Shannon: Tom, What does it mean to you, having the Innovation Lab named in your honor?
Tom: I greatly appreciate this incredible honor. My parents would be so proud! While my name is above the door, I was part of a team so this really reflects the incredible efforts of many people. As I said at the dedication, I was quite fortunate to work with so many exceptionally skilled teachers, caring parents, talented kids, and supportive trustees. By our skills and energies, we all made each other a bit better. New City is a great example of synergy!
And “Innovation” is such an apt term for the lab! Since its beginning in 1969, New City has embraced human diversity and focused on what is good for students even when this meant challenging the status quo – which it often did. In its early years, the school embraced the Open Classroom model of education, and during my time we implemented the theory of multiple intelligences. Thousands of educators came to New City to see the MI magic that our teachers created in classrooms and feel our joyful learning. Recently, we were ahead of the curve in pursuing grit and SEL (social-emotional learning). Throughout its history, New City has been an icon of innovation, a leader in finding new ways to help students learn.
SR: Grit is a word that I’ve often heard associated with you, one of your buzzwords, if you’ll forgive me … What does grit mean to you?
TH: Talent and skills matter a lot, but our important successes, however we define them, rarely happen quickly or easily. We succeed because we seized the challenge, we faced frustration and failure, yet we didn’t quit. We hit the wall and picked ourselves up; we tried and tried again. Our students need grit (we all do!).
My shorthand way of capturing New City’s focus is “Who you are is more important than what you know.” That is not to discount scholastics in any way; students need to know how to read, write, and calculate. It is to say that our job goes beyond teaching the 3 R’s. We must prepare our students to be good people and successful adults. Our scholastic expectations should be the floor, not the ceiling. Grit, a key social-emotional success skill, is one of the personal intelligences, and we intentionally taught it, along with the other Formative Five success skills of empathy, self-control, integrity, and embracing diversity.
SR: At New City we often look to our alumni and alumni families to hear about how their time at New City has impacted them. As the longest serving head, how did New City change you, both personally and professionally?
TH: Working at New City School for such a long helped me truly understand the value of “joyful learning.” Seeing it happen daily and watching kids grow over time was a real treat. Hearing from graduates – they’ve grown and evolved yet the New City School imprint remains strong – was remarkably gratifying. Personally, I would like to think that working for such a long time at New City helped me become more patient, but I doubt that the members of my administrative team would agree.
SR: What would you say was your greatest achievement as head?
TH: I am most proud of our graduates. Our greatest achievement was successfully preparing our students for a world in which the only constant is change. We prepared them academically and we helped them to be caring and thoughtful people who will make a positive difference in the world.
SR: What’s been the most unexpected thing about retirement?
TH: I am amazed at how busy I am! I’m now a Scholar In Residence at UMSL, teaching the educational leadership program, preparing prospective principals, and that is really rewarding and enjoyable. Of course, teaching is quite different in these Covid times. Thank goodness for Dr. Zoom! I am also writing a new book, The Principal As CEO: Chief Empathy Officer.
SR: What do you miss most about New City?
TH: I miss seeing the kids’ smiles, chatting with parents, and working with faculty members. I also miss deciding which semi-outrageous tie I will wear each morning, since none of my ties work well with a sweatshirt.
SR: What was your first impression of the space when we had you and Karleen visit back in August?
TH: The space was empty but filled with potential. The old, gigantic Mary Institute boiler doors were gone, as was 50 years of detritus from classrooms, hallways, and school picnics. The floors and walls were pristine and ready for equipment that would enable kids to grow and learn. In many ways, I knew the room would become a place in which students could use every one of their Multiple Intelligences in learning, and that’s way cool! As happened every day in the 34 years that I entered the red doors, I wished that I had been fortunate enough to be a student at New City.
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