February 20, 2019
Dear Flint Hill School Families,
Over time, we have always made it a practice to listen as much as we can to the input from you, our great parents! Whether it is through the annual Parent Satisfaction Surveys, a quick comment at carpool or dropping by the office, please know that your feedback is critical to us. Last year, we started doing more direct, personal communication with families in their first and second years because of the input we had received from families.
This year, you’ve probably noticed an increase in communications regarding student discipline. This is not because there has been an increase in disciplinary issues at school. It is the result of our ongoing efforts to respond to your feedback and keep the lines of communication open between home and school. In recent years, we’ve heard that in the rare instances in which a student is separated from our community, it can be worrisome for that to happen without explanation or an opportunity for families to hear the facts from the School. That lack of direct information caused confusion and misperceptions about the way discipline is handled at Flint Hill, and this year, we are making a deliberate effort to resolve that.
When students leave Flint Hill for disciplinary reasons, it is difficult and painful for all of us. And balancing a family’s privacy with the community’s need for information presents an additional challenge. However, we’ve learned that sharing what we can, when we can, benefits us all. We know that if we are going to be the “school family” that we say we are, we sometimes need to sit around that proverbial kitchen table and talk openly, honestly, directly and sincerely about what has transpired and what we need to do about it. We know that these discussions can provide helpful context around our disciplinary process while also supporting in-depth discussions around your own kitchen tables.
When it comes to making decisions about discipline, we know that great kids will do great things, but they can also make great mistakes. One of the lessons in my long career in education has been that great kids sometimes will make incredibly poor choices or decisions, particularly in adolescence. Research talks about the delay in the development of the adolescent brain and how impulse control and executive functioning can all play a role in their poor decision-making. These are all good explanations, but they are not excuses. We have to be held responsible for our own behavior. It is one of the many lessons that we are all teaching our children. So often in any situation, it is about 10 percent of the situation itself, and 90 percent of the attitude, determination and the learning we use to grow from it and make a difference.
Growing up is never easy. It can be messy and sloppy. But ultimately, it is an incredibly rewarding journey for parents and schools alike to engage in with our children. While we hope that our new focus on communicating more directly is viewed as positive, I know that there are some who might think we are sharing too much or communicating too often. Believe me, having raised three boys, Emily and I remember all too well the anxiety and fear that we had at times, knowing full well what our boys were capable of and what they could be exposed to. We would rather be honest to a fault than contribute to unnecessary anxiety within our community.
Your understanding and support mean the world to us. We are the school family we say we are. But we need to continue to walk the talk, and that also includes having consequences for the behaviors that we sometimes deal with at school. Whatever we can do to be helpful to your understanding of these efforts, please do not hesitate to call on us. My recent Parent Discussion Series covered discipline for each divisional level. If you were unable to attend in person, I encourage you to listen to the archived webinars here. Together, we can all help our children develop the skills to navigate their lives safely and with confidence.
Best wishes to you!
John M. Thomas
About the Headmaster
Since 2005, John Thomas has served as Flint Hill’s Headmaster. He is a graduate of the McDonogh School in Baltimore, Maryland, and holds degrees from Randolph Macon College and Towson University, with a certificate in school psychology from the State of Maryland. He is the co-author of “Psychodiagnostic Evaluation of Children: A Casebook Approach,” and has articles published in the book “Parenting Teens: Collected Essays by Independent School Educators,” published by the Secondary School Admission Test Board. John has served on the Board of Trustees for the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (VAIS) and the Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington (AISGW) and is a current Board member for Emerging Scholars. He and his wife Emily, a former teacher, have three grown sons and five very energetic grandchildren.