Mark Turner, Head of School

Dear Parents and Guardians,

On a variety of scales and for very different reasons, the last few weeks have been momentous. The Junior School experienced its first positive exposure of COVID-19. While this prompted an urgent convening of our COVID Response Committee, we had been planning for this eventuality for some time. During the event, with calm and professional support from Island Health, we were able to notify our broader community quickly. We were most grateful for the flexibility of the faculty and Grade 2 cohort and staff in pivoting to remote learning, without missing a beat. This transition was described to me as "seemingly effortless." We are delighted that it appeared that way, because to achieve it, a vast amount of urgent work went on behind the scenes. Kudos to those involved. On Friday, January 22, we were pleased to welcome back those who had been self-isolating. The Junior School community is complete once more. Hooray!

While we hope not to go through this process again any time soon, we grow in the confidence that we will be able to work through any possible future exposures with an appropriate and proportionate response. This will allow most of our students to continue learning in-school with a high level of safety. Each step of the COVID-19 journey has taught us a great deal of the importance of calm and measured flexibility. We will now set our sights on moving toward Family Day Weekend, reassured that once again as a community we have been able to navigate this latest bump on the road.

Globally, the plate tectonics of international politics have been shifting. Leaving aside the controversies of politics, it has been wonderful to see poetry being given such a high profile. It appears that Joe Biden and I both share an affection for Irish poet, Seamus Heaney. I met Seamus Heaney in the late 1990s at a poetry reading in the Europa Hotel, Belfast (proud of its reputation as the most bombed hotel in the world). It was mesmerizing to hear a gravelly voice reading his own poems and washed down with a pint of draft Guinness – bliss. On the campaign trail, Joe Biden has quoted Seamus Heaney on 13 different occasions. One verse in particular captured the opportunity of the moment.

The Cure of Troy (1991)

“History says, don't hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.”

Let us all hope that even if at the end of the next four years hope and history do not exactly rhyme, at least there will be less dissonance between them than at present.

The inauguration of the 46th President of the United States launched a new poet onto the international scene. Amanda Gorman, who first started writing poetry around Grade 8 or 9, unveiled The Hill We Climb, to great acclaim. I was particularly taken with one line, which is relevant as we look to the next steps on our own EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) path, “somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken, but simply unfinished.” There are some who may wish to denigrate all the efforts of those from previous generations. I prefer to think of progress on progress. We are indeed making progress. Thank you to everyone who volunteered themselves, or who nominated others, to our EDI Advisory Group. We will be able to convene a remarkable collection of talent and shared experience under the gentle leadership of our EDI Guide, Dr. Moussa Magassa.

Over the last few weeks, Chapel has been dedicated to considering issues around critical thinking and independent thought. In a world of competing and often conflicting theories, where noise is sometimes assumed to correlate with truth, it will be more important than ever that our students develop the skills to think critically. I was able to talk about the key stages of critical thinking: observing, analyzing, reflecting and evolving. When the social media storms blow and we find ourselves pressured to think in a particular way, it is worth standing back to take a moment or two in the interests of fair and considered judgement.

As we leave January behind and look forward to February, we are launching a new campaign in support of Financial Aid: Financial Aid February. We are committed to extending the life-changing opportunities of a SMUS education to individuals and communities who may not be able to access it, for whatever reason. We have already received some very generous offers to match funding. Please give generously.

I would also point out that this is a case of the significance of ‘the widow’s mite.’ Participation, whatever the amount, demonstrates support and nudges our huge extended community in the right direction.

Among many wonderful opportunities this past week, I enjoyed attending the Grade 11 AP research project presentations. Topics as varied as the rise of veganism, an analysis of the effectiveness of punitive and open prison regimes on rates of recidivism, the effectiveness of parenting styles from authoritarian to progressive, the impact of ‘toxic masculinity on male psyche’, among a range of other fascinating topics, demonstrated that the next generation of decision-makers will be well-placed to address many of the challenging questions they will inherit.

With very best wishes yours,

Mark Turner
Head of School