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The Milton Measure

Todd Bland Reflects: An Interview with the Head of School

by Sophie Cloherty on Friday, June 5th, 2015

How has Milton changed since your first year here in 2009-2010? How do you think you personally have contributed to this change?

Milton, when I first arrived in 2009, was going through a lot, institutionally, and a lot of it was very contentious. If you were to group the challenges into one area, it would be the breakdown of trust between the primary constituencies in the schools. The faculty was challenged by the administration, who were challenged by the board. The parents were in one place, and students were in another. There was a lot of discord.

Therefore, I felt one of my greatest and most important charges when I came here was to bring greater unity and understanding among the different constituencies about what everyone’s role in a healthy school should look like. Knock on wood, I feel that now at the end of my sixth year, Milton is in a much better place—trust and respect and appreciation for all of those different constituencies is in a very different place and as a result of that, Milton, as a K-12 institution is able to essentially be itself, without fighting against itself, which is a lot of what was happening at the time of my arrival. There are still issues—not everyone is skipping down the street holding hands, though every once in a while that does happen- -but we’re in a place now where Milton is better able to be a better version of itself, and that the experience for students and parents and faculty and for administrators and for the board as a result is better. I’m glad to have been glad to be a part of—I don’t want you to think for a moment that I can take credit for any of it. I will say, however, that I have represented a leadership in a tenure that has done a lot to promote trust and respect and faith in the operation of the school.

Do you notice any differences/similarities between the current Class of 2015 and the Class of 2010?

There are some similarities and some differences, but more similarities than differences. Most of the graduating classes exhibit an incredible range of interests and accomplishments and successes. They’ve really all been great representative classes of Milton. One similarity I would say is humor. I remember the 2010 Class as having a great sense of humor, actually in an almost entirely appropriate way.

With this year’s seniors as well — through Wicked Sketchy and Spamalot, or the Mariachi band — there have been moments where I will remember having really laughed, and I can’t tell you what a gift that is. I have a very warm feeling in my heart for that first Class of 2010 (which is actually returning for a reunion, and this is the first reunion class that I actually will recognize) not only because they were my first class, but also because they were a very joyful class. I think of this current Class as being very similar. The Class of 2010 had some of the inherited mistrust of the previous era, and they grew I think to a better place when they graduated, which consists of more trust and faith in the school or administration. But I think in many respects, this year’s class has more of that trust and faith, because they have benefitted by a series of years with relatively healthy relationships again within the community.

Do you have any advice for the graduating class?

I am always challenged at this time of year because I feel like my time is almost up… There are all these thoughts I want to get out and share. At the top of my list, which I have already shared with the seniors, is to lead grateful lives. I have this fundamental core belief that the people who live the most fulfilled lives are the people who live lives of gratitude. It is important to be able to accomplish things and do things, but even more so is to be able to always be grateful for the opportunities that you have. I hope seniors are always in touch with themselves. Of course I want them to “dare to be true.” I love our motto and I want them to go off into the world and to find their own truth and to dare in whatever ways they feel. The “dare to be true” for me for Milton graduates is not necessarily to find a right path, but to find your path. I think that we as humans tend to live our lives thinking that there is always a right way — and there’s definitely a wrong way– but to find a way that works for them individually is something I hope seniors are always in tune with. You don’t always have to do something in a linear path. The most important thing is that it is your path. There are a lot of powerful forces in the world telling you how to live your life, and I’m proud of Milton graduates for sometimes fighting against some of those norms and to do things in their own way. A part of “daring to be true” is to interpret for themselves what “being true” means.

Should kids go to college?

I don’t think when you get your Milton degree you are done with education. But I certainly believe you’re further along the path than a lot of other people at eighteen. I think Milton does a great job of preparing young people not just for college but for life. But there is still a lot more to learn. I am incredibly proud when I shake the hands of the graduates and forever impressed how relatively well equipt Milton kids are to leave Milton. And a part of that is how much I feel that Milton helps young people to find their voices. Having a voice is to have confidence and to express yourselves and to be hopefully self-aware, so that you’re in tune with what actually it is that you want. College is great for most because you don’t get the luxury elsewhere to devote most of your time becoming educated — you should continually add tools to your educational toolset. But, it doesn’t mean a certain kind of college is always right. For me the most important and absolute defining criteria for where you should go to college is the college that fits you best. That is where you should go. It is all about fit. It is not about a name or a brand. The college process should not be just the checking of a box having to do with prestige.

What changes, if any, do you hope or expect to see on campus next Fall?

Here’s a quick one: less Snow. You know there’s nothing that really jumped to mind as a big change. What I want to talk about is probably boring, but is important institutionally. Next year will be a huge year for us to launch a capital campaign, which is a fundraising initiative to help support the school’s strategic initiatives over the next 5 years. Next October, we are going to have a really big event on campus which is the public kind of opening of the campaign to raise money specifically for teachers, financial aid and infrastructure needs — including [the quad in front of the library], Ware hall, the Art building, and maybe a new Math wing. We have some hopes (we have to raise a lot of money of this). This capital campaign, (referred to as a launch) only happens at most every seven to ten years, I’d like to speak, and will speak, with students about this and why we do it. This is an institution wide priority.

The Art department will continue going through evaluations through next fall. You know, when I’m asked about what I want to be known for during tenure at Milton, I feel being self-aware is really important to me both as individuals and as an institution. And what students are now a part — “Curricular renewal” — which is a part of our strategic plan, is a systematic process by which every department evaluates itself on a very regular basis to make sure that we are serving you students well in every department. Schools like Milton and Milton itself has not always done that kind of self-reflective work well enough. I think that is something we are doing better. It takes a lot of time and energy, but we hope that what it means is that we are updating an experience of continual improvement. Other than that we hope for a great year and look forward to a great senior class.

In your opinion, what is the purpose of summer?

It should be a blend. I hope for students that it’s a time of a shift in pace. I hope that you’re able to sleep more, you’re actually able to decompress and relax. I hope it is a time of reflection I am also someone who believes in having a plan. In particular I believe having a job is a great thing. Being in the working world while you’re in high school is a great experience, and some of that can be and that doesn’t have to be for pay — it can be volunteer work — but just work away from school that has you interacting in a different environment can be really good for students. I think the biggest [purpose of summer] is basically just shifting from the rhythm of the year, allowing yourself reflection, a bit of rest and also some other endeavor — I’m partial to work. Learning what it takes to earn a dollar is very important.

What are your favorite on campus events or Milton traditions?

That is so hard. I’ll try and limit my list. First I love the holiday assembly. It’s one of the K-12 moments that feels really nice. I’m someone whom a lot of upper schoolers interact with in the upper school space. Being responsible for all of K-12, I really do love moments when we are all together and that feels very warm and supportive and celebratory and it’s also right before break which always feels good. I love the dance concert for a lot of different reasons. I think it’s one of the signature moments certainly in the life of the upper school…I love the wealth of artistic expression. I love that there are some people in it who never thought they would be in a dance concert before. It’s just a celebration of a lot of things that I think make Milton special. In an odd way, I also love Veterans Day. It’s a very simple event — our quiet walk to the flag — and it is also another K-12 moment that’s beautiful in my mind in its simplicity. Sometimes, you don’t need a whole lot of pomp and circumstance or fireworks to have a moment that is really impactful. It’s very moving. Of course, graduation is another one of my favorites…always bittersweet but a great moment.

What do you feel is your single biggest disappointment in your career here at Milton? And your biggest accomplishment?

This was a hard question. There are some things that I saw when I arrived, that I (would say at this point six years in time) wish I would have made more of an impact on. It doesn’t feel like I have yet, (it doesn’t mean that I won’t) but it is one of the things challenges and confounds me. Part of my job is to engage with the alumni. When I meet them, they’re amazing. I mean they “dare to be true” in every possible way, in every profession or field. My experience has been that they are an incredibly loyal and grateful group of people who express gratitude for having had the Milton experience — regardless of whether they’re out two years, five years, fifteen years thirty year, fifty years etc. But, what has been hard for me, is the percentage of alumni who give back to the school…in what we refer to as the “Annual Fund.” The percentage that contributes back to the school is low. It’s lower than most of our peers. Out of sixteen ISL schools, we’re ranked fifteenth. Isn’t that surprising? I don’t know all of the reasons for why that is, but I’m going to change it. It has to change for the good of Milton. I had somewhat of an unrealistic or naïve idea that in the “Todd Bland Era,” all of a sudden I would arrive and everyone would be like “He’s the Guy!” and [change this low rate of alumni contribution]. I now know it takes longer than that, but I hope that I’m here during [this change]. I think it will. Faculty giving has gone way up. Student giving has gone way up. Parent giving has gone way up. Everything has gone in a positive direction. [Alumni giving] is that last group that really does something about [low contribution]. As much as I try to hide my competitive side, I am deeply competitive. I really want to do well, and most of that is because I want the resources available for Milton. In this regard, I hoped that I would have made more of an impact, but I hope it will come.

What do you feel should be the purpose of student-run publications in high schools?

My own feeling is that they should be about the news. Publications are hopefully bring what is current to the population. Providing an opportunity for writing [is another purpose]. Newspaper writing is hard to replicate and [publications] bring that for the student body. [Another purpose] is appropriate humor for the community — which is awesome, because we all need to laugh more. Good humor is excellent. I would say that good and appropriate humor with an edge — which humor often has — is not easy. I respect the challenges of doing some of what publications do. It’s delicate, but I think when done well, it’s awesome and it’s hilarious. The one thing I am deeply sensitive to is when people were hurt through some of the writing that was going on, and through some of the jokes that were being made. I feel that is the difference between where our publications were, and where they are now. And that’s not okay by me. For [publications] to have an edge and to talk about real issues involving real people is all fair game, and so is to make us laugh. But to make people feel badly about themselves, or about who they are or their identity is not okay. I think the concept of sensitivity is very important for our news publications. We need to remember that the articles that [publications] write and the humor [they] put out always has an impact on people, and we have to strike the right balance. That doesn’t mean you can’t say anything. Articles that are critical of something that has happened at the school or something that needs to change or something that expresses the sentiments of students is all fair, but it is important that we do that with sensitivity. With [this sensitivity], I think things will go well.

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Posted by Sophie Cloherty on Jun 5 2015. Filed under More News, News, Recent News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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