inseparable from my internal desire to leave MPA better than I found it.

The Evolution Of Our Science Curriculum

from Bill Hudson, head of school

In high school, science was not my strong suit. Although I did well, I was only really passionate about science in my senior year when I discovered physics. It was a watershed moment for me, and physics helped me to develop a genuine interest in and true passion for science. I only wish I had it earlier in my academic career. Forty years later, I’m happy that today’s students have opportunities I didn’t.

The Upper School science curriculum has undergone a well-planned, research-based evolution over the last four years. The new science curriculum is a comprehensive program that coordinates mathematics with science as a coherent whole with a distinct view of how each concept builds a framework upon previous learning. Physics, traditionally taught in twelfth grade, is now taught in the ninth-grade year. Biology is taught in the sophomore year and chemistry in the junior year. This new sequence now allows for a series of science electives to be offered in the senior year, building upon this new scope and sequence. The new electives give students a choice and the ability to go deeper into a particular field of science. Read More

Meet Lower School Art Teacher Ellen Scharfenberg

Ellen ScharfenbergHow long have you taught at MPA?
I came to MPA in the fall of 2021. I was looking to move back to the Twin Cities area after having taught elementary art in rural Wisconsin for four years to be close to my family.

What’s the best thing about being a teacher at MPA?
I think the best thing about being a teacher at MPA is the wonderful people that I get to work with. Not only are the faculty and staff at MPA truly amazing teachers and professionals, but some of my closest friends.

Describe your typical day. 
My typical day at MPA begins with prepping art materials for my classes that morning and probably talking to Ms. Mastel across the hallway. I usually teach three Lower School classes in the morning, followed by a great lunch by our Sage staff. I always try to take time to eat and connect with my colleagues. After lunch, I either help with Lower School lunch or recess and teach two more afternoon classes.

Do you have a favorite lesson to teach?
I think that one of my absolute favorite lessons to teach is the second grade fall cabin project. This lesson is a great way for second graders to practice using a one-point perspective and learn about the other elements of art such as space, overlapping, and making objects smaller as they get farther away. Read More

Kindness Is In Our DNA

from Bill Hudson, head of school

Several weeks ago, I spent over an hour on the phone trying to clear up an issue with the automatic payment for our cell phone. We suspected possible fraud and had canceled the credit card on file, but I forgot to update my payment method with the service provider. I like to think of myself as easygoing and patient. Still, my frustration grew to anger as I tried to navigate the online customer service portal. Later, after spending more time than I had on hold, I wasn’t very kind to the customer service representative I spoke with. It wasn’t my best moment.

In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Christine Porath of Georgetown University says there’s been a definite increase in angry, uncivil, and obnoxious behavior in many workplaces around the world, including businesses, hospitals, restaurants, airlines, hotels, stores, and schools. In a 2005 survey, about half of workers said they were treated rudely at work at least once a month. In 2011, the percentage rose to 55%, in 2016 it was 62%, and in 2022 it was 76%, with 78% saying they witnessed incivility in their workplace at least once a month. Incivility is harmful both physically and mentally.

The number one cause of incivility? Stress. In a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world, complete with social and political divisiveness, it’s not a surprise. According to Porath, the antidotes to incivility in the business world are hiring well, training and coaching, empathy, recognizing and rewarding civility, and modeling. These interventions are similar to what might occur in a school community. It is my experience after working with, and in many different schools, the culture of kindness at MPA is the strongest I’ve encountered. I believe it is in the cultural DNA of MPA. Read More

Exploring Visual Learning

from Ann Jurewicz, Lower School director

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

Do you like to doodle while listening to new information? Perhaps you like to chart your ideas as you are explaining them to another person. Or maybe you like to “talk your ideas” out loud, finding someone to be your sounding board for a great hunch that nevertheless is an idea still not fully formed. (You may be praising the patience of your “thought” partner or significant other as you read this!)

What all of these activities have in common is “visible thinking.” When we are thinking, we are learning. The more we explicitly engage in thinking, the more we learn. “Visible Thinking” has become the life’s work of Ron Richhart of Harvard’s Project Zero. He explains, “If we take seriously the notion that learning is a consequence of thinking, then thinking—in all its forms: critical, creative and reflective—needs to be part of every lesson we teach.

When schools promote inquiry learning, the goal is to expand thinking, which in turn expands learning. For example, when a student asks a teacher a question, the “visible thinking” response is to rephrase the question back to the student, such as, “What do you think?” This extends learning. It also shifts the classroom environment from teacher-centered to student-centered. Read More

The Roadmap That Guides Us

from Bill Hudson, head of school

Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Greatness is not where we stand but in what direction we are moving.” Last week, I shared with you the results of the most recent Net Promoter survey. The Net Promoter is one of many ways MPA seeks parents’ feedback and spurs continuous improvement. MPA is not content to rest on our laurels, and we are always on the move. Our school’s strategic plan, 2024ward, drives us onward and is the roadmap that guides us as we strive for excellence.

Each year at this time, I provide a brief update on the progress we have accomplished as we implement 2024ward in the past year. I will follow up this message with a “State of the School” address at two meetings next week. The first meeting is in person on Monday, January 30, 8:15-9:15 AM in the PCR (Porter Conference Room) in Upper School. The second is a virtual evening meeting on Tuesday, January 31, 7-8 PM. The sessions will be similar, so please choose the one that works best for your schedule. I hope you will join me for one of these important opportunities.

While we do not currently have a formal vision statement, the first priority of 2024ward, “Empower students to live, learn, and thrive in our increasingly complex and globalized society,” stands much like one. In a society marked by so much by rapid change, uncertainty, division, and discord, MPA exists to partner with parents to prepare students to embrace the challenges and opportunities presented to them. And yet, preparing them is not quite enough. Rather, we need to empower them—give them the confidence, agency, resiliency, perseverance, skills, and knowledge to succeed and thrive. Read More

We Are Listening

“Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice, and MOST of all, love of what you are doing.” -Pelé

The recent passing of Pelé was felt around the world. He was a remarkable athlete and is partially responsible for the rise in interest and participation in soccer in the United States. He was a role model, politician, businessman, and ambassador for UNESCO and the United Nations. He was also very committed and passionate about what he valued most, including ongoing growth and improvement.

At MPA, like Pelé, we strive for excellence at all times. Our dedicated faculty and staff work extremely hard each and every day, truly know their students, and are passionate about their academic, social, and emotional growth. We celebrate our successes, build upon our strengths, and strive for excellence. We are also willing to face the hard truth when we fail to meet expectations. The Net Promoter Survey, administered last month, is one of the ways we seek to engage parents and listen to their constructive criticism and take note of their commendations.

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 one of three categories: detractor, passive, or promoter. The breakdown for MPA is as follows:

  • Fifty-nine parents, or 16% of the survey responses, gave a score between zero and six and are considered “Detractors” or unhappy customers.
  • Ninety-five parents, or 26% of the survey responses, gave a score of seven or eight and are considered “Passives” or satisfied but unenthusiastic customers.
  • Two hundred and eight parents, or 57% of the survey responses, gave a score of nine or 10 and are considered “Promoters” or loyal enthusiasts.

Subtracting the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters yields the Net Promoter Score, which can range from a low of -100 (if every customer is a Detractor) to a high of 100 (if every customer is a Promoter). The MPA score for 2022 is 41. To put that in context, SurveyMonkey reports an average score of 32 across industries. Read More

Executive Function: Building Skills For Success

from Dr. Jenn Milam, Middle School director

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

As a curricularist, someone formally trained in curriculum, teaching, and learning, I am consistently in awe of the advances we make in the fields of science, the learning sciences, psychology, and sociology. Each of these disciplines and others build a fuller picture of how our brains work and how we learn—each lending something new to how we can improve the daily learning lives of young people in schools.

Take, for example, the learnings about dyslexia in the last two decades. It used to be that we thought dyslexia was simply transposing numbers and letters, which made it hard for a person to read. We now know so much more about how dyslexia presents in different brains, how it impacts brain functions like automaticity and long-term memory storage, processing time, and yes, adeptness and proficiency in reading. With this knowledge, states across our country have enacted legislation to change the way teachers are prepared, funding has increased toward educational support of language learning and reading disabilities, and learning and reading specialists are having even greater success with helping young people impacted by dyslexia develop skills that carry them well on their way to personal and academic achievement. All of that is because we learned more about the actual function of the brain!

Our understanding of executive function skills has developed similarly and more recently to bring us to a more comprehensive view of skill development, effective teaching through scaffolding, and challenges that some young people face in building these essential blocks toward positive self-regulation and independence. McCloskey and Perkins (2013) share that executive functions are not a “unitary trait” but rather are a series of cueing strategies, mental processes, and practices that direct the use of other mental constructs like perceptions, cognition, emotion, and actions (p. 9). Most important for educators, parents, and caregivers is the knowledge and very clear understanding that executive function skills are just that: SKILLS! Like pitching a baseball, kicking a soccer ball, or playing an instrument, people are not born with skills—they are learned through teaching, positive reinforcement, practice, and attention to the explicit and implicit application. Read More