Opening Message to the Faculty and Staff
(and Our Community)

Opening message

Words by Mark Heller, Head of School

Thomas Jefferson felt that the purpose of education was to prepare children for citizenship in our democracy.  Educational philosopher Francis Parker, one of the founders of the progressive education movement, believed that: 

“The work of the school is determined by the needs of society.”

In many ways, I believe, those two points are coalescing in this time and place.

What DOES society need today?

My answer:


  • As a counterweight to the meanness of our 21st century American culture; 
  • As a salve for the callousness and vindictiveness of much of our public discourse, even from some we have placed in positions of trust in our government; 
  • As a respite from the challenges and vicissitudes of life; 
  • Simply because it’s right and good. 

Information Literacy  

  • The ability to discriminate between good sources and suspect ones; 
  • The ability to think critically about the information we encounter and then act on it;  
  • As a skill that is necessary and fundamental for citizenship. 

Problem-Solving Mind-Sets 

The world needs people  

  • Who can analyze situations; 
  • Who can form the right questions; 
  • Who can communicate and recombine pre-existing elements in ways that answer our needs. (That ability to re-combine is a useful definition of creativity.) 

At our school, so much of what we do involves problem-solving and often group problem-solving.  How do we score more points or defend better?  How do we set up and then solve the word problem?   How do we make the sentence less awkward, the paragraph more elegant?  How do we make this piece sound better? How do we get along with other members of our community?  Problem-solving is a constant in our daily lives at school.  I urge us all to be more overt in calling it out, in “naming” it, so that the building of the skill will resonate with our students even more. 


  • The world was not built by Eeyores—by people who don’t see the point of doing much of anything.   
  • Greatness is tied to optimism. 
  • It’s a force-multiplier.   
  • It helps us to dream and to achieve.  

If not us, then who? 

If not now, then when? 

The 6 C’s 

These answers to society’s needs (Kindness, Information Literacy, Problem-Solving Mind-Sets, and Optimism) clearly resonate to our 6 C’s:  

  • Critical thinking 
  • Collaboration 
  • Communication 
  • Creativity 
  • Citizenship; and 
  • Character 

Therefore, I would posit that what society needs today is a healthy dose of Academy at the Lakes — of the Academy at the Lakes we create each day, by our faculty and staff being the people they are, by doing the work they do, in the special ways in which they do it. 

Fortified by our mission, our Core Values, and our culture, our school is feeding into the world-wide stream of goodness.  Our work is truly among the most important work one can do – we touch the future by helping all the humans we come into contact with become better humans – one child at a time, one family at a time, relationship by relationship. 

In my opening messages to the faculty over the past few years I have obsessed over the great historic battle between fear and hope.  When the forces of fear are ascendant, we get racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, disinformation, fascism, authoritarianism, “replacement” theory.  When the forces of hope prevail, we get social progress, innovation, connection, the flowering of the human spirit, and a deeper, more satisfying strength. 

We work on the Hope Team each and every day.  We are a force for good.  We matter here and now, for our students, for their families, for each other.  We matter everywhere, for our work has unlimited power to repair the world. 

Thank you for bringing so much of yourselves to the endeavor.  Thank you for helping us to create Academy at the Lakes each day.  With this great team and this great community, we’re going to have a great year!  Thank you for choosing our school.