The Archivist’s Closet: Reflecting on the Characteristics of Our Community
As Ralph Reinwald celebrates 50 years of service to Friends Select School, I can’t help but reflect on the characteristics of our community that keep our faculty and staff. It’s quite an achievement for a teacher to dedicate so much of their career to one institution; but at Friends Select, it’s not entirely rare for people to stick around. To many of us, working at the school was not just a job, it was a calling.
“I always felt that my work to help support the teachers who brought their talents every day to school for the students had real meaning and made a difference in people’s lives,” said Mike Noonan, Friends Select’s business manager for 41 years. “A constant that I observed over the years is that the school has always stayed true to its mission of seeking to teach our students to ‘walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone’ with ‘the aim of education is the preparation for the whole of life.’ One could not have a better motivator or central purpose to one’s work.”
Some of the things, I think, that have factored into retaining faculty and staff are the financial reforms Larry Blauvelt instituted as headmaster. Until then, male teachers were paid more than female teachers, upper school teachers—grades 7 through 12—were paid more than their lower school colleagues, and the pension plan was inadequate. Larry not only established a pay scale based on years of service, but he also incorporated the TIAA retirement plan, with the employee and school making equal payments each month.
Friends Select has consistently provided its employees opportunities to experiment. The addition of electives in English and the social sciences for juniors and seniors allowed faculty freedom to conceptualize academic programming outside the typical curriculum; the ability for teachers to offer new, engaging content was one positive aspect, and the ability for students to have a voice in what courses were to be offered was another. Teachers were able to explore new fields and thus be innovative in the classroom, far better than teaching the same subject year after year. “For me, Friends Select was a place that allowed for experimentation with both academic and social programs that were eventually reflected in published curriculum, such as the Meet the Authors series celebrating young writers and conflict resolution incorporated into regular classroom practice,” said Anne Thomforde Thomas, who after four decades teaching lower school, retired in 2020.
Employees have been supported in professional growth through membership on evaluation teams or committees, visits to other schools to observe best practices, and professional development. “Friends Select is the kind of place that encourages employees to contribute in other ways outside of their ‘main job,’ and take advantage of opportunities to work with the students as a coach or As an advisor for a student activity,” said Mike, a former Friends Select basketball coach. And former head of school Rose Hagan was effective in finding new roles for people, rather than have them simply leave. That is how I am able to write this material right now, having retired from full-time work but being asked to stay on part-time to work on the archives and alumni affairs. I’m now in my 58th year at Friends Select.
Time and again, however, we come back to the people who have worked at Friends Select as the sole reason employees stay; perhaps the most outstanding aspects of the school are the strong sense of collegiality and friendship. “When I think of my time at Friends Select I remember it as a caring supportive community, both the faculty and student body. I enjoyed my work; it was very diverse, from dealing with children, parents, busing, and ordering supplies,” said Lynda Stine, who was a lower school administrative assistant from 1968 to 2011. “We all pitched in and helped each other when we were overwhelmed.”