7/1/20
 
 
Dear Powhatan Community,
 
Today is my first day on the job at Powhatan, and many different feelings are rolling through me — anticipation, excitement, and the “butterflies” that all of us feel when we start or restart a new experience. But the dominant feeling is one of gratitude — gratitude for:
 

• Our students who have demonstrated great perseverance and flexibility in embracing “Virtual Powhatan”;
• Our parents who have remained faithful, supportive, and encouraging as we have had to change dramatically these last three months how we teach;
• Our faculty and staff who have been so creative, resilient, and resolute in the face of the many COVID-19 related challenges for teaching and learning. I have had the privilege of meeting individually with each of Powhatan’s 60 faculty and staff these last several weeks and am inspired by their devotion to their school;
• Our trustees who have devoted hours and hours to being thoughtful and committed stewards of Powhatan’s people, mission, finances, and future; and
• Everyone who has helped me since late April during this time of transition, particularly Sue Scarborough, who has given me enormous amounts of time, help, and wise counsel as we prepare for a new year amid very unusual circumstances.

 
I am grateful for the privilege of rejoining a community whose people demonstrate these truly uplifting qualities which we shall continue to draw on as we go forward.
 
I am also grateful to return to a school with Powhatan’s preeminent pillars of EXCELLENCE, CIVILITY, INTEGRITY, RESPECT, and SERVICE. These pillars are rooted in our school’s steadfast commitment throughout its 72 year history to nurturing life-long, principled, and respectful learners. These 5 pillars call us — with humility, purpose, principle, and reverence for the dignity of all — to use all our learning to serve and to lead with care and character. In today’s world — a world painfully in need of more civil discourse, empathy, and fairness — Powhatan’s determined dedication to these noble and timeless pillars is more important, more needed than ever. We all have the responsibility to be true to our pillars and to strive always to support one another and to be sure that our school is a community where every single member feels a genuine sense of care, respect, and belonging.
 
During my weekly transition visits to Powhatan these last 12 weeks, I occasionally have been asked what books I would recommend that might help us understand some of the challenges we face today — challenges that affect us all — students, faculty, staff, parents, citizens. Here are a few suggestions which flow from my work as a teacher in American Studies and Religious Studies these past 38 years and as a person believing that strengthening community is an obligation we all share.
 

1. “THE WAR FOR KINDNESS: BUILDING EMPATHY IN A FRACTURED WORLD” by Jamil Zaki. The author identifies why empathy is on the decline and how parents, teachers, and mentors can build empathy in our students.
2. “IGEN” by Jean M. Twenge. Dr. Twenge describes the implications of social media and texting for communication, relationship building, connecting, and community building.
3. “THE BLESSING OF A SKINNED KNEE: USING JEWISH TEACHINGS TO RAISE SELF-RELIANT CHILDREN” by Wendy Mogel. This may be the most compelling book on parenting I have ever read.
4. “THE REAL AMERICAN DREAM: A MEDITATION ON HOPE” by Andrew Delbanco who eloquently identifies the shaping forces in American History and who challenges his readers to enlarge our vision of hope and to imagine and create a future that takes us beyond ourselves as individuals.
5. “LETTER FROM BIRMINGHAM JAIL” literally written on scraps of paper from jail by Dr. Martin Luther King during the 1963 protests. This powerful piece offers penetrating insight into the philosophical, political, and theological underpinnings of the Civil Rights movement. I find it helpful as we attempt to get our minds and hearts around today’s turmoil.
6. “LOVE YOUR ENEMIES” by Arthur C. Brooks. Through multiple lenses — neuroscience, psychology, theology, political science, history — this writer describes why many people have contempt for those with whom we disagree. Brooks offers very practical advice about steps that can be taken to reduce division and polarization.

 
I would welcome the opportunity to talk to you about any of these books and would be grateful for any recommendations you might have.
 
Two final points – first, parents, a reminder that we shall send you on July 15 detailed information about COVID-19 related health and safety protocols and expectations. Second, a committee of colleagues is working closely with Division Directors Cait Gosnell and Darren Holgate, me, and Sue Scarborough in planning the daily academic routines for this year in light of COVID-19. You will hear from Cait and Darren in early August about these plans.
 
I look forward to working with you in the coming year toward helping Powhatan live as fully as possible into its critically important mission. Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with questions, concerns, or suggestions.
 
Wishing you a Happy July 4th – a powerful reminder of our duty as citizens always to honor the ideals of the Declaration of Independence – life, liberty, and justice for all.
 
Billy Peebles
Interim Head of School