Annual Meeting

Head of School Remarks

Thank you, Sarah, and I would like to join Sarah by welcoming you all here this evening. Thank you for being here. Tonight, as we gather together in this way for the first time since 2019, I will reflect on what we have learned from the past two and a half years about what children need today to thrive in our world tomorrow. Some of it is timeless and some of it is new.  

Partly since you are only now able to experience our classrooms again as you and we would like you to, we will also give you a chance to be involved and experience, in some small way in a room of 400, what our children do in our classrooms every day. So, along those lines, I want to start by asking for your help. You see, our centerpieces need to get assembled. You will notice three buckets on each table. Inside are materials and general instructions for three small projects that our students puzzle with at various stages in their experience here: building an electronic circuit, assembling a tower, and designing a marble run. I am going to pause for 10 minutes now to give you all an opportunity to work together to construct your centerpiece, perhaps by building each of the three projects or even by combining them into one. So, I invite you to play, explore, and connect. Ready? Go..

Time’s up. Thank you and good work. Please take a moment to move your centerpiece to the middle of the table and feel free to put extra refuse in buckets. 

As I mentioned, the theme of this evening is demonstrating what children need in their education today to thrive in tomorrow’s world.  The first ingredient, unsurprisingly, is inspiring teaching and strong role models. So, it is my distinct pleasure and privilege to begin my remarks by honoring several of our excellent educators.

I will first recognize our faculty and staff who are reaching milestone service anniversaries. 

Please join me in congratulating: those entering their 10th year at Country School, each of whom I invite to stand to be recognized when their name is called.
  • Diane Briggs- Associate Director of Advancement and Director of Annual Fund
  • Kim Clemenza- Assistant to the Head of Upper School
  • Andrew Tyson- Director of Arts
And now, with a fantastic 20 years of service, I would like to recognize Carin Walden.

If you have been lucky enough to witness one of her morning meetings or to feel the calm, purposeful energy in her classroom, you won’t need me to tell you what an extraordinary teacher Carin is. Beginners Program Leader, DEI facilitator, and Faculty Chair recipient, Carin approaches every detail in her classroom with intention just as she leads by example and acts as a consistent resource for colleagues. She is genuinely joyful when witnessing children work through challenges, and she sets high standards and expectations for them all. Her passion for teaching early childhood is reflected in the great care she takes to listen to and respect the perspectives of children. She seeks to understand before responding and sees her students as capable, which sets such a great foundation for their own senses of self. Carin is also known for her incredible read-alouds (she has an excellent voice - both spoken and singing), for her detailed course pages with beautiful photography and thoughtful communications with parents. A holistic educator, Carin values the impact of the physical space as the “third” teacher, which she demonstrates through her use of time and indoor and outdoor learning spaces. Her curated collection of classroom material is the envy of all in the Thacher building! 
Carin, congratulations on 20 amazing years. Will you please stand?
With an extraordinary 30 years of service I would like to recognize Pat Oakes.

While Pat is beginning her 30th year as an employee, it is actually her 40th at NCCS. She began her relationship with the school in 1983 as a parent, and her children Ryan and Lauren graduated in 1993 and 1996, respectively. As a parent, she was a grade representative and the treasurer and president of the Parents Association. After being hired in 1993, she served as Director of Admissions and Marketing until 2009. Since stepping down from that role, Pat has twice served as Acting Director of Secondary School Counseling before being Assistant to the assistant head of school. And more recently, Pat has served as the assistant to our Director of Studies Reshan Richards and Director of DEI Kojo Clarke. Though impressive, the titles she has held really do not tell the story.  

Anyone who works for a place for 30 years is going to have a big impact on it. Pat’s is so much larger than that. Ever wonder how the Logo Store came into being? It was Pat’s enthusiasm for it that overcame even the objections of Head of School Nick Thacher. How about the host family program? That’s right. Pat started it. So many of the ways each family first interacts with NCCS in the admissions process, the systems and language, were developed by Pat.  Generations of families whose first interaction with Country School was Pat come back regularly to share the impact she had on them and their family and talk about the deep reverence they continue to hold for Pat.

And even more, it is the great pride and love of the school that Pat brings to everything she does - from dressing up in festive costumes delighting everyone driving down the main drive, to having her desk covered with "frogs”, to raving about our food service to Flik’s corporate headquarters, to composing memorable lyrics we sing to honor departing faculty and staff every June. She is highly devoted to every person - and dog - here and as a colleague said, "I can't" is not in her vocabulary;  she will go the extra 100 miles to help make everyone's experience and interaction with NCCS a positive one.” 

Finally, as another colleague said, Pat is “a brilliant planner and executor; someone who has developed her skills to act as a second brain for those she works most closely with; a consummate professional; an enthusiastic community participant; [and] an amazing human being!”  

Congratulations and thank you Pat. Will you please stand? 

And now it is my honor to name three of our excellent teachers recipients of the Faculty Chair Awards: These Faculty Chairs recognize exemplary teaching as defined by Engaging and inspiring students, creating a curriculum to reach all learners, and demonstrating a commitment to ongoing professional development. The awards were made possible by the generosity of three Country School families and the recipients were selected by their peers. 

It is my honor to present The Laverack Family Faculty Chair to Barbara Latimer.

Barbara, an alumna from the class of 1985 herself and parent to Sloane class of 2017 and Kyle class of 2019, has served as an Upper School math teacher, advisor, coach, and chair of the math department.  
In the words of a colleague, “She is an outstanding example of a talented teacher who is loved by students and faculty alike. She is always at school early to help students, leads by example as the math department head and has created a strong curriculum that sets the bar for the students.”
“As an alumna, Barbara represents the very epitome of what Country School can produce. Barbara is not only a phenomenal classroom instructor but a consistently forthright community member. In each of the many roles she has here, Barbara approaches challenges and obstacles with characteristic positivity, dedication, and grit. She fights for what she believes is best for the students; she always supports her colleagues, especially in tough conversations with parents; and she always loves a good laugh. This person goes on to say that, “on a personal note, I could not ask for a better friend both on-campus and off. Barbara is the real deal in every sense of the phrase. This award should be so lucky to have Barbara.”
Congratulations Barbara.

It is now my honor to present The Williams Family Faculty Chair to Cindy Thom.

For Cindy, Lower School Learning Resource Teacher and program coordinator for Grades K-2, NCCS is a family affair. Her children Finn class of 31 and Declan class of 33 are here, as is her husband, Lower School Science teacher Colin.
In the words of a colleague, “Cindy is masterful in her multiple roles.  Cindy's consistent willingness to go above and beyond her expectations and responsibilities is admirable. She demonstrates a deep commitment to doing whatever she can to benefit students, her colleagues, and our program. Her work ethic is exemplary.
“Cindy epitomizes lifelong learning. Though Cindy has already attained a high level of expertise in multiple areas, including reading instruction, Responsive Classroom and professional coaching, she continues to demonstrate a deep commitment to professional growth. She delivers Professional Development to apprentices and lower school faculty at such a high quality, you feel like you are at a conference.
“Cindy brings warmth and positivity to school each day. She cares deeply about all constituents in our community - families, colleagues, and students. Our school is a better place due to Cindy's presence.”  
Congratulations Cindy.

And it is now my honor to present The Holmes Family Faculty Chair to Lindsay Frey.

Lindsay, parent to Evan class of 28 and Anna class of 31, is a middle school science teacher and coach who has also served as a homeroom teacher.  
In the words of a colleague, she “gives endlessly to the middle school community. She is always finding new ways to make science hands on, fun and interesting for her students. She steps in whenever something needs to be covered or someone needs help.  
“Lindsay volunteers regularly to share her work and classroom techniques with her middle school colleagues, is organized, thoughtful and intentional about her classroom configuration and lesson planning, and is always looking for ways to connect our students with scientists, meetings she has succeeded in coordinating several times over the years. She has brought citizen science projects to middle school such as Project Budburst, taking pictures of cloud cover for NASA, and recording local bird information. Lindsay never ceases growing: inspired by DEI learnings and discussions, Lindsay created a Grade 5 mini-unit about stereotypes in science which led to a “What a Scientist Looks Like” research project that introduces students to an array of scientists and scientific fields.”
The kids love her because she is kind and understanding and they respect her because she is smart and holds the line with them. Lindsay represents everything good about NCCS.”
Congratulations, Lindsay.
Cindy, Barbara, and Lindsay, will you please come forward to receive your certificates?

I would like to congratulate all those honored tonight and pause to thank the entire faculty and staff for inspiring and mentoring our students, giving them a glimpse of what is possible. Will all members of the faculty and staff please stand to be recognized?

We will now take a break so you can enjoy your meal.  As you chat at your tables and get to know one another, new acquaintances and old friends and in the spirit of one of our themes of the evening, I would like to invite you to share at your table one recent “first” that you or your child has had. It does not have to be something that happened at school, but it certainly can be. For example, a first for me was getting stumped by a math puzzle given to me by one of my 6th grade students the first week of school! If you’re not sure how to start, I would suggest having the person wearing the brightest outfit begin. Please enjoy your meal and your conversation.

Thank you Sarah. Your leadership through these past two years has been transformative. I am grateful to have the opportunity to work so closely with you and to regularly experience your care for this place and the people here, your passion for our mission and educational philosophy, and your steady, perceptive, positive, and inclusive leadership style. You lead both through your words and through your actions. Thank you for your service leadership on behalf of NCCS and, while this may be your final Annual Meeting speech, I am most pleased that your term still has a year remaining. Thank you. 

What we learn in childhood is imprinted on us. It becomes a part of the very fabric of our being, and therefore those learnings often represent our most important lessons. As former Headmaster Henry Welles said “childhood is in itself an integral part of life’, That is why we are laser focused on the years of childhood, from the end of toddlerdom all the way through the beginning of early adulthood.  

Tonight I will share how we are redefining childhood education for the future based on what we’ve learned in the past several years about what is most important for our children today and tomorrow.

Number one. Our world needs people who know how to think - to think expansively, to think for themselves, to see new possibilities, to question and wonder and challenge assumptions, to have conviction in their beliefs yet also be comfortable with ambiguity. The issues our world faces are not going to get simpler, and in short, we need people who have the intellectual agility to meet dynamic challenges. The way that is built is through freedom of exploration and the nurturing of curiosity. It is built through being known and loved and challenged by inspiring role models, and it is built through the thoughtful acquisition of skills at just the right time to take the next step. As you constructed your centerpieces earlier, you tapped into this sort of open-ended intellectual development that is a hallmark of NCCS. Though there was guidance, there was no right way. You had to decide - together I might add - on the best path.  

At NCCS, we are actively innovating our curriculum to aim even more at this sort of intellectual development. Last year we instituted a new 9th grade capstone project so our oldest can share a topic of particular interest from their course of study, we departmentalized our 6th grade program so that students can dive deeper into their study of history, literature, writing, and math without sacrificing the great community spirit so important to 11 and 12 year olds, and we have also begun to pilot a new reading program which will integrate science, geography, history and other areas into language arts lessons so that students can build their general knowledge base and tap into interests while practicing their reading, writing, and vocabulary skills.

And, after having updated so many of our campus buildings in the last five years, we are now working on a campus land master plan to build a long-desired robust program in gardening with even some light farming included, to ensure our students are able to experience physical education and athletics fully by having playing fields that are usable in most any weather condition, and to more fully access the amazing learning opportunities present in the 40 acres of woods that we have.  

Intellectual capacity is of primary importance, and we will continue to build on it in our curriculum, with our spaces, and through our approaches.

Number two. Our world needs people who know the value of their own voice - and of others’. Constructive dialogue is in short supply, and we have only become more divided. Contributing and listening are important antidotes. Here, we expect students to use their voices, starting right at the beginning and progressing in breadth and formality as they age. And we expect their peers to listen actively and respond reflectively. And it pays off: as you walked in, you saw quotes lining the entryway. They are actual quotes written and delivered by last year’s 6th and 9th graders in their speech units of study. When you leave, take a look at them again and see how impressive our students’ voices become.

But this is about more than simply voice. It is about confidence. It is about believing you matter. If you aren’t mentally healthy, how can you offer your voice to the general discourse? If you don’t feel you belong or are valued or understood, why would you try?  
So, we are focusing on each component of this notion of voice. We initiated our very first student government last year, we are in the process of developing a new framework to more intentionally integrate and build upon our various wellness curricula, and we are currently developing an action plan to address the findings from last year’s Assessment of inclusivity and multiculturalism. Together, focusing on wellness, on belonging, and on constant opportunities to share and listen, we hope our students will leave inherently valuing each perspective and equally sharing of their own.  

Number three. Our world needs more people who genuinely care about the collective wellbeing. People who have disposition towards the whole rather than the self, who truly know and understand others.  In short, we need more empathy in our world. That is why our classrooms are full of conversation between students, building relationships and community and understanding of one another’s perspectives. Tonight, I invited you to share recent “firsts” with one another, a type of discussion activity that is very familiar to our students, so that you might learn about one another and develop new levels to your relationships. This point also underscores the importance of DEI and a curriculum that is broad and brings in as many perspectives as possible; both are areas of current focus for us.  

Number four. Our world needs people who are curious and growth-oriented. Part of this relates to the need for deeper thinking from earlier. But another part of it relates to a hallmark of NCCS:  Fun, play, wonder, joy. As humans, the more we enjoy something, the more we want to do it. That is one reason why our program is so active, so child-centered, so playful. It sparks joy, which inspires a desire to learn even more. A virtuous cycle for sure and the special sauce that makes Country School Country School. 

That is part of why we designed this evening’s program the way we did: we have attempted to give you a glimpse into what classrooms feel like and what our children experience so frequently here. You walked into an entryway filled with pictures and objects and student quotes. You worked together to solve a problem, perhaps a bit contrived here but certainly more relevant in our classrooms, and you connected with one another, listening and learning. I hope you found yourself curious, that you learned something new about someone, and that you feel some satisfaction and communal spirit at having helped our “classroom”.  Most of all, I hope you had fun.

Last week, I asked Kent Findlay who oversees our social media and marketing, to record audio in some classes. Nothing special or unique but just to listen to what learning sounded like. Here is what she found. Can you hear how uplifting and involved the tone is?  Now, earlier when you were working on the centerpieces, we recorded near a couple of tables. Here is what that sounded like. Can you hear the similarity? OR Earlier, when you were working on the centerpiece activity, this room sounded exactly the same. Can you hear the engagement? The excitement? It is fun, isn’t it? And don’t you want to do something that fun again and again? And that was only one moment in one day. Imagine how powerful that can be for children, in this most impressionable stage in life, repeated several times a day over the course of a month  - or a year - or a whole career here. Obviously, not every moment can be fun, just like not every interaction with fellow humans is kind, and not every day is a great one. But, with this sort of open-ended, active experiences and a community that values building relationships like we do, there will be many more positive times than not.  

One of my favorite images here, repeated dozens of times every day, is of students running to class. Not out of class to lunch or recess, though they run at those times too, but back to class. Often, for so many, they cannot wait to learn more. That is exactly what we should be instilling in them - an insatiable love of learning. That lasts a lifetime.

In many ways, what I have shared tonight is our mission in action. We create an active, joyful learning environment where children are challenged to think deeply, question confidently, and act generously so that they may lead lives of impact and purpose. This is not a cute way of fitting current dynamics into the words of our mission, rather it is a demonstration that our mission was written with the exact needs of the world in mind, and its tenets have only come into sharper focus over these past two and a half years.  

I believe we as a society need to do everything in our power to have a future where, when our children are sitting in these seats, people have learned again how to speak to one another and disagree civilly, where people truly strive to understand others’ points of view, backgrounds, and experiences so that they may work together more effectively and inclusively, and where we are solving more problems than we are creating. We are educating future leaders to be curious, courageous, kind and to foster community. It is only in this way that we can hope to make progress on some of the world’s biggest challenges. I believe our children can do it, I know our teachers and staff and administrators and so many of you feel the same, and for me I can tell you that this purpose sure does make it easy to get up every morning to help them get there.  

Thank you.

Before I leave, I have one last request of you. Just as our teachers end classes with a final activity or an exit ticket related to the lesson, I would like you to take out your phone and scan the QR code on the back of the table number card in front of you. If you need to connect to wifi, the best network is called NCCS Open. The code will take you to a final prompt: xa

Based on what you heard and experienced tonight, what is one word that sums up NCCS?

As I leave and invite Sarah to come up and close the meeting, your responses will populate this word cloud behind me, hopefully showing a real-time picture of the impact of our mission.  

Once again, thank you for coming this evening, thank you for being a part of our community, and especially thank you for entrusting your children’s learning to us. As you know, we feel great responsibility in that trust, for we know how much it means to their and our future.  Thank you.

New Canaan Country School admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin and are afforded all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the school and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, age, sex, sexual orientation, national origin or ancestry, or disability in administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, financial aid policies or any other school-administered programs.