About Jack Hall

Jack Hall is the Head of School at The Walker School in Marietta, Georgia. He received a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre at Davidson College and holds a Master of Science in Athletic Administration from Georgia State University and a Master of Arts in Education Administration from Columbia University where he was also a Klingenstein Fellow at Columbia University.

Welcome Back 2019-20

What are the three most important days in the life of The Walker School each school year?  For me, the answers, in chronological order, are: 1) when the faculty & staff arrive on campus; 2) when the students arrive on campus; and 3) when the seniors, the Class of 2020, graduate. The exciting news is that two of the most exciting days are happening in the next week.

This week, new faculty and staff arrived to begin the on-boarding process at Walker. I can honestly say that I have never been as excited about a new group of faculty and staff as I am this year. Talented, enthusiastic, passionate, gifted experts in their field, these are just a few of the words or phrases that come to mind when I consider the new faculty and staff joining our team.

While we certainly miss those who have retired or departed, I am convinced that Walker is going to be an even stronger school because of the amazing professionals who will join us this week. To learn more about them, click here

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So much has happened to our campus this summer, and I can’t wait to see the looks on your faces when you check out the beautiful new fence along US 41, see the amazing new Innovation Lab and Tinker Space in the Lower School, take in the new classrooms for the New Avenues Dyslexia Program (which has doubled in size for Year Two), and watch the final few weeks of work on our new turf on Robertson Field. Check out this video to see the progress to this point.

Please enjoy the last few days of summer before school begins. We look forward to seeing everyone back on campus for Wonder of Walker (WOW) days next week.

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Today, I Will Choose JOY.

As we approach the Thanksgiving season, we have so much for which to be thankful. If I tried to share the many things I am thankful for, the list would be exhaustive. I hope that is true for each member of the Walker community.

On the other hand, many of us are struggling with challenges, obstacles, or hardships. Some of those challenges are temporary, like a quiz, test, or job responsibility; some of the hardships are long-term, like an illness or the profound sense of loss of a loved one.

The Walker community has experienced a number of hardships in the last few weeks, as we mourn the loss of longtime Lower School art teacher Sherry Walker-Taylor. It is impossible not to feel her 35-year legacy every time you step foot in our Lower School with its hallways that are filled with artwork made by the hands of our first- through fifth-graders. Sherry, or “WT” as most of us knew her, inspired generations of Wolverines to both create and appreciate art; her daughter, Jessica Whittingham (‘02), follows in her footsteps as our wonderful Primary School art and science teacher.

As many of you know, our son’s first wife succumbed to kidney cancer two years ago this month. I am inspired every day by what our son shared with us on the day his wife died. Joseph and I were driving on a very dark road, in silence, to a family gathering when he turned to me and said, “Dad, I’m going to be okay.” Fighting back multiple emotions, I said, “I’m so glad to hear you say that.” And then he shared the most palpable example of “Choosing Joy,” that I have ever heard:

“You know how Perrin and I always said that we were going to choose joy in spite of the cancer,” he stated, “Well, last night, she told me that I could not let her death be something that caused me to live in sorrow. She made me promise that I was going to choose to live with joy.” And then he added, “I am going to honor that promise.”

Wow. I had to work hard to keep my hands on the wheel and my eyes on the road. It was a moment I will never forget; a lesson from my children that transcends the ages. For all of us who have lost a loved one, it is a lesson that may help to navigate what comes next.

It has been said that life is a journey; one that is filled with great moments of exhilaration and other moments of loss, heartache, or sadness. As parents and educators, it is our job to recognize the truth in this and to model and teach our children to embrace the life-long pursuit of “choosing joy.”

Nurture, Structure, and Latitude

During his recent visit to The Walker School, child and family therapist and educational consultant, Dr. Rob Evans asked the following question: Do you think your child’s school should be preparing the path for your child OR preparing your child for the path? Click THIS SURVEY LINK to answer that very question. This question framed his talk with both faculty/staff and parents because Dr. Evans recognizes that parents and schools are less confident about setting parameters for children and are more anxious about an uncertain future. In that context, he shared his sense of what decades of research tell us about what children need most from their parents – nurture, structure, and latitude.

To nurture is to care for and encourage the growth and development of children (and adults). For Dr. Evans, nurture is the bedrock to healthy development, and the best way to nurture someone is to spend time with them. He disparaged the notion that parents can force quality time. “Quality time,” he said, “only arises from meaningful interaction, which, of course, takes time to develop. It cannot be forced.” When I consider our family dynamic, quality time has almost always been generated by playing board games, camping, or simply relaxing together. For my wife, Cathy, and me, it happens when we go on long walks. I concur with Dr. Evans, nurture takes an investment of time.

Structure, in Dr. Evans’ mind, is like a box: “What’s inside the box is what we do, what is appropriate behavior; what’s outside the box are the things we know we should not do.” Interestingly, research shows that the contents of the box, what behaviors are acceptable, vary from culture to culture, and even from family to family. But children must be taught what those parameters are, and parents must be consistent in handling instances where children test the boundaries. I remember one time when Cathy and I had to discipline our children for testing the boundaries. When we found out that our children lied to a babysitter about their bedtime, we had a decision to make: would we take the children to the Cardinals baseball game the next day, as planned, the day that we now know Mark McGuire set the homerun record for a season? The answer was clear; we would not. Lying was not acceptable and we needed to be consistent with our discipline. They were both disappointed; our son was mad. But, as Dr. Evans’ mother would have said, “You will just have to get glad again.”

Finally, our children need latitude or room to make mistakes. “While it appears that many parents want their children to have stress-free childhoods,” Dr. Evans said, “that is actually not helpful. What will distinguish your children, what will reveal their character, is how they respond to mistakes, hardships, failure. It is vitally important that children learn from non-catastrophic mistakes.” Dr. Evans implores parents not to intervene when a child is working through a problem or a challenge. He loves to tell the story of the head of school who tells parents at the beginning of each year, “We hope each of your children experience failure this year. We are not going to facilitate it, but we hope, nevertheless, that it happens. And when it does, we ask you not to intervene or attempt to rescue your child. If we want them to grow into resilient, self-confident problem solvers, they need experience working through the problem.” And I believe, if they grow into experienced problem solvers, they will be able to face an uncertain future with self-confidence, which is exactly what we hope for our students at The Walker School.

Great Minds Do Not Think Alike

Walker is a school known for producing “A-ha!” moments. Whether it is Primary School imagestudents watching their “bots” carry out the pattern designed, or Lower School students discovering exactly how the digestive system works in a hands-on lesson (entitled “Making Poop” of all things!) in Mrs. Morris’ class, or Middle School students realizing they can engage in a thoughtful debate on gun control and the Second Amendment without depending on Mr. Surkan to lead the discussion, or Upper School students being able to amplify and analyze the DNA of a plant from the outdoor classroom in our new Warren Science & Technology Building, these moments and many, many more are part of what makes learning so transformational here.

I had an “A-ha!” moment this summer during the SAIS Institute for New Heads, which I have had the privilege of co-leading the last five years. The memorable moment came when one of the new heads walked into a session wearing a school t-shirt. On the front was the name of her school; on the back was a quote that captured the way I look at The Walker School. It read “Great Minds Do NOT Think Alike.” The quote stopped me in my tracks; not because of its novelty, but because it encapsulates the essence of what is so special about Walker.

Imagine a school where:

  • for five consecutive years, no two seniors have had the same academic schedule;
  • the variety of advanced courses exceeds that found in schools five times it size;
  • faculty encourage students to ask questions, to look at a problem or issue from multiple perspectives;
  • students with different learning styles and teachers with different teaching styles thrive and are embraced;
  • families of all faith perspectives, political persuasions, socio-economic and cultural backgrounds are welcomed and valued.

This is The Walker School. It is the quintessential school for the 21st century, a time marked by technological innovation, rapid change, and the need for collaborative diversity and cross-cultural competency. In essence, Walker, a school proud of its rich diversity, is an incubator for nurturing multi-talented young people who are characterized by confidence, integrity, and resilience and who possess strong criticalthinking and problem solving skills. As adults, we can lead the way by modeling civil discourse, respecting perspectives that may differ from our own, and recognizing the reality that great minds do not think alike. Now more than ever, adults and children alike must ensure that Walker is a place where each individual is known, valued, and loved. As Mister (Fred) Rogers once said, “Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.”

Trailblazers, Pioneers, Mavericks and Troublemakers

When I grow up, I want to be…a troublemaker!” Of course, most parents don’t want to hear their child utter these words, but I want to ask you to consider a different perspective.

Jennie T. Anderson

Miss Jennie, pictured sitting on her father’s lap

Every fall, new members are inducted into the National Honor Society (NHS) at The Walker School.  During the induction ceremony, everyone in attendance is told that Walker’s NHS chapter is named for Jennie Tate Anderson, for whom the nearby Marietta Civic Center is named. As the speaker describes “Miss Jennie” and her accomplishments, the audience learns the four words that best describe her: “Trailblazer, Pioneer, Maverick and Troublemaker.” Most parents would enjoy watching a son or daughter blaze a new trail or be considered a pioneer in his or her field, but a maverick or troublemaker?

Think of all the people in history who were labeled “troublemakers” before they were given credit for changing the world for the better. It’s a “Who’s Who” list of epic proportions: Rosa Parks, Gandhi, George Washington, Susan B. Anthony, Nelson Mandela, Malala Yousafzai, and Martin Luther King, just to name a few. Each of these people dreamed of a better road to freedom and each was willing to persevere against great obstacles in order to see a dream come true.

From my perspective, many so-called “troublemakers” get that reputation because they ask penetrating questions about why something is the way it is. And when the response to that question is “That’s the way it has always been,” the “troublemaker” is inspired to start a movement to end segregation or apartheid, or work tirelessly so that women have the right to vote or access to an education.  Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, once famously praised the world’s troublemakers, noting that “they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.”  

At Walker, we encourage our students to ask hard questions, be engaged, and look for ways to make a difference. In essence, we want Walker students and graduates to be “difference makers.”  When I asked her granddaughter, Interim Middle School Division Head Katherine Harrison, why “Miss Jennie” was referred to as a “troublemaker,” she said it was because she was always speaking up for those who would not or could not speak for themselves.  To me, that sounds more like a “difference maker” than a “troublemaker.”  In the spirit of Jennie Tate Anderson, let’s continue to raise up a new generation of “difference makers.”

What’s Your Story?

There are two stories that I love to share about The Walker School that I believe capture much of who we are and what we believe.  The first is about the boundless opportunities that exist for students at Walker. It goes like this:

We have purposely maintained an intimately scaled environment at Walker, because it gives a clear alternative for families who want their children to be known, involved, and inspired.  It is not unusual, for example, for students involved in theater, band or orchestra to also be involved on an athletic team.  There have been many band concerts in which student- athletes arrive straight from a game dressed in a baseball uniform.  

9B0121FE-F189-4F35-A9E9-9A47FECF190AMy favorite example of this was when McClain McKinney (pictured), was playing football at the same time he was starring in the fall musical, Little Women.  The football coach and theater director both worked out a mutually beneficial schedule for McClain. On the Friday night that the play was in production and the football team was also playing, the play was moved from an 8pm to 6:30pm start.  DCDB8CB1-C3DD-4DD2-9B3E-60341262B46AMcClain arrived at the football game versus archrival Mt. Paran at halftime and played the entire second half, helping Walker secure a key win during a region championship season.  After the game, I remember walking up to McClain on the field to congratulate him and realizing, when he took his helmet off, that he still had his stage makeup on – only at Walker!

Don’t take my word for it; watch the video below to listen to McClain discuss his diverse Walker experience in his own words:

 

The second story speaks to the reason why faculty are drawn to teach at Walker, a school where teachers are revered and can teach in an environment where learning is the chief priority of the school.  I often share this story with families who are weighing their public or private school options:

Several years ago, I was interviewing a prospective faculty member who taught history at a local public school.  When I asked her to describe her teaching load, she said she had six classes with 35 students in each class – a total teaching load of 215 students.  I was flabbergasted! When I asked her what type of assessments she gave her students, she acknowledged that she could only give multiple choice assessments that could be graded through a machine via Scantron.  As a history teacher, she said one of the main reasons she wanted to teach in a smaller environment like Walker was that she wanted get to know her students better and to teach critical thinking and writing skills to prepare them for life beyond high school.  This teacher is beginning her fourth year at Walker, where she has five classes with an average class size of 15 students, and is now also a proud Walker parent!

Perhaps you have a favorite story you would like to share about your experience at The Walker School.  I encourage you to put it down in writing and share it with me!   I would love to read it and share with prospective families.  

Go Against the Flow

One of the benefits of the summer pace at The Walker School is the opportunity to spend time planning and working ahead. This summer, I worked on titles for several blogs I plan to write this year.  This blog, written in July, speaks to the kind of culture we are working to cultivate at Walker. In light of this past weekend’s disturbing events in Charlottesville, Virginia, this message of who we are and what we believe is all the more pertinent. Thank you for taking the time to read this blog.

My wife used to have a sweatshirt with an artist’s rendering of a fish going “against the flow” as other fish were swimming in the opposite direction. I often think about the image and how the symbolism represents the way I see The Walker School. In a sea often filled with enormous and overcrowded public schools or exclusive religious schools with admission policies that forbid religious diversity, The Walker School’s educational philosophy runs counter. As Cobb County’s only non-sectarian, Primary through Grade 12 independent school, Walker seeks to be a school where families of all races, religions, and backgrounds are welcomed, embraced, and treasured in an environment that is intimately scaled and where learning is the chief priority.  

Such an approach to education is admirable. President Ronald Reagan agreed when he said, “America is a melting pot, and education has been a mainspring for our democracy and freedom, a means of providing gifts of knowledge and opportunity to all citizens, no matter how humble their background, so they could climb higher, help build the American dream, and leave a better life for those who follow.” Such an approach is also challenging. In a political and social environment that is increasingly polarized, it is difficult to foster a climate where there is civil disagreement characterized by mutual respect and active listening, and where alternative perspectives are valued and thoughtfully considered. Difficult, yes; but incredibly important.

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Walker alum Josh Zuckerman (right), pictured with Princeton classmate Josh Freeman

Today’s students must be prepared to live in an increasingly diverse world, work with people from many other backgrounds and cultures, and consider other perspectives as they respectfully share their own. Perhaps at no time in our history has such an approach to education been so important. We find a perfect example of this in Walker alum, Josh Zuckerman, pictured at right, who was profiled in the New York Times for his efforts to promote respectful dialogue on the Princeton University campus. When asked for his advice to current Walker students in a recent alumni video profile, Josh urged students to listen to one another.

Ultimately, The Walker School seeks to be a place where people with different backgrounds learn from each other; where our diversity makes us stronger; where, politically speaking, liberals, moderates and conservatives thrive. Our differences and approach to diversity help us create empathetic, culturally competent students who become leaders and well-functioning members of a multi-faceted world. Three of our school’s Core Values form the foundation of this educational approach. We believe that the school:

  • plays an important role in teaching students to value themselves and others.
  • should provide the foundation and framework for giving students the skills and the flexibility that are necessary to thrive in a changing world.
  • should encourage students, faculty, and parents to develop a perspective that embraces diversity and enhances global awareness.

For too many of our nation’s students, this exposure doesn’t happen until college or after, when students have left home. Because The Walker School fosters such a positive but academically challenging learning environment for students still living at home, parents are a vital component in the education process and can give feedback on all that their children learn. It may make for interesting dinner table discussions or even disagreements; but it represents the best in the parent-school partnership as we collaborate to give our children the confidence and experience to navigate complex, difficult, or challenging waters.

This is the climate we strive to create at The Walker School.