Scholars Symposium 2017

“If Blues Band is the day in the fall when I feel most happy and proud of our community, the Scholars Symposium is that day in the spring for me. I realize what good hands our futures are in when I hear these incredible students sharing their knowledge, ideas, and passion with such remarkable poise and conviction.”

                                                                              -Liz Perry, Head of Upper School

Liz took the words right out of my mouth. Blues Band and Scholars Symposium bookend the school year spectacularly. And I know why: both events leave you in a bit of awe.  You know you’ve witnessed something truly exceptional.

St. Luke’s Scholars 2017

An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.

St. Luke’s Scholars are the School’s mission come to life. Listen as a teenager educates the room about Infectious Disease in West Africa, or Genetic Luminescence, or Damnatio memoriae in the Roman Empire…it’s the epitome of deep learning.

These students become experts and that’s learning that lasts. When you develop a topic, execute a research plan, put forth a thesis, draft an extensive research paper and present your findings in public—I can promise you, it’s something you will remember forever.

Last year, my daughter Sarabeth worked on her Global Scholars project. She studied healthcare and nursing in India. I saw firsthand how a student moves from passionate but fairly superficial understanding of a topic to deep understanding. For Sarabeth, progress came through research, questioning, writing, rewriting and translating her findings into something meaningful for an audience. P.S. She’s studying to be a nurse.

In a few weeks, videos of the Scholars presentations will go online. I’ll share and urge you to watch a few. I bet you’ll find yourself thinking “This is exceptional.”


St. Luke’s is a private, secular (non-religious) independent school in New Canaan, CT serving grades 5-12. St. Luke’s mission: An exceptional education that inspires a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead.  Come visit us!

Visionaries on the Hilltop

Some of the most forward-thinking minds in the fields of technology, finance, education, and politics have or will soon be on the Hilltop—visiting, inspiring debates and sharing theories that resonate across campus.

David Pakman addresses St. Luke's Board

David Pakman addresses St. Luke’s Board

Internet entrepreneur and venture capitalist David Pakman, a St. Luke’s parent and Board member, spoke to trustees about “Technology, the Future, and Us.” David, a partner at Venrock, specializes in researching and predicting the future. We sat riveted as he covered everything from driverless cars (much sooner than you think) to artificial intelligence. The big take-away: St. Luke’s investment in STEM curriculum is well placed as professionals of the future—regardless of chosen fields—need a firm grasp on how their digital world works.

David arranged for John Katzman to share his insights into the future of education with our board. John,  a well-known educationalist, is currently CEO of The Noodle Companies. He also founded and served as the CEO of The Princeton Review, the SAT prep company, and created 2U, an educational technology company. John shared provocative ideas about the future of independent schools and their need for increased technological sophistication.

Our faculty and Board had a private screening of the Sundance Film selection Most Likely To Succeed and a discussion with the education consultant for the film Stephanie Rogen, a leadership expert and St. Luke’s Board member.


Gareth Fancher, Liz Perry, Julie Lythcott-Haims and Mark Davis

Gareth Fancher, Liz Perry, Julie Lythcott Haims and Mark Davis

Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of the best-selling book How to Raise an Adult , spoke last week to faculty, students and parents. Her core message, which clearly resonated with all audiences: “We have to deliberately put opportunities for independence in our kids way.”

St. Luke’s parent Aris Kekedjian, GE Head of M&A/Business Development, spearheaded the sale of roughly $200 billion of GE Capital assets in a whirlwind 18-month period that helped strategically position GE as a more nimble industrial company.  In this year’s first Lunch and Lead sponsored by the Center For Leadership, Mr. Kekedjian delivered a tour de force of leadership lessons gleaned from his personal and business experiences to thirty-five students and several faculty members.

On September 27, the day after the first Presidential debate, Ari Fleischer, St. Luke’s parent and former White House press secretary, will speak to grades 8-12 about the election. In addition to sharing his thoughts on the campaigns and the issues at stake, Mr. Fleischer will respond to questions from our students.  Yes, you can bet I plan to be a fly on that wall.

Wow. These thinkers bring to the Hilltop much more than just their expertise. They bring their ideas. And they bring their questions.

How can schools stay relevant and sustainable in the crush of new information and network technology? How do we encourage a love of learning, not merely a quest for achievement? How do we provide an exceptional education—one that lights up each student’s curiosity and leadership qualities—while thriving in the competitive world of standardized tests and college admissions? How do we, as a country in 2016, elect our next President, and how do we talk with students about the controversial nature of this year’s campaign? (See my “Hamilton” Meditation for more on those last questions).

It’s electrifying, a bit daunting, and the perfect challenge for a community full of people who love to learn. What an exciting time and how fortunate that St. Luke’s has visionaries from whom we can learn.


St. Luke’s Success

Many very different people make up the St. Luke’s community. Yet, without exception, we share a common goal: we want our children to be successful now and in the future.

I think a lot about success. I’m fascinated by how hard it is to define. Its meaning changes—like a chameleon—with every use.  For some it brings to mind wealth or fame. For others, it might include a strong family life or contentment.

At St. Luke’s, we measure our success by our mission—instilling a deep love of learning, a strong moral compass, the commitment to serve, and the confidence to lead. That, to borrow from Head of Upper School Liz Perry, is what gets us up in the morning.

St. Luke’s interpretation of success defines us. It keeps our ladder leaning up against the right wall. Learning, stretching, becoming compassionate, confident, intellectually and emotionally well-rounded people. Those words have the ring of St. Luke’s success.

One does not have to look far for examples..

Such as twenty senior scholars sharing a year’s worth of hard-earned knowledge during the Scholars Symposium. Students boldly took on topics such as: The Role of the Internet in a Free and Closed Society, The International Oil Conflict, The Effectiveness of Commerce-Based Philanthropy in Combating Global Poverty and Setting the Stage for Augustus, Rome’s First Emperor.

Such as Middle School students working in mixed-grade teams to design an interactive sculpture for our science wing. Our designLab launched the Finding da Vinci challenge during a Middle School assembly. Students were confident, curious and creative. They collaborated, built prototypes on the fly and “pitched” ideas. They embraced the process of trial and error, and felt the triumph of figuring it out.

On the Hilltop, we see success in glorious art on our walls, professional performances on our stages, and the sportsmanship that defines our playing fields. We see it in a young writer reading a personal story, beautifully crafted and expressed. And we see it at the COLT Poetry Contest—the Connecticut  Super Bowl of language competitions—where St. Luke’s students took first place in five categories.

Even more indelibly, we see St. Luke’s success in the reflections of a 9th grade girl who learns something about herself, the world and her capacity to make a difference:

I have just left the two hour J-Term showcase, and I have a feeling of accomplishment that I have rarely had throughout my life. I have always thought that the feeling of getting a challenging test back with the big red A on the front was one of the best feelings you could have at a school. However, right now, I realize that I was wrong. After the J-Term showcase, I feel that I have professionally pitched an organized idea that does true good for the world…Doing a week of hard core research on this topic has truly opened my eyes to the world around me. Before this week, I considered poverty to be an issue that was more prevalent in other states or countries. However, this week I learned that poverty is a much more local issue than I thought. This topic is so sad to think about, and I really learned a lot about myself this week. I think I realized that I should be less ignorant toward the issue of poverty and try to do more to help.

What does success mean to you? I’d like to know. Share your thoughts using the comment feature on this page—or write to me directly at



The Only Way To Do It Is To Do It

Mike at Bootcamp

Mike (3rd from left) at Bootcamp

It’s my pleasure to share this post from Upper School Science Chair, Michael Mitchell.

For many teachers, the summer is a time of rest and relaxation. I was looking for something more exciting. Something disruptive. I found what I was looking for at The Design Thinking Bootcamp. Offered through the Stanford Graduate School of Business, bootcamp was the best kind of disruption—opening my mind, expanding my thinking, and redefining how I approach problem solving.

Bootcamp started with a greeting from David Kelley, founder of both the Stanford and IDEO, who gave a quick history of both organizations to the 70 bootcamp participants. We were then introduced to our coaches, who were either faculty or recent graduates of a similar workshop who had gone on to live design thinking in both their personal and professional lives.

Split into small groups, we were immediately introduced to the basic structure of design thinking—empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test—through a 90-minute exercise during which we interviewed partners about their experiences in a new city and then prototyped a product that would enhance those experiences. Now somewhat familiar with the lexicon and process, we began our actual bootcamp experience: to redefine the city experience outside of the hotel walls, for Hyatt Hotels. The rest was almost a blur.

Over the next two and a half days we bussed into San Francisco to interview random strangers about their love of the city. Back at the, we had to ideate and prototype our ideas, and showcase these ideas to more random strangers and then to executives from Hyatt. Just as we were wrapping up, our coaches again surprised us. There were a few hundred people outside who had signed up for a 90 minute design thinking workshop, and we were going to be their coaches. Whoa.

After returning from, I have three main goals. The first is daily practice of the behaviors I learned. The second is to offer similar bootcamp experiences to both students and faculty throughout the year. And the third is to work with the Center for Leadership to launch our own designLab at St. Luke’s this winter. Mark described our vision perfectly in his summer letter to families: the designLab will be an interdisciplinary hub for experiential learning. Here, teachers and students will engage in design thinking, problem solving and teamwork. Through cutting edge technologies and project-based learning the designLab will set the example of education driven by real-world problem solving and practical application of skills.

I have already run my first bootcamps with several members of St. Luke’s administrative team, and a faculty group as well. On the student side, my engineering courses are revolving around a semester-long design challenge rooted in design thinking. Students will design a toy for a Middle School teacher that helps teach a concept. I also plan to work with Student Government and other student organizations as they tackle challenges over the year that could benefit from design thinking.

My whole experience was transformative. The most exciting takeaways are new problem-solving tools we can share with students. There is a sign hanging in the that reads, “the only way to do it is to do it.” And that’s what we’re doing.

See more Bootcamp photos

The Rube Goldberg Challenge

The news is out that St. Luke’s has thrown down a Rube Goldberg Challenge. Students, alumni, teachers, parents and even grandparents are joining forces to build a better mousetrap – or in this case, a contraption to ring the St. Luke’s bell. I asked the duo behind the challenge, Center for Leadership Director, Jim Foley, and Science Chair, Mike Mitchell, to be my guests this week and share their inspiration for bringing Rube to St. Luke’s. They had this little “conversation” about it…

Jim: Mike, I can’t tell you how psyched I am to help host the first annual Rube Goldberg Challenge! It’s not because I’m a terribly handy guy, either (as my wife would be the first to tell you). I’ve never been someone who felt all that comfortable “building” things from scratch, I have to see it done first. In fact, I remember a disastrous attempt at a homemade skateboarding ramp when I was a kid. Fortunately, no one got hurt… too badly. How about you?

Mike: Some of my favorite memories of my childhood revolve around chores. It’s not that I loved mowing the lawn, or cleaning my room, but I can’t help but smile when I recall the creativity I would employ when completing such tasks. Efficiency wasn’t my forte, but figuring out a new and different, often more difficult, approach – that was when I shined. I would think outside the box. Contemplate how to get something from one place to another without merely carrying it. Ramp and pulley systems were my friends. While my brother would complete his tasks within a fraction of the time it would take me, I had much more fun achieving the final results.

Yes, it’s the fun that matters! While I can’t swing a hammer all that well, I do vividly remember the “Eureka!” moment I had as a kid when my cousins and I stumbled on miles of vintage orange 1960’s-era Hot Wheels toy car tracks in my grandparents’ attic. We took a very “Rube” approach to things: those tracks got propped on 7-foot stacks of books, wound through staircases from top story to bottom, leapt over and under and through just about every piece of furniture my grandmother possessed, and got more than a little help along the way from curtain rods, discarded sporting goods, and anything else we could scrounge up from the attic. Hopefully our SLS families will make the most of their own playful sides.

Mike: The Rube Goldberg competition embraces that same approach, Jim. The entire St. Luke’s community is invited to embrace the task of ringing the SLS bell to welcome us into Spring Weekend, and I’m really excited to see how each team approaches the problem. I consider myself lucky as Chair of the Science Department, as this experience serves as a fantastic opportunity to continue to build a culture of science within the school where students, parents, alumni and faculty work collaboratively in problem solving.

Any last words of advice to our participants?

Mike: Remember – ramps, fulcrums and pulleys are your friends.