Head of School Chris Kolovos shares how BUA is preparing its students -- and the broader school community -- for the 2020 election.
On Wednesday, we held a virtual All School Meeting. Even though we could only see one other through individual boxes on a Zoom screen, it felt good to be together as a community -- something we have not done since our opening day.
Our focus was preparing for the upcoming election, and the highlight was a debate on police funding at the state and local level between two of our seniors; the debate was moderated by alumna Abby Walsh ‘04, who works at the Council on Criminal Justice in Washington, DC. It was one of the most beautiful moments of the school year. Knowing that there are precious few examples of productive civil discourse in the political arena right now, we turned to our students to provide a model. And they delivered. They found and pinpointed areas of agreement (imagine that!) and offered thoughtful arguments on areas where they disagreed -- at times sharply, but civilly and sometimes with good humor. They painted a nuanced picture of an issue that has been caricatured in the media as an all-or-nothing choice between militarization and anarchy. They entertained 200 of their classmates and teachers in the process. And it was a reminder to me, and all of us, of what can happen when we unleash these amazing young people on issues that matter. I left the session feeling better about our collective future and invite you to watch part of the exchange.
To frame the meeting, I offered some thoughts repeating themes that I’ve shared with all of you before. As a long-time American history teacher, I know that this is by no means the first time in our nation’s history where partisan division feels extreme; where the political discourse feels less civil and more personal; where racial and other biases are leveraged for political gain; where there are questions about electoral outcomes and processes. That said, I also shared with these students that, at least in my lifetime, this election cycle feels different; debates feel less substantive, division more extreme, compromise more vilified, and bias more out in the open. And while there is good news that we have a more engaged electorate than we have in a century, that silver lining feels less reassuring than it might.
When it comes to taking care of our BUA family, I am focused on three things. First, there is a danger that this generation misses out on models of productive civil discourse and gets a false sense of what political debate looks like. The debate between our seniors went a long way to reassuring me that not only do these students recognize good discourse, but are more than capable of engaging in it -- like they do in their classrooms every day. Second, I worry that our community could fall into the trap of becoming an echo chamber of one set of ideas, chilling voices that disagree, particularly in a state with a significant majority and minority political split. BUA stands for many things, and a free exchange of ideas is one of them; we will reenforce that commitment, particularly in the next few weeks when outcomes might be uncertain, even after election day. Third, and superficially in tension with the previous point, we cannot compromise on our other values. There is language in the political discourse now that runs afoul of our mission’s commitment to inclusion and community. Issues that may be purely intellectual for some are deeply personal for others. We are not a partisan organization, but we do stand for certain principles; the hate we see in some dark corners of the political arena has no place at BUA.
The coming days will be exciting, contentious, and historic. I feel privileged to be living this experience with this group of students. My wish for them is that they lean into the exchange of ideas, stand up for what they believe in, and, as always, continue being good to one another.
Curious to know what it looks and feels like at BUA these days? Take a peek inside a day in the life at BUA, courtesy of our resident student videographer Rohan Biju '23. Enjoy!
Dr. James Davis, long-time BUA history and philosophy teacher beloved by generations of BUA students, has been selected as a recipient of this year's University of Chicago Outstanding Educator Award.
This distinguished award has existed for more than three decades. Students accepted into the University of Chicago Class of 2024 were asked to nominate an educator whose guidance has helped them along the path toward intellectual growth. Responses were received from thousands of students in recognition of educators who have positively impacted their lives.
An Outstanding Educator shapes young minds in meaningful ways—thoughtfully approaching instruction, sharing an infectious love for learning, and caring for students both inside and outside of the classroom. Each year, newly admitted UChicago students have the opportunity to reflect on their time in school and nominate an educator who played a significant role in their education, made a positive impact in their lives, and whose influence has brought them to where they are today.
Congratulations to Dr. Davis on this well-deserved honor!
On September 2, Boston University Academy officially kicked off the 2020-2021 academic year with a Virtual All-School Meeting for all students and faculty. In his opening remarks, Head of School Chris Kolovos reflected on the “chance that we all have collectively to be the national model that this country needs right now.” Mr. Kolovos challenged students and faculty to "be an upstander in this moment,” noting that “the hard part is actually not taking care of yourself, it's taking care of one another. That's what's going to keep us all safe, and that's the model this country needs right now."
Boston University Academy is one of the only schools in the nation where all students and faculty will receive routine weekly asymptomatic COVID screening tests. Before the start of the school year, all members of the school community were asked to commit to a set of shared norms and expectations that will allow BUA to maintain a safe and healthy campus environment for its students, faculty, and staff.
In the opening All-School Meeting, Student Council President Phevos Paschalidis ‘21 reiterated this message of community and shared responsibility: “Though I have always believed in community, its true power was only revealed in its absence. The spring was a hard time for us all...I am grateful that we, unlike many of our peer schools, will reopen this semester. Our in-person and hybrid interactions will strengthen this community, and thus strengthen each of us in turn. We therefore owe it to the others who have given us so much to remain diligent in following the guidelines BUA and BU have put forth so that we can protect each other and remain open.”
In the 2020-2021 academic year, BUA will hold in-person classes four days a week, with all BUA classes held remotely on Wednesdays. All students have the option to learn from home full- or part-time, joining in-person classes synchronously. Learn more about BUA’s reentry planning and health and safety protocols on our online Guide to Reentry.
Visual Arts Instructor Elizabeth Cellucci announced her retirement from Boston University Academy last month, after a 20-year career at the school. Beloved by generations of BUA students, Ms. Cellucci is known for her calm presence, encouraging guidance, and sharp eye for form and detail. Her many advisees and students over the years loved and respected Liz for her nurturing support, her kindness, and her empathy.
Ms. Cellucci is also the mother of two BUA graduates: Mia ‘06 and Stephen ‘03.
Assistant Head of School Dr. Rosemary White shared:
“Liz is as artistically talented as she is kind. Her students and advisees rely on her for her patience and support. Her students produce amazing work under her guidance, year after year.”
We are grateful for Liz’s two decades of service to Boston University Academy, and will miss her deeply. More information on Ms. Cellucci’s replacement (big shoes to fill, indeed!) will be shared with the BUA community later this summer.
View a slideshow of 25+ years of incredible BUA student artwork under the guidance of Ms. Cellucci here.
BUA officially welcomed Mr. Chris Kolovos as our new head of school on July 1. We are thrilled to officially welcome Mr. Kolovos to the BUA family, and are excited about the energy, vision, and leadership he brings to our school. Mr. Kolovos shared the following message with families on July 10.
Dear BUA Families,
As I wrap up my first full week at BUA, I wanted to reach out to say hello. My wife, Tracey, and I are settling into our new home outside of Boston. We are both Boston-area natives and are excited to return home. We have also just welcomed our first child, Charlie, to our family; our dog, Circe, is very excited to be a big sister!
One of the great things about being appointed a full year before my start date has been the chance to get to know this community and hit the ground running. I am especially grateful for that time now, as we face a global health crisis with major implications for what school will look like in the fall, alongside arguably the most significant civil rights movement in our nation since the 1960s. While I have been working closely with Dr. White and her team all year long, that collaboration intensified this spring in light of COVID-19 and in preparation for the upcoming school year. I could not have asked for better partners or a smoother transition.
This time has also given me the opportunity to meet many of you and see this extraordinary school in action. During my on-campus visits in October and January, I attended All-School Meetings, observed classes, talked with students over lunch and in class meetings, and met with every member of the faculty and staff. It was a pleasure seeing many of you at our parent event during Fall Festival and at the Evening with the Head of School in January. This spring, technology opened even more doors for learning: Zoom calls with two dozen alumni to hear their stories; calls with an equal number of leaders across Boston University, who have been wonderfully helpful as we plan for the fall; remotely judging the finals of an excellent student-organized debate tournament; doing an Instagram Live session hosted by the Student Council; and more. At every turn, this community has been so welcoming. And every interaction has affirmed for me all the things that drew me to BUA a year ago: kind, curious and capable young people; teachers who challenge and care for them; and opportunities for their learning far beyond what nearly any high school in the world can offer.
Relationships are at the core of BUA. We will be talking a great deal in the coming weeks and months about the big issues that are on all of our minds: what school will look like in the fall; and how BUA will continue our work to ensure that our community is just and equitable for all. We will also talk about the longer-term vision and promise of this exceptional school. But, as the newest member of this community, it feels right to begin by getting to know each of you, hear what is on your minds, and understand how I can best support you and your children.
Head of School
On Monday, June 1, Interim Head of School Dr. Rosemary White sent the following communication to the BUA community:
Families across the country, in our city, and within our very own community are grieving today.
In the last several months, we have witnessed a spate of racially-motivated violence in America: the killings of Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, and George Floyd in Minneapolis; and the false report made against Christian Cooper in New York City. Over the past few days, protests and riots have broken out in cities across the nation, including right here in Boston -- an eruption of anger, fear, and pain in response to prejudice and mistreatment at the hands of those in power. All this set to the backdrop of a pandemic disproportionately affecting people of color, at a time when tensions are already running high and nerves are frayed.
These events highlight the injustices and often fatal consequences of endemic racism in our society. They affect all of us, especially our Black and African American colleagues, classmates, peers, and friends. It is important to name injustice and racism when we see it, and to stand up peacefully yet courageously for change and what we know is right. As educators, parents, and allies, it is our duty to support our students and children always, but particularly during moments of crisis and uncertainty. It is our responsibility to be open to their questions, and to try to answer them candidly and forthrightly.
Conversations about race, racism, violence, inequality, and inequity are never easy. Nevertheless, I encourage you to discuss and reflect on these issues as a family in the context of recent events. I have listed some articles that may serve as useful resources below.
Boston University’s Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground will host a special edition of their Coffee & Conversations discussion series this afternoon from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m., and BUA students are welcome to join. Participants are encouraged to join to share their reflections, emotions, questions and comments. Additionally, Dr. Jennifer Formichelli will offer a special Conversations@BUA virtual session tomorrow, Tuesday, June 2 at 11:00 a.m. for students seeking a safe space to process emotions and discuss these issues with their peers. The Zoom link for that session is here. As always, School Counselor Stacey Weiskopf is available to support our students and families.
We have also created a Zoom meeting room for BUA's Black-identifying community members open Monday through Thursday of this week from 1:00-2:00 pm. This is a space for self-care and conversation amongst peers.
Although I would of course prefer to lean on each other and support one another in person in times like these, I draw strength from the closeness of our BUA community and the common values we espouse: inclusion, equity, tolerance, and respect.
Dr. Rosemary White
Interim Head of School
Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker delivered the keynote address at Boston University Academy's Virtual Commencement, held Monday, May 18. In his remarks to the 47 graduates of the BUA Class of 2020, Governor Baker shared three pieces of advice:
"Stick with it. Be willing to adapt and change...And seek out great friends and great mentors. No one ever gets anywhere on their own. That...will help you become the person that you're supposed to be, and will give you a chance to build on the opportunity that this school has provided you."
Boston University Provost and Chief Academic Officer Jean Morrison also addressed the graduates and their families, remarking on the circumstances surrounding Virtual Commencement:
"Throughout history, each generation has its own set of defining experiences. These experiences can be challenging, and even heartbreaking. But they come to shape and define you -- and the world -- for years to come. Although none of us knows precisely what the future holds, we can be certain that this challenge, too, will pass."
Nearly 300 individuals from nine countries across the globe -- as far away as Saudi Arabia and South Africa -- tuned in to the live webcast of the ceremony, which also included remarks by Interim Head of School Dr. Rosemary White, student addresses and Classics orations in Latin and Ancient Greek, and a performance by Polytropos, BUA's men's advanced chorus. View a complete recording of Virtual Commencement here.
BUA Classics Instructor Dr. Kristin Jewell reflection on her transition to remote teaching:
Like a lot of teachers, I went home for spring break with a big pile of books, a bag full of papers, and all sorts of plans for what we would read and discuss when we came back. I had mailed the National Latin and Greek Exams, and we had a plan for finishing the yearbook in a few days. I grabbed some extra books just in case, and cleaned my room extra carefully. . . and then the landscape changed, and the learning curve shot straight up. I participated (remotely) in training, sucked down every teaching idea I could find – and eventually had to stop, triage it all, and figure out what to do for the next 2 days, and the 2 days after that.
I was daunted!
But I had the best help from everyone at BUA – from university training, to fellow teachers who took the time to walk us through different online tools, to pop-up Zoom sessions with friends who helped talk me down to earth. I’m inspired every day by the way students and faculty have pulled together. I’ve also been picking the brains of teachers in online communities, and been amazed at their generosity.
And my students! Every day, I wave at them, and they wave back, and we do our best to keep learning. We’ve figured out how to use shared Google docs as our white board; how to wrangle new material in Greek (not so easy, when typing one letter can require 4 keystrokes – and the kids had never typed Greek before); how to give feedback (not easy, when I usually write notes on their physical homework); how to practice Latin poetry online (not easy, when it requires a way to mark lines all over a text…with a mouse/trackpad); and how to play Kahoot together in our separate homes (surprisingly easy, and a lot of fun). In the first week, they taught me all the tricks they’d observed in other classes, and helped me get better.
Granted, I’d much prefer to be with our kids in the classroom. I wish I could do more content and do it better. I wish I could see them in the hall, and listen to them talk and laugh like regular kids. They have such good Zoom etiquette that it’s almost TOO quiet when we meet! I worry about missing their little Zoom hands when they try to volunteer. Eyestrain nearly sidelined me for two days in our first week, and I had to (begin to) learn to pace myself; Zoom fatigue is very real. Online preparation makes me feel like a new teacher again. But I’m also very fortunate: I have a structure and a purpose every day, and great kids to work with. I’m more than a little proud of what we’ve managed to do together.
Dear BUA Community,
As I prepare to join the BUA family in July, I have had the great pleasure of immersing myself in the life of the school during two visits, first in October, and more recently in January -- sitting in on two dozen classes; hearing from students in grade meetings, over lunch, and in the hallways; cheering on BUA’s teams on the field and on the court; getting to know this passionate and talented faculty and staff; talking with parent volunteers; connecting with alumni; and working closely with Dr. White and her excellent team. I am so grateful for the warm welcome and for the community’s partnership in these early days.
I also had the honor of meeting roughly 60 prospective families at the Evening with the Head of School event in January and offering them some reflections about my visits to campus. I’m writing to share those thoughts with all of you as well.
I have admired BUA for many years, knowing the school for its excellent reputation. Since that day a year ago when I learned that BUA was engaged in a search for its next head of school, I have learned so much more. The more I have learned, the deeper I’ve fallen in love with this great school.
I use “great” advisedly. I had the good fortune to attend a nearby independent school that changed my life; I have taught and led at two other excellent schools; and I have visited several others as part of accreditation teams. Those experiences give you a sense of what separates great schools from the rest. At BUA, I’ve seen all the hallmarks of a great school.
Great schools inspire a culture of curiosity. During my visit last month, I spent the morning with the ninth and tenth graders. As we sat together on the gym floor, I asked students to share with me what they loved most about BUA and why they made the choice to spend their high school years here. Hands shot right up around the room, and one tenth grader offered something that will stay with me. She explained that at her old school, there were a handful of kids like her -- who loved reading, loved talking about ideas -- and those were her friends. But when she came to BUA, she explained, everybody was like that. She was not judged for being curious, bright, and engaged; here, those things are expected and celebrated. As she put it, “At BUA, I found my people.”
I have seen that sincere desire to learn everywhere at BUA: in the senior elective, "Democracy and its Discontents," where students were so engaged in the conversation that they were disappointed when the period was over, and so continued the conversation in the hallway; in the robotics lab (what a gift to have access to a state-of-the-art dedicated university facility), where students on their own initiative were designing, building, and iterating to get ready for the next competition; in the chemistry classroom, where a student asked for an extra homework assignment to help her explore the topic more deeply (yes, more homework!); in the Model UN club, where student leaders took the initiative to train the next generation of budding diplomats; in my conversations with seniors over pizza, as they described their senior thesis projects mentored by BU professors, BUA faculty, and outside researchers. There are many schools with high expectations and rigorous programs. That rigor, though, does not always travel with curiosity. At BUA, the two go hand in hand.
The best schools wrap that intellectual curiosity in a culture of kindness, compassion, and community. The first words of BUA’s mission statement describe a “caring high school community,” and there is a consistency here that is rare. BUA is not a place where there are pockets of kindness; treating one another well permeates the culture. Over my visits this fall and winter, I’ve seen warm smiles and genuine interest on the faces of the students as I’ve greeted them on their way into All-School Meeting -- no small thing for teenagers at 7:50 on a blustery morning. I’ve watched students around a conference table actively making room in the conversation for their classmates, listening intently, and disagreeing without being disagreeable. Seniors volunteered to lead tours on days when their BU classes were not in session and they had no other commitments on campus. I was particularly struck by a conversation with the leaders of the Student Council. This was not a group focused on the traditional topics of dress code and dance planning. Last year, concerned about access and equity for their classmates, they proposed and initiated a textbook swap on campus. Great schools care most about what kind of person a student is. These young people sincerely and consistently care about one another and about their community.
Most important, every great school is built around adults who know and care about the kids. If you take a moment to picture a special teacher from your past, someone who made a positive impact on your life, the great majority of you will think of someone whose strengths went far beyond content expertise. That teacher saw you -- understood you for the person that you were. Maybe that teacher saw something in you that you didn’t even see yourself. When I ask students to describe the best things about BUA, they invariably talk about the passionate, caring, talented adults in the community. They describe times when those teachers met with them outside of class to work through something tricky or to stoke some ember of curiosity. They also describe being understood. An alumnus shared an anecdote with me back in January. He told me a story about one of his favorite BUA English teachers who, when this alum was finishing up at BUA, reflected back on the student’s journey from a “surly ninth grader” to a “true romantic.” Colorful words for sure (and I can’t imagine that this alum was ever surly), but what a beautiful moment of being seen. We know from the research of Dr. Michael Reichert and others that teaching is deeply relational. Students learn best from people they like and trust. What a gift to have teachers who consistently live that mission.
As a young person, I was extraordinarily lucky to grow up in a school community where curiosity was the norm, kindness was the expectation, and teachers were mentors. That changed my life. The reason I do this work and the reason I am so honored to devote my career to BUA is that it offers me the chance to give back for all I’ve been given -- to preserve and nourish this culture so infused with a love of learning and commitment to community, and to make sure that this kind of education is accessible to generations of young people from all corners of the Boston area. And when I look out across BU’s campus and consider all the opportunities this world-class university offers our students beyond the typical high-school curriculum, opportunities no other high school can match, it becomes clear that BUA is not just a great school, but truly unique in the American educational landscape and a model of what kind, curious, capable young people deserve.
I am so grateful to be joining this community, and I very much look forward to building a partnership with all of you over the coming months and years.
Incoming Head of School