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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Giving For The Future

from Jennifer Rogers-Petitt, director of development and community engagement

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.

Why a lip sync battle? I have been asked that question more than a few times as director of development and community engagement at MPA. I inherited this tradition that started in 2016: an end-of-day all-school assembly on Give to the Max Day. Some have wondered what teachers and staff battling it out with a friendly lip-sync competition has to do with fundraising at an independent school like MPA.

Every year, when we gather to watch the teams put themselves out there in person and our compilation video at the end of the night, this gathering reminds me of why I love MPA. This year, reflecting on how we’ve celebrated as a community on Give to the Max Day in years past feels especially meaningful.

Of course, Give to the Max Day isn’t just about well-rehearsed dance moves or (at times) silly costumes. It’s about the joy, fun, and sense of shared purpose and community a day of giving can spark. And what better way to spark joy than through a lip sync battle? Please know that all community members are welcome to join us in the Lansing Sports Center at 2 PM.

In preparation for this chance for our community to support the area that matters most to them— academic innovation, access, the arts, and athletics—I asked teachers, staff, students, and alums why each area resonates with them. Our third-grade teaching team, Ms. Stewart and Ms. Wermager, shared this with me:

“As new teachers at MPA, we both feel lucky to be in a community where students are encouraged to explore, create, and test out their ideas. One of our focus areas is to provide students with many opportunities to make and create in our classrooms. We wouldn’t be able to implement these activities without funds and materials, so we appreciate that MPA provides us with what we need to make these experiences possible.”

I hope you’ll follow along on MPA’s social media channels to hear more inspiring stories about why an MPA education means so much to our students, staff, and alums.

Today, I am giving to support the type of academic innovation in the classroom that I know my own students have benefitted from. I also support access to an MPA education for every student who can benefit from our whole-child academics, prioritizing collaboration over competition. After making a gift to ensure our incredible arts faculty and staff have the resources they need to continue to guide every student to embrace their creativity and expression, I will give my standing ovation for our Middle School students as they perform in the Middle School play this weekend. And while we’re tallying up final gifts tonight, I’ll know my gift in support of athletics at MPA helps our student-athletes, like the Varsity Swim Team, at their state tournament.

We have a big goal today and many challenges remaining to unlock even more financial support for our students and staff. Join with me and thousands of alums, parents, grandparents, and friends to give generously for today’s students and the future we can all hope for, knowing they’ll be the trailblazers and leaders shaking the world and stirring the human spirit.

Your Gift, Their Future

from Bill Hudson, head of school

Confidence in the future is at an all-time low for Americans. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that many Americans hold negative views about our collective future. It’s not hard to see why. Global strife, an uncertain economy, political vitriol, social discord, and climate change, to name a few, all contribute to the current uneasiness many feel.

Yet, I remain a firm optimist. While I don’t discount our current reality, I have faith in the future because MPA students inspire me each and every day. I see eighth graders working together to imagine, research, design, and build future cities that showcase their solutions to a citywide sustainability issue. I see Upper School students grappling with and researching complex topics in debate, forming arguments grounded in evidence and the result of critical thinking. I see Lower School students learning about and practicing essential social skills such as kindness, respect, listening, and conflict resolution. Read More

Nurturing A Joyful Environment

from Bill Hudson, head of school

We had a marvelous turnout for Grandparents and Special Friends Day with more than 450 guests. I received a handwritten thank you note from a grandparent that expresses much of what I heard from multiple grandparents/special friends throughout the day. It read, “It truly was a morning to remember. My grandchildren are thriving at MPA, and it is easy to see why—the nurturing, caring, high-standard environment you and all the teachers and staff have created was a joy to behold.”

Joy isn’t always associated with education. In an era of emphasis on high-stakes testing, rote learning, and fears about falling behind academically, the importance of joy in education is often overlooked. Or worse, students working (occasionally laughing) together on a project, joyfully carving a pumpkin, excitedly creating a play from scratch, singing with gusto, or delighting in the music they create from their musical instrument isn’t considered “real learning.” What is real, however, is the declining mental health and increased anxiety our children are experiencing, which is being called the “crisis of our times” by United States Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. Read More

A Love Note To Parents

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.

Being a parent means wearing a million and one hats, managing endless lists of appointments, practices, and playdates, all while working hard to instill what we believe are all of life’s most important lessons. As they say, the days are long, and the years are short. And while we’re wrapped up in the day-to-days, it can be easy to find ourselves, as grown-ups, running on autopilot, giving very little thought to our well-being and sense of balance and awareness. When we arrive in these moments, tending to others’ needs before our own, it can lead to frustration, feelings of anxiousness, maybe even loneliness and disconnection, or worse, a sense of spinning and dysregulation that lends itself to burnout and exhaustion.

Parenting is, without a doubt, one of the most challenging adventures of adult life. To be sure, navigating our young people’s lives while attempting to find balance in our own and to model what it means to be a wholly authentic person, a kind human being, and a productive citizen requires, too, a commitment to caring for ourselves, developing skills to process emotions, and sharing fully our own learning and growth, even when we mess up. Ashley Cooper, MPA school counselor, always speaks from an affirming position about emotions and emotional regulation, reminding us that “all emotions are normal and deserve to be acknowledged.” This is why, today, as we make our way through fall and into the busy holidays, the dimmer days of winter, and more rigorous days of school, I’m writing to you, parents and caregivers, to remind you of the importance of caring for yourself emotionally and mentally. Moreover, I hope to illuminate the importance of self-care as a means by which you may teach your young people, through living, intentional modeling, and purposeful discussion, how to develop healthy and proactive skills to practice positive emotional regulation. Read More