Dear Brooklyn Friends School Parents, Faculty and Staff:
I hope that you and your family have been enjoying the summer months. In addition to the usual excellent summer activities at Brooklyn Friends–our Summer Camp, Summer Arts, and Horizons Program–we have been preparing for the arrival in the coming weeks of two new, key administrative leaders about whom I have previously written to you—Christine Schwegel, our new Chief Financial Officer, and Dr. Lisa Arrastia, our new Head of Upper School. Both of these individuals are experienced and recognized professionals who share a common enthusiasm for the vision and practice of Brooklyn Friends School.
The vision and practice of BFS, particularly as they are informed by Quakerism, were frequent and important subjects of reference during last year’s very successful Sesquicentennial celebrations. Over the past 150 years, what has it meant for BFS to be a Quaker school? Beyond the SPICES acronym, how do Quaker vision and practice inform what we are and will become as well as what we have been?
Such a question recently led a revitalized All-School Quaker Life Committee to reconsider the reading materials on Quakerism that we have traditionally used in past years to introduce the subject to new parents, faculty, and staff. The Committee became aware of a Friends Council on Education booklet, published in 2008, entitled Advices and Queries for Friends School Community Life. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the wisdom found in this publication.
In Quaker practice, Advices are statements that reflect the unified corporate beliefs, goals, and vision of the members of a Monthly Meeting or Yearly Meeting that have been developed through Friends decision-making process. In their governance role in Quaker schools, Monthly meetings will often refer to school-related concerns in their Advices.
Queries, on the other hand, are questions that are meant to stimulate discernment within the School community about how the Advices relate to the actual workings of the school community and its many constituents, the vast majority of whom are not Quakers.
Queries are meant to stimulate reflection, self-awareness, discussion, debate, and the search for the greater good and truth. Encouraging questions about truth, reality, aspiration, difference, and the divine light within each living human being is at the heart of some of the best practices in Quaker educational institutions.
So, to go beyond the SPICES and to give you a deeper sense of what it has meant, and will mean over the coming decades, for BFS to be a Quaker school. I would like to share with you five Advices and Queries that I have chosen from many more that are included in the referenced Friends Council on Education booklet. They include selections from each of the five areas of Friends School practice identified in the booklet: Friends School Culture; Collegiality; Decision Making; Leadership; and Personal Balance.
Advice #1 “The presence of children carries a special blessing as well as responsibility. Children bring unique spiritual gifts—wonder, resiliency, playfulness, and more. Recognize and honor the Divine Light within children and treat them with the dignity and respect that is due to all people. Special care must be given to resolving problems between adults and children in a manner that gives equal weight to the feelings and needs of both children and adults.”
Query #1 “Do we endeavor by example and precept to cultivate in all members of our community a sense of openness and expectancy about life? Is our school a place of peace, joy, and contentment? Do our children receive the loving care of the school?”
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Advice #2 “Differences of opinion should not be ignored for the sake of superficial agreement. They should be recognized and understood, so that a deeper and more vital unity can be reached. When carefully attended to, convictions that might divide or disrupt a school community can help make it creative and strong.”
Query #2 “Do you consider difficult questions with an informed mind as well as a generous and loving spirit? When direction seems lacking, do you respond with a deeper search for truth?”
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Advice #3 “Remember that we do not seek a majority decision nor even consensus. As we wait patiently for divine guidance our experience is that the right way will open, and we shall be led into unity.”
Query #3 “Does the School actively encourage those in the minority on an issue to share their views, recognizing and communicating the essential role in achieving unity?”
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Advice #4 “All are especially cautioned against any harshness of tone or manner when administering counsel or reproof, either privately or in meetings. Speak truth with love. Even a seeming harshness may check the beginnings of honest reflection, and a lack of sympathy may cause harm where only good was intended.”
Query #4 “Do patience and consideration govern our interactions? Have we encouraged and built each other up, speaking only what is helpful? Do we show concern and respect for the reputation of our colleagues by avoiding and discouraging needless and destructive criticism?”
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Advice #5 “Bear witness to the humanity of all people, including those who break society’s conventions or laws. Seek to understand the causes of injustice, social unrest, and fear.”
Query #5 ” Is the School sensitive to the personal needs and difficulties of members of the school community? Do we consider how we can share one another’s burdens when the need arises?”
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Over the past eight years, it has been my pleasure and privilege to help guide and lead Brooklyn Friends School to fulfill the extremely ambitious goals of our 2008 Strategic Plan. As a result we have increased all-school enrollment by approximately 40% by increasing our average grade-level enrollments from 40 to 60. In order to accommodate this expansion, we have constructed a new Upper School facility, a new Family Center facility, and we have thoroughly renovated our Pearl Street main building. Our faculty and staff have increased more than 40% in size, and we have successfully implemented the International Baccalaureate curriculum in our Upper School.
The expansion required substantial increases in capital and annual fund raising as well as securing long-term debt at reasonable terms. These requirements have been met, and BFS is poised to focus on sustainability, continuous improvement of all-school curriculum and student services, and increased attention to the Quaker values and practices described above rather than the challenges of survival-mandated expansion.
I will always be most deeply grateful for the opportunity to work with and serve the students, faculty, staff, and parents of Brooklyn Friends. My 46-year career in secondary and undergraduate teaching and administration began at BFS in 1973, and 32 of those years will have involved work in Quaker schools and colleges by the time I retire in 2019. In a spirit of renewed commitment to the values and practices of the Religious Society of Friends in 2018-2019 and beyond, I remain most sincerely and gratefully yours,
Dr. Larry Weiss
Head of School
August 1, 2018