A Learning Agenda

Michael C. Wirtz, Head of School: As Hackley begins its 118th year and I start my first, I am focused on increasing my understanding of this special community with an eye towards our future. What do we want the school to be like for our students now and in the years ahead?

This is an exciting question for me, the kind that motivates me in my work. As I consider what the future holds for the school it is clear there are many aspects of Hackley that should not change because they reflect our core values. We are a community of learners, centered in the understanding that our words, actions, and interactions impact those around us. We speak thoughtfully, listen carefully, and then act out of concern for others, not self. We choose the right path, even when it is more difficult. We educate the mind, yet emphasize the development of students into the best version of their best selves. We learn through discovery, conversation, and from the mistakes that we make. We are a school that values “character” over “intellect.”

Many community members – faculty, staff, students, parents, and alumni – have asked me why I wanted to come to Hackley. For me, the answer is simple: Hackley stands for ideals that are consistent with my own as an educator and a parent. Whether teaching chemistry, coaching, advising, working in dorms, or serving as school leader, I have focused first on helping students grow and develop into responsible, ethical citizens. I want the same for my children and I want their school to be a partner in this endeavor. The more I learned about Hackley during the search process, the more excited I grew to join the community.

Throughout this summer, I took every opportunity to meet faculty, staff, students, parents, alumni, and trustees. These conversations have continued into the fall as I seek to absorb as much as possible about Hackley’s past and present. Each conversation helps me understand the school better, giving voice to the stories of others. These individual moments support my primary goal to understand, affirm, and strengthen the unique qualities of the school’s culture. Enter here to be and find a friend. United, We Help One Another. Character is higher than intellect. Go forth and spread beauty and light. These phrases are not jargon. Rather, they illuminate the school’s core values and link us to those who have come before.

In one form or another, the ideals present in these mottos have been central to my conversations with community members. Many have shared stories of friendships nurtured over many years, moments when assistance was given when it was not requested, and told of examples when the right choice triumphed over the expedient. The accumulation and consistency of these personal narratives is further proof that there is indeed something special about Hackley.

An additional attraction for me – and one of Hackley’s great strengths – is its K-12 identity. I believe a key to our future lies in our ability to continue to affirm and strengthen connections across the three divisions. We are fortunate that Hackley attracts adults who seek to facilitate the education of students throughout their formative K-12 years in ways that are more enduring than in a K-8 or 9-12 school. Due in no small part to the wisdom of those that came before us, Hackley is better positioned to do this work because the Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools are on a single campus. As a K-12 community unified on the Hilltop, students across the school learn with and from one another, modeling the character virtues we value and serving as leaders to peers and younger students. In the adult community, faculty and staff have the opportunity to connect with students throughout their educational journey and build relationships that last a lifetime. Faculty and staff leverage the talent and experience of colleagues, adopting best practices, and reinforcing messages, skills, and values across the spectrum of a child’s educational journey.

Rather than unveil an action-oriented approach to my first year at Hackley, I am pursuing a learning agenda that will help me create a compelling vision for our shared future. This is an exciting moment to be at Hackley, not because there is a new head, but because the world needs good people to do hard things. It needs parents, educators, nurses, engineers, programmers, artists, entrepreneurs, volunteers, leaders, and citizens of character. It needs us to live our mission fully, deeply, and actively.

I admire the school’s proud history of “challeng[ing] students to grow in character, scholarship, and accomplishment, to offer unreserved effort, and to learn from the varying perspectives and backgrounds in our community and the world.” My experiences and approach are consistent and complementary to Hackley’s philosophy and I am excited and honored to join this community to continue creating the educational opportunities that help our students go out beyond the Hilltop and make a difference.