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Esteemed Colleagues: I Love You

Esteemed Colleagues: I Love You
Bob Schaffer, Headmaster
Two weeks ago, as LCS elementary students entered the final days of the 2023 school year, their principal, Mrs.  Sandy Stoltzfus hit the send button on a Friday-evening email composed to her Plato-campus faculty and staff.  “Esteemed Colleagues:  I love you.  That’s all I’ve got for this week. ;).”
 
As Headmaster, I’m copied on nearly all administrative communication.  With three campuses to oversee, there’s a goodly amount of it.  This one caught my attention, made me stare at the words, and caused my eyes to water. 
 
That pygmy two-sentence message might have made me tear up under any circumstance.  Knowing, intimately as I did, about the multi-week avalanche of distressing administrative episodes leading up to it, I marveled all the more in admiration of the example, and for the extraordinary building-level leadership we have at Liberty Common School. 
 
The racking events prompting Mrs. Stoltzfus’ cogency consumed several days of time which meant, by that Friday afternoon, she was only starting her work through the weekend to finish up her regular weekly principal duties. 
 
The core purpose of the Stoltzfus email was to ferry a weekly installment of the “The Pandect,” a to-do memo for all elementary employees.  A pandect, by the way, is another LCS attachment to our classical roots.  We try never to miss an opportunity for that around here.
 
That same day, Mr. Casey Churchill, elementary principal at our Aristotle campus, sent the Pandect, too, under his own cover letter addressed to faculty and staff there.  His was a mos maiorum message about a breathtaking musical experience our students had that day.
 
“Today we had the privilege of listening to the Loveland Classical Madrigal singers,” he wrote.  “It was wonderful.  Talk about a perfect example of classical education and beauty.  Today’s Climbing Parnassus excerpt speaks to liberal arts and the Quadrivium where music lives.
 
“From Climbing Parnassus (Page 49)…
 
“‘Liberal arts’ derives directly from artes liberals and designates those activities promoting freedom and leisure, but we must add that, for Greeks and Romans, leisure carried none of our overtones of idleness.  ‘Leisure’ referred to those ‘arts’ (even ‘techniques’) reckoned conducive to the contemplative or reflective life, to an expansive freedom of mind.  Opposed to the artes liberales were the artes serviles, the obligatory backbreaking work performed to earn bread and ale.  Artes serviles were necessary for any society, artes liberales for a higher, more varied culture.  The venerable Seven Liberal Arts of the Trivium (Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic) and Quadrivium (Astronomy, Music, Geometry, Arithmetic) were enshrined in the Middle Ages as those mental ‘arts’ promoting leisure.’”
 
At our high school, also on the same day, Principal Robert Robinson conveyed his weekly to-do memo – known as the “Magna Carta” – to the faculty and staff he manages.  “Dear Colleagues,” he wrote. “There is an atmosphere of excitement in the school as we wrap up the semester.  Thank you for all you are doing to help our students finish the term well.
 
“In the interest of maximizing irony, I asked ChatGPT to generate a quote on classical education in the style of Tracy Lee Simmons.  That artificial oracle offers the following:
 
'In the ascent through classical education, one scales the steep slopes of Mount Parnassus, where each step echoes the resolute pursuit of knowledge, akin to reaching the summit where the muses dance, and wisdom reigns supreme, casting its inspiring light upon the eager seeker.
 
"For those who prefer their humane letters from human sources, here is a thought from Simmons himself:
 
'Mount Parnassus, a limestone mass hovering over the ancient shrine of Delphi, has stood as a prime symbol of poetic inspiration and perfection since the dawn of the West.  It fixed anxious eyes on the heavens...it came to embody those things which man, at his best, wished--and ought to wish--to achieve.'”
 
Incidentally, Simmons’ book, Climbing Parnassus, is being studied together by all LCS staff.  All families are invited, strenuously urged, to hear the author when he visits in February 2024. 
 
These routine principal missives give me a chance to shine a brighter beam upon the rather astonishing leadership we enjoy at Liberty Common School.  None of us who work in administration are apt to dwell on any other in the school than our refulgent instructors, support staff, and of course the hard-working students.  After all, they’re the academic stalwarts who deserve the credit for the school’s prominent success.
 
Still, knowing our principals and assistant principals will never divert praise from their employees, I’ll venture to do it just this once because, truly, Liberty’s administrative leaders are in a class by themselves.  Though roundly admired, they’re still, in my opinion, underappreciated. 
 
Compared to those of regular schools, Liberty’s administrative team is relatively small.  I can assure everyone, serving LCS families with the aplomb of our principals is a pretty difficult undertaking.  It’s a grueling job demanding exceptional skills, talents, academic prowess, and more time than one might imagine. 
 
Liberty principals keep a lot of plates spinning, handle a dozen unplanned occurrences per week, call lots of audibles correctly, navigate myriad distractive matters, generate tons of reports, and comply with tomes of federal, state, and local laws and regulations.  Sometimes, there are cross opinions and bruised feelings to be soothed demanding the wisdom of Solomon, the patience of Job, and yeoman’s hours.  All of these challenges must be met in ways that ensure the school’s academic objectives never drift off course.
 
Our principals also lead in the greater charter-school movement and in public-education policy.  They coordinate and advise administrators from other schools, give public presentations, attend national conferences, and lead many others through professional associations.  They maintain Liberty’s leadership in the local school district, at the State Capitol, and in the broader education marketplace.
 
Leading here requires an enormous well of aptitude and devotion to the vision.  Each morning, our principals are first into the buildings.  Their evenings are filled with meetings, school events, presentations, and more.  Typically, they’re last to leave.  There’s not much downtime, even over holidays and breaks.
 
Success at this level, more than anything else, entails a heartfelt enthusiasm for the mission and a genuine love for everyone engaged in it. 
 
It helps that our principals really do love their employees and students.  It helps further that we all love one another and have emboldened ourselves to say so in our communications, regularly, without compunction. 
 
We could all endeavor to do more of that in life.  After all, is this not the message of the season?  
 
Each in their own way, our principals are magnanimous academic warriors, fearless leaders, the epitome of “improvise, adapt, overcome, and love.” 
 
They are exquisite human souls who bring glad tidings and bear good news.  The school is thereby blessed and thrives in capable hands.
 
A subsequent email Mrs. Stoltzfus sent to her employees for this week, slightly wordier, was no less sublime.  “I want you to know I see you - your integrity, your love, your fortitude,” she wrote.  “I’m inspired and grateful.  Our students are truly blessed.  And we can’t let up.  Let’s leave it all on the field this week.  Finish strong!”
 
Everyone at Liberty feels fortunate to work – hard – in such a worthy, purpose-driven place, especially under such devoted stewardship.  Oh yes, we’re finishing 2023 strong indeed.
 
Merry Christmas everyone.  Happy New Year.  We love you.  That’s all we’ve got for this year.
 

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