Dear Flint Hill School Families,

Change in schools is something that is always to be expected—learning involves change. While much of education has stayed the same for centuries, the concept of change is rapidly beginning to catch on, and people are starting to use terms like “disruptive education” or “new education.” In reality, it’s more important to recognize that we learn in many different ways, and that there is so much that has to be learned in today’s world.

When you went to school, you were there reading, writing and learning arithmetic. Worksheets were key, homework was a must, and yet most of what happened in school probably felt uninspiring or like something to be endured. That is all changing now. In fact, there are three basic trends that I believe have really had an impact on education, particularly in schools like ours:


1. Social-emotional Growth. When I was in school, this concept was never addressed. There may have been the occasional talk about teasing others and the expectations of good behavior, but schools were not allowed to talk about difficult topics such as sex education, drugs and alcohol. Parents were happy to have a place where they could simply drop their kids off in the morning and pick them up in the afternoon. In today’s world, there is a greater expectation for schools to provide some level of sex education in concert with what we hope parents are doing at home. And drug and alcohol education are major areas of emphasis for us through our Community of Concern events because we recognize the dangers students face from these issues as they grow up. In addition, Parent Coffees provide further opportunities for you to learn more about what is happening in our classrooms and in your children’s lives. Our school’s recent efforts to embrace mindfulness and our strong counseling program further support this work.

2. Academic Focus. While the “three R’s” will always be important, STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) has become a major area of focus in education today. We have always taught science and math, and as technology has come into the forefront, we’ve implemented it exceptionally well at Flint Hill. But engineering? Engineering was something you took in college, but did not become part of secondary education until recently. Now, robotics and maker education programs are becoming the norm, and we’ve embraced them with enthusiasm here.Here are a few highlights:
Last weekend, one of our robotics teams faced 54 of the best teams in the state in a Virginia State Championship Tournament. They worked hard, and turned out an impressive performance for the judges to earn the Rockwell Collins Innovate Award (awarded by engineers from Rockwell Collins), for their manipulator design. The award qualifies the team for the Super Regional Championship in Scranton, Pa., March 18-20, where Flint Hill will compete against teams from the New England and Mid-Atlantic states.

I am also pleased to announce that the CyberPatriot team, led by Sophomore Vale Tolpegin ’18, has qualified for the regional level of competition. This is one step away from the National Championship. The competition will take place on Friday, February 19, 8:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. Please stay tuned for the results.

We also recently received word that Vale was chosen as the Grand Prize winner for Google Code-In, an international computer programming competition. In this competition, participants worked with 14 open source organizations and chose tasks from the following categories: coding, documentation, user interface, quality assurance, outreach, training and research. There were 980 students from 65 countries who completed 4,776 tasks in this sixth year of the contest. Twenty-eight students from across the world were selected as Grand Prize Winners for their exceptional work. Vale spent several hundred hours programming for the open source organization, Haiku, to be selected among the grand prize winners. Vale and his family will spend four days in June at Google’s Mountain View, Calif., campus, where they will get to meet with Google engineers, tour Google’s offices and learn about some of the intriguing projects taking place at that innovative company.

And as the world has grown smaller, we also recognize the need to focus on global education. We just finished this year’s International Week, and all three divisions took part in various ways. Our Girls’ Varsity Basketball team recently hosted 13 basketball players from Perú, who came under the auspices of the State Department. Clearly, our students are learning more about the world in a very direct and focused way.

3. Skills-based Learning. Interestingly, some of the skills that have started to surface as absolutely paramount used to be referred to as “soft skills.” But as Assistant Head of School for Finance and Operations Anne Peterson recently pointed out, “They really aren’t soft anymore; those are really hard skills.” Many schools, including Flint Hill, recognize the importance of communication, collaboration, analysis and critical thinking.


The ongoing changes in schools create both excitement and challenges for us as adults. We can’t expect schools to look the way they did when we were growing up, or even five years ago. Would you be surprised to consider that the technology our Fourth Grade students will use in high school or college probably hasn’t been invented yet? But in a few short years, those inventions will become common and just a part of the normal landscape and our educational toolbox.


Join me in continuing to be excited by the opportunities that lie ahead for our children. It is an exciting time to be in education and even a more exciting time to be at Flint Hill!


Best wishes to you!


John M. Thomas