Hello, Tampa Prep. I wanted to float two statements out into the world. The first is a statement born of living in the time of COVID-19. The second is a statement that rests in the goal of developing critical thinkers.

We have so much to be grateful for as we begin this 2020 school year. Aside from the obvious--that our community has once again come together and started a school year--we have to be grateful for the efforts, big and small, that got us to this point. 

I start with an appreciation for our faculty, staff and administrators for truly going above and beyond the call of duty to ready Prep for the 2020 school year.

Our teachers put in an extra measure of devotion this summer. This summer, in addition to their personal commitments to their families and all the responsibilities of life during this time of COVID, they poured themselves deeply into professional development. Mistakenly, many assume that teachers step away from school and disengage from their care for kids and curriculum over the summer. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Many of our faculty have taken on professional commitments such as grading AP exams and leading national discussions for not only AP curriculum development but local and national leadership conversation across all of the disciplines in school. Others have participated in conversations on diversity, social justice and preparing to bring meaning to the current conversation of race and culture in the country. And many faculty members continue to work with and support students in their passions, interests and service projects over the summer via Zoom, email and phone conversations. 

Faculty also use the summer to dive deeply into the intellectual exercise of reflecting on the previous year and using what they learned to find resources, amend curriculum and develop new opportunities for learning and experiences. Teachers also used the summer to participate in a series of volunteer meetings where some took on the role of expert and shared best practices with their colleagues, creating additional access to pedagogical tools to help students. This summer, all faculty committed hours and hours for professional development so that curriculum could be modified to fit our new schedule and course cadence. 

Our facilities crew, which traditionally approaches each summer as an exercise of repair and refinish, had the new task of procurement and installation of safety protection for our community, as Covid brought about new equipment that had to be incorporated into our facility to support health and safety. From enhanced cleaning, to the installation of signage and all things in between, our facilities crew were tireless in their effort to prepare Prep for occupancy and to make our school one of the safest places around!

I am also grateful to all who helped the school stay connected by creating and supporting the vast communications, and making sure they were distributed and available, along with those who worked to develop schedules, class lists and all of the organizational structures necessary for the first day of school and beyond.

I am grateful to our Summer Programs staff and leaders who helped us develop way finding and routines that safely and effectively moved people through the buildings and across our campus. I am grateful for those who took deep companion dives in readying for athletics, the arts and the experientially-focused parts of our program.

We have so much to be thankful for, and these are just a few examples! Bravo, thanks and gratitude goes to all.

Inside of education there is a long-standing concern for critical thinking. It’s a term that is often used to persuade an audience that an initiative or experience in the school house is extremely valuable and more often than not it accompanies some type of change or modification to program. “We are moving to this or that, because it will help students become critical thinkers!” Re-read that quote, but this time ask yourself “how?” does that help a student become a critical thinker. 

At Prep, we seek to understand the essence of critical thinking. What will contribute to the development of the skills? Thus we look to understand and implement a number of questions before a programmatic change is initiated or an initiative is undertaken. Here is one example of a foundational lens we use for critical thinking:

If we graduate students who do not have the benefit of having had conversations in our classes and across our disciplines that do not include an exploration of the experiences of the marginalized, have we fulfilled our obligation to create critical thinkers who are lifelong learners? An understanding of the dominant culture is never in doubt, it is represented everywhere and all of the time, overtly and subvertly, in media, texts, information, ads, and popular culture...in short everywhere. Each minute taken to include the voices of the underrepresented, or those not represented, stretches the realm of possibility, understanding, leadership, empathy and opportunity for our students. Truth, experience and understanding cannot be bound by gender, race, faith, nationality, socio-economic class, orientation, identity, age, or ability. The providence of privilege and a reliance on the narrow, myopic and most commonly known, emphasized and presented narrative and understanding, is a limitation that Prep should not allow itself to be bound by. In the absence of those voices and experiences, the lens of understanding is narrowed. The expansion of the narrative is difficult and exposes our experiential limitations, but the journey must be undertaken. 

When we chart a course toward critical thinking and discussion we then must turn our attention to the environment where growth, understanding and reflection can take place.

Our public square must be a place of safety, where the fragility and vulnerability of the human condition is not a place of shame, weakness or embarrassment, but a place where both our strengths and our weaknesses, our knowledge and and our search for knowledge, our growth and our growing can be undertaken, explored, supported and celebrated. Strengthening our cross-gender, cross-racial, cross-faith, cross-nationality, cross-class, cross-orientation, cross-identity, cross-age and cross-ability solidarity, understanding, experience and celebration is our next normal. 

These are just two examples of how we approach the complex endeavor of growing critical thinking.

Thank you, Prep, for your support, confidence and trust in the School to ready itself for health and safety, and thus a unique school year. Our commitment is steadfast. We are here to do what’s best for students, and this is the best community I could ever hope to be in to work toward that goal.

Have a great school year!

Kevin M. Plummer, Head of School