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October 09, 2014

Letter to the Editor - UNcommon Core

The below letter was sent to the editor of the Bristol Herald Courier.

Letter to the Editor,

I read with interest your article titled, “Core arguments” on October 8.  As an educator for over 45 years, I have the highest respect for good teaching, whether public, private or homeschool. I fully understand the frustration felt within our nation’s schools and by parents.  However, I would like to point out a flaw in Mrs. Kinkead’s argument when she states “homeschooling is the only option to avoid common core.”  Independent schools across the nation are providing an extremely high quality of education without interference from state or federal regulation.  In the Tri-Cities area, Sullins Academy is fully accredited by the Virginia Association of Independent Schools (the gold standard in Virginia).  Our locally developed curriculum has met the test of accrediting standards annually.  We call it the UNCOMMON CORE.

The struggle over control of our nation’s schools is not going away.  The heavy emphasis on testing is not going away.  Independent schools test students only for improvement of the school and the curriculum.  Most independent schools are traditional in the curriculum choices and include technology and a full complement of the arts.  At Sullins, we consider ourselves a partner with the family in educating their children.

We invite those who are looking for an alternative to the common core but who shy away from homeschooling their own children to visit Sullins Academy.  Financial aid is available and our faculty and staff look forward to partnering with families who are serious about a quality education for their children.


Dr. Ronald Sykes, President
Sullins Academy

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October 03, 2014

Sullins Academy "Back Then"

Did you know that a few of us Sullins parents are also Sullins alums? It’s true, a few of us wore the blue blazer back in the day when Sullins was located at the “old campus”: Martin Hall on the campus of the former Sullins College. We have a unique perspective on our beloved Academy. Many changes have taken place over the years, some for the better and some falling into the category of “why don’t we do that anymore?”. Some of the things we did back then seem funny and outdated now. As we approach our 50th anniversary next year, let’s take a quick walk down memory lane.

The first thing that comes to mind is the campus itself. Sullins encompassed two old and possibly haunted buildings on the campus of a former all-girls college. Martin Hall was built at the turn of the century (that’s the 20th century) and provided many places to hide and pull pranks in the vast corridors and floors which weren’t being used. Attached to Martin were two wings named Reynolds and Holston Halls (both have since met the wrecking ball) and once for some reason we were allowed a supervised sort of “field trip” (for lack of a better term) into one of the wings to explore. Piled up desks, beds and dressers in a once-prohibited area were like candy to middle school students allowed to freely roam around in the dust and cobwebs.

The teachers were of the same excellent caliber as that of today’s instructors except for one big difference: the uniforms. The teachers back then had to adhere to a strict Monday dress code everyday.  Ladies wore the blazer, plaid skirt or jumper (yes the teachers wore jumpers!) and the men wore ties, blue shirts and khakis everyday. This was quite intimidating to us students.

Student uniform guidelines were a little more strict as well. You wouldn’t see a boy with an untucked shirt or going beltless (I’m guilty of not always enforcing this with my sons I must admit). I recall one Monday during assembly being scolded for...
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September 12, 2014

Proud to Be

This year makes my fifth at Sullins Academy.  I haven’t been here “forever,” but I’ve been here “long enough.”  I can say things like, “We USED to do it this way…” or “When I first started at Sullins….”  Most importantly, I can say that I have learned some things about Sullins Academy - and myself - in my time here.  As the school year gets started, these thoughts have been swirling around in my mind and the end result has been a wonderful compilation that I wanted to share.  
I knew I wanted to be a teacher from the time I was in third grade.  How perfect that I should be teaching (and loving) the same grade now!  My time at Sullins has given me such clarity into the “why” of teaching.  Teaching is more than reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Sullins Academy has such a strong focus on producing bright students, but students full of strong character!  Knowing that I have the time, ability, and encouragement to teach my students the ins and outs of respect, responsibility, generosity, compassion, and other character traits is a blessing.  These traits help a Sullins student stand out no matter where they go, and I’m beyond proud to be a part of that.

Stepping into the “real world” of teaching was a scary prospect.  Sure, I’d had all the necessary training and was eager to dig in but I was scared nonetheless.  In hindsight, all those “what if’s” make me chuckle.  The faculty and staff at Sullins welcomed me with open arms and a readiness to make me as comfortable as possible!  I’ve made sure to extend that same warm welcome to other faculty members who have joined us since, knowing personally what a difference it can make.  As the time goes by I realize more deeply that we aren’t simply a faculty - we are a family.  Another part of this school of which I am immensely proud to be part of.
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September 05, 2014

No More Allowance!

I was 12 years old…nearly 56 years ago…but I remember it as if it happened yesterday. There was a big swimming meet coming up and I would need money for my share of the hotel room plus meal money if I went. I can remember going to him and saying I need $15 for the swim meet. He looked at me and said,” Let’s go out back!”. He only said that when either my brother or I were about to receive the wisdom of the ages given by dad. When we went out back, he then said I was old enough now to understand that he and mom couldn’t continue to give me an allowance. As much as they wanted me to have the experiences, they could not afford the extra expense.
However, my dad went on to explain that to me that he had anticipated I would want to go to the meet and that he had found for me a job that would allow that to happen. Mr. Jim McCallen, a builder in our church, would pay me 60 cents an hour to work for him on Saturdays. He would pick me up at 7 AM on Saturday mornings and I would clean yards and houses to get them ready to show. That also ended my monthly allowance of five dollars a month. However, he made it clear I would still be expected to carry my load at home.
I look back on that now and realize that was a life shaping experience. From that point forward and I never was without a job. In college I worked three jobs to pay my way. It’s funny, but all the parent’s sermons in the world on thrift and on the value of money would have gone unheeded. However, knowing how hard I worked for that small check caused me to value my earnings and to spend them wisely.
To this day I don’t know if my family could not sacrifice further, or if it was a perfect example of intentional parenting. I do know the lesson was clear and I believe I learned well. As an educator I have been through so many trends and fashions I cannot recall them... » read more
August 15, 2014

GREATful Lessons Learned

FORT CAMPBELL KY. (late 1960’s)
The bus ride from Memphis to Fort Campbell was the longest of my life. Yesterday I was a 21 year old graduate student, engaged to be married, with the world ahead of me. Today I was riding the highway to the unknown. The next eight weeks were as hard mentally as they were physically. Yes, I was overweight, in no athletic shape— shall we say soft! But I survived the runs, the obstacle course and the rest of the training. The excess flabby weight came off, confidence became a new friend and by the end of the physical training I could keep up with almost everyone in the company. But it was Sgt. Spencer, my drill Sgt., from whom I learned the most. He had already completed two tours in Vietnam and was now charged with preparing a new crop of soldiers, most of whom would be in Southeast Asia within a few months. Of course, I didn’t know what I was learning at the time. He never spoke quietly about what we were going to do today. He never said, “ Sykes, that was almost good. I’m proud of you.” In fact, I’m hard-pressed to remember any nice words coming out of his mouth. I was a city boy, I had never fired a gun. He never said “you are getting better. you will get it.” What he did say is “if you expect to complete basic training you will get it right.” To this day qualifying as a sharpshooter may be one of my proudest accomplishments.
Years later I have a much more mature understanding of how seriously he took his task. I now understand he had been in battle, he had seen the enemy, he understood what was necessary in order to survive in the world his recruits would be entering. Every minute with us was seen as an opportunity to teach a new skill to keep us alive. Sgt. Spencer knew that our future was in his hands. Our future depended on him doing his job well. Every day I wished... » read more
July 30, 2014

Catching Fireflies

I guess when you get to be my age you begin to reflect more and recognize the significance of the insignificant.  As the third week of July came my sister-in-law, who is a teacher, had to report back to work to get ready for students in the first week of August.  All over our country the education bureaucracy has decided to start school earlier and earlier.  One supposes the rationale of adding two or three more weeks to the school year is higher test scores!

But, what about childhood and making memories?  Is going longer in June and starting earlier in August robbing our students of valuable learning opportunities?  Yes, believe it our not, our children continue to learn in the summer and really don’t need a parent or teacher supervising every minute. 

I think of my childhood friend, John.  John and I were best buddies.  We rode bikes together, played baseball together, went to the pool together - we were inseperable.  Except when we weren’t!  We sometimes picked on each other and did or said unspeakable things.  Many times I stormed out to my bicycle and rode home mad!  But somehow, the next day one called the other to come hit grounders (or whatever) and all was forgiven.  We didn’t need a conflict resolution mediator and our mothers never got involved - we learned to negotiate the conflict or just to forgive on our own.  It was a normal part of our summer play!

Recently I found myself running through a field catching fireflies with my grandson.  It sure seemed easier to catch them 60 years ago!  There was no pressure of getting a bath and off to bed early because of school in the morning.  It was simply the pure joy of a night with so many fireflies and a jar to fill.

I am concerned that when we do not allow children to be children, valuable adult social skills may be lost.  Classes or camps all summer or... » read more

January 10, 2014

When Santa Said Thank You

Over the month of December it seemed our students were out in the greater community every day.  We sang at nursing homes, attended plays, and delivered presents to local agencies.  While I realize pride is not a health trait, I couldn’t help myself.  I was stopped by someone from the Barter Theatre who simply wanted me to know our students were the best behaved audience they had!  Other organizations in the community expressed the same thoughts to our faculty as they took students to the various venues.  Imagine my surprise, however, when I was in attendance at a local civic club and none other than Santa Claus himself approached me.  He had visited our younger students that morning and was compelled to share with me that they were the sweetest, best behaved student group in his twenty-five years as Santa!

I should not be surprised.  After all, that is the essence of an independent school.  When the school reinforces and supports what is already being taught at home those compliments will not be rare.

As I approach the end of a long career, I see every day so many of the values I hold dear to no longer be the values of the world around me. Following rules is not always necessary if one disagrees with the rule.  Treating others with kindness and respect has been replaced with humiliating those who have a different point of view - Sometimes stealing from an employer is OK if the employee believes  the employer is wrong.  The ultimate in personal responsibility occurred a few weeks ago when a judge ruled a young man “not guilty” because of “affluenza.” He actually said that the young man was a victim of too little parenting and too much money.  As a drunk driver, this young man killed several people.

Let me return to where I started. Santa Claus reminded me how blessed I am to be at a school where parents expect... » read more

October 29, 2013

11,200 Hours

Welcome to our new Eagle’s Nest Blog.

During the school year we will attempt to keep this Blog current and of interest to the parents and friends of Sullins Academy.  We have chosen “Taking Time” as our title to acknowledge that all of us are rushed, pressed for time and need to take a few minutes to reflect.

As Interim Head of School this year I have been reminded again of the difficult task of parenting.  Returning to an elementary school after so many years of a high school and the business end of school operations has been good for me.  Each day when we see the preschool faculty trying to “herd” the 3 year olds through bathroom time we are reminded of why we chose our profession.  Those precious little ones will grow up to be our community leaders as doctors, lawyers, accountants, parents, and other professions.  Each of us in our roles at Sullins Academy has the priviliege of being a part in shaping the future.

Schooling is so much more than “readin’ ritin’ and rithmetic.” A truly excellent school spends as much time on the ethos and culture of the learning community as it does on the formal curriculum.  If a child attends Sullins Academy for grades one through eight, that child will spend 11,200 hours within these walls.  Each day, each week and each year is important.  However, a Sullins education is a product of eight years. From the critical early years through the even more critical adolescent years, students learn in and out of the classroom.  Writer David Elkind calls this the unstudied curriculum.  How a teacher responds to a student reflects the future.  Every daily interaction of a student teaches relationships. How teachers respond to wrong answers, how students treat each other, how conflict is resolved on the playground -  all of these are daily learning experiences.  Over time a student... » read more

October 29, 2013

Thoughts on Resilience in our Children

As I was reading Paul Tough’s recent book, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character, one particular section jumped off the pages and grabbed my undivided attention.  Most of you know that I have been in education now for over 45 years.  Thirty-eight of those years have been as an administrator in independent, tuition-charging schools.  Although not usually the case, many would see those schools as affluent.  In discussing the growth of character in independent school students, Tough quotes an administrator at the affluent Riverdale School in New York:

…many parents, while pushing their children to excel, inadvertently shield them from exactly the kind of experience that can lead to character growth.  … our kids don’t put up with a lot of suffering - They don’t have a threshold for it.  They’re protected from it quite a bit.  And when they do fail, we hear from the parents.”

In discussing that comment in relation to schools all over the United States, Tough says:

It is a central paradox of contemporary parenting, in fact:  we have an acute almost biological impulse to provide for our children, to give them everything they need, to protect them from dangers and discomforts both large and small.  And yet we know - on some level, at least - that what kids need more than anything else is a little hardship:  some challenge, some deprivation they can overcome, even if just to prove to themselves that they can.”

His writing led me to ask this question - “How can we raise children to be resilient young adults if they have nothing to bounce back from?” Seemingly every week... » read more

More recent posts

May 01, 2015

My Love of Field Trips

Overall, I am a major proponent of field trips as tools in the arsenal of educators to best teach children.  Personally, I have experience leading school based trips in the mid atlantic as an educational tour guide and throughout Europe as a teacher and coach.  Among other destinations, I... » read more
January 23, 2015

1st Semester Highlights from the Head of School

Happy New Year! Who can believe that we have a full semester behind us already at Sullins Academy. My family and I are THRILLED to be a part of the Sullins community, and we are thankful for so many aspects of this special school. Here are some highlights from Fall 2014 from the Rehm Team’s... » read more
January 23, 2015

7 Myths About Independent Schools

We know why families choose independent schools. They value what Tony Jarvis, past-head of Roxbury Latin School, called environments where students “are known and loved,” and they believe what the research documents, that independent schools’ intimacy, manageable size, and... » read more
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