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.

Shadows Prove the Sunshine

Every new year brings with it renewed excitement, resolutions for change or improvement, and hope for the future.  Additionally, the transition to a new year brings reflection, as we look back on lessons learned from the previous year.  For me, recent life-lessons have been profound and impactful.  

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Joseph and Perrin Hall

On the day after Thanksgiving, our son Joseph lost his wife Perrin after a six and one half-year battle with kidney cancer. And while there are memories that will be etched in my heart and mind forever, I have been touched by three significant lessons that are certainly worth sharing.

First and foremost, I will carry four words and a picture of Perrin with me that will inspire, sustain and support me in life’s difficult moments.  For those of you who did not know Perrin, she maintained a level of joy in the face of adversity that was, and remains, inspirational.  She summed this sense of joy by saying that the “shadows prove the sunshine.”  I remember the first time I heard her say that; I stopped in my tracks.  Perrin was determined not to let the shadow of cancer control her outlook on life.  Rather, her life was lived to the fullest, with joy and in faith, in a way that allowed the light to dominate the shadows.  How often the most simple truth, one often overlooked, offers a life-changing perspective.

Second, I opened a letter this past week from retired Walker teacher, Mrs. Dixie Bowden, for whom “Bowden Library” is named, who shared words of comfort for those of us enduring the shadows:

In a remote region of Tibet, the farewell that someone gives another is “May there be a road.” In that land where snow slides, rock slides, and cave-ins are abundant, in that land where roads are casually made and bridges are often hung from ropes, the wish – “May there be a road” takes on new significance.  Surely we have highways, but metaphorically, life sometimes seems like Frost’s “pathless wood.”  We move blindly at times, not knowing where to go next, but the love of God and of friends and family sustains us, shields us from the pain of mudslides and collapses, and comforts us in the loss of those we love.

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Larry Alvin

Finally, it is, as Dixie notes, the love, support and comfort of friends and family that sustains us.  Over and over during the past six years, even as recently as this week as we mourn the loss of longtime Walker employee Larry Alvin, I have seen the Walker community reach out and carry those who are hurting.  It is, certainly, one of the most endearing attributes of the people connected to this school.  Students, parents, faculty, staff, former faculty & staff, alumni, past parents, board members, everyone in this community cares about the well-being of each person. Indeed, it is through your individual acts of kindness, in a letter, card, hug, pat on the back, or with a listening ear that the axiom comes to life – the “shadows prove the sunshine.”  

Shine on, Walker.

Why Walker?

tws-fall2015-3973Okay, I admit the title is intended to be an eye catcher; but I know many Walker families are often asked why they pay tuition to send their children to an independent school in a county where public schools are considered a good option. While the question is completely reasonable, the answer is relatively straightforward –  families that choose The Walker School are looking for a remarkably different educational experience.

How is Walker remarkably different?  If you were to look at our school’s Core Values, you would find the answer articulated in the second, third and fourth core values:

  • Student learning is the chief priority of the school.
  • The school should provide a safe, supportive, and challenging environment for learning with clear goals and high expectations for student achievement.
  • The school’s curriculum should develop creative and analytical thinking.

Anecdotally, if you were to talk to a new parent, you might hear this answer:  

My wife and I examined at least nine different school options for our daughter. Walker was the one school where the light was on behind the students’ eyes; in the other schools, it was as if the students were going through the motions.”

Or, this answer from a parent of three alumni:

“Like many parents, I am amazed at the difference in my children’s interests and personalities. So I am even more amazed at the ability of the Walker teachers to instill in all three of them a love of learning which has been the foundation for their success in college and beyond. Not only do my children attribute their success to what they learned at Walker, but they cherish the relationships they built, and continue to stay in touch with friends and faculty.”

Perhaps, you believe that statistical evidence provides the answer.  These facts provide great comfort:

  • Walker offers 26 Advanced Placement (AP) course offerings and Walker students average taking between five and six AP courses during their educational career at Walker – the highest average in the county in each of the last two years (Based on the Washington Post’s Challenge Index)
  • Walker also boasts a five-year average SAT score of 1801 and an average ACT score of 27 – each the highest among both public and private schools in Cobb County.
  • Walker’s award-winning college counseling office partners with families the second a student steps foot in our Upper School, ensuring that 100% of Walker’s graduates find the four-year college or university that is his or her “best fit.”

For the overwhelming majority of Walker families, the reason is Walker’s faculty.  A Lower School parent put it in these terms when writing their son’s science teacher this month, “Thanks for the positive influence you are having on Ian’s love of learning and freedom to always wonder and ask “how/why.”  We love watching his little gears turning.” Among independent (private) schools in the metro area, Walker maintains the highest percentage of experienced teachers (more than 16 years teaching experience) and the smallest percentage of teachers with less than six years experience (based on NAIS survey data).  

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The truth is that there are many reasons a family invests in a Walker education.  In an educational culture where, all too often, the bar is lowered so that everyone can get over it, Walker clearly goes against the grain.  Here, teachers hold the bar high and work diligently with students who aspire to clear the bar and then some. As a result, Walker graduates matriculate to college with a level of self-confidence that comes from being in a unique educational environment that is both nurturing and challenging.  Walker is remarkably different.

What Would MLK Say?

With all the excitement surrounding the start of school, it is easy to forget about our country’s and world’s current struggles with so much violence and loss of life.  How does a school approach such difficult subject matters? At Walker, two of our Core Values provide the answer.  We believe that:

  • the school plays an important role in teaching students to value themselves and others; and
  • the school should provide the foundation and framework for giving students the skills and flexibility that are necessary to thrive in a changing world.
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Dr. Cindy Schafer, Walker’s Social Studies Department Chair, leading discussion in class

These core beliefs are the foundation upon which difficult conversations are based and are part of what attracts both families and teachers to join our community.  Students, parents, and teachers embrace dialogue about difficult topics, recognizing that answers are often complex.

Let me share an example from the classroom.  Over the last twenty-two years, I have taught a history elective on the American Civil Rights movement.  It is a class that deals with difficult topics on a weekly basis – slavery, lynching, segregation, civil disobedience, mob rule, injustice, racism, etc.  Often, in the midst of explosive current events, students discuss the similarities and differences between an historical civil rights event, like the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, with present-day violence that has taken place in cities like Paris, Orlando, Nice, Istanbul, and too many others. As we near the anniversary of the March on Washington, I find myself reflecting on what Martin Luther King, Jr. would say about today’s events were he alive. In fact, this is an assignment I frequently give my students and have even challenged myself to complete.

While it is hard to pick just one quote from a man who was one of the greatest orators of the 20th century, this is the quote I would select in completing the assignment:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.”

(excerpt from a 1957 sermon of Dr. King’s)

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MLK Jr. at the March on Washington

While recognizing that Dr. King would always want those guilty of brutality or harassment brought to justice, such an assignment gives us the opportunity to discuss revenge, taking the law into your own hands, and the effect each has on a society built upon the rule of law.  Certainly students would be asked how such present-day violence is different from a lynch mob that circumvented the judicial process to carry out its own judgement “at the hands of persons unknown.”  In the Lower School or Middle School classroom, the comparison might be made to the way we treat people who have wronged us  – with a word or on the playground.

Dr. King’s life’s work, striving tirelessly to make the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness equally available to all citizens, helped America become more aligned with its own core values.  Perhaps the greatest lesson we can share with our students is that our country, like each of us, is a work in progress, and sometimes, discussing troubling current events in light of historical events helps us gain a more balanced perspective on our individual journey to become a better person or collective journey to create a “more perfect union.”

Oh, The Places They’ll Go!

She looked perplexed.  “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“I am so sad that Bob Murphy and Kitty Drew are retiring; that Ira Dawson is leaving to be the principal of Atlanta Youth Academy; and when I look at Brad Brown, I start crying,” she shared.

“I know just how you feel.  I am going to miss them terribly,” I replied.

As I reflected on this brief conversation with a Walker faculty member, it was retiring Upper School Principal Bob Murphy, appropriately, who provided the most poignant observation:

“Walker excels at preparing people for the next level, the next opportunity.  That is, in fact, what we do best.  We prepare our students to flourish when they leave us; interestingly, we do that with adults as well.”

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The Class of 2015

As the Class of 2016 prepares to graduate this week, there is no more public example of Bob’s comment.  Our Promise Statement captures this major transition so well:

At the culmination of this carefully guided, increasingly independent journey, Walker graduates have evolved from curious young learners into critically thinking, individually expressive, confidently collaborative, and admirably honest young adults thoroughly prepared for the intellectual and relational challenges of college and life.

The fact that we excel at preparing young people for the next step is one of the two main reasons why families invest in a Walker education. The other is the quality of our faculty and staff. Walker has always been a place characterized by incredibly talented faculty and staff. I often comment that the most important responsibility I have as Head of School is to hire great people and let them soar as professionals.  Ironically, that speaks to the heart of why I find myself sad at this time of every year. When we hire great people like Sherry Walker-Taylor, Sue Rittenberg or Susie Schlich, they may end up staying at Walker until they retire; but in other cases, talented professionals will have opportunities to go on to great things somewhere else…just like our graduates. Regardless, it is hard to let go.

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Sherry Walker-Taylor, Sue Rittenberg, Bob Murphy, Kitty Drew, and Susie Schlich

As we celebrate both the Class of 2016 and departing faculty and staff for their amazing contributions to our school community, we do so with a mixture of joy and sadness. Be encouraged by yet another insightful word of wisdom from Bob Murphy: “If I have to leave somewhere, this is a fabulous place from which to be leaving.”

Lessons in Character: Self-Control and Resilience

Do we ever stop growing, in terms of character?  Over the last three weeks, I have been reminded that character development is a lifelong pursuit.

mastersIt has been said that “sports reveals character.” Certainly this was true at this year’s Masters Tournament.  I was privileged to be invited to attend the tournament this year.  It was a very windy Saturday, and I felt for the players as they tried to battle both a challenging course and extremely windy conditions. As I stood near the 7th green, it was hard to watch Justin Thomas’ ten-foot par putt get blown forty feet away from the hole. Billy Horschel had the worst luck, as the ball he marked on the 15th green proceeded to get blown into the water as he watched in disbelief (click here to watch). Of course, many of us ached for Jordan Spieth as he hit two balls into Rae’s Creek on Sunday.  Driving home, I reflected on each golfer’s reaction to the hardship.  None threw a club, cursed out loud, or yelled at their caddie. While each was understandably distraught, each maintained his composure, persevered, and played on.

This week at Walker, two student-athletes exhibited self-control and resilience in a way that made me exceedingly proud.  The varsity girls tennis team, competing for the region katiechampionship, was locked in a very competitive battle with St. Francis.  Needing to win three of the five matches, Walker was leading 2-1, with senior Katie Busch (left) and junior Alice Jiang (below) each trying to capture that final victory for the team.  Unfortunately, both Wolverines were battling physical hurdles. Katie’s right leg was wrapped because of a strained quad; Alice was in severe pain dealing with a blister that covered the length of her left foot.  Both girls had split the first two sets with their opponent and needed to persevere to win the final set.  Wincing often and moving slowly, Katie, urged on by lots of Wolverine fans and heralice teammates, managed to take an early lead in the final set.  Alice, having just lost the second set 6-1, gathered herself and likewise jumped out to an early lead. As I raced back and forth to watch each match, I was inspired by Katie’s and Alice’s determination, resilience, and stamina.  Unfortunately, I had to leave the match before its conclusion to participate in Senior Day activities for the soccer team.  Not long after those activities concluded, I saw Katie headed for the soccer game carrying the region championship trophy (pictured with Holland Martin).  While I was certainly elated that the team FullSizeRender (33)had won, I was even more impressed with the character Katie and Alice had displayed in the midst of a challenging situation.

Life has a way of mixing hardship and joy that is often unpredictable.  As parents and educators, we have an important responsibility to teach our children/students this truth from the Greek philosopher Epictetus, “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”  Facing hardship with self-discipline, resilience and courage will enable each of us to find long-term success.

Thankful in the Midst of Sorrow

Like many of you, my wife, Cathy, and I were transfixed by the horrific scenes from Paris over this past weekend.  Understandably, each of us responds to such tragedy differently.  Some of us want to bury our heads, wish it away, change the channel. Others want to exact revenge on those who would take life so violently.  Most of us want to know how we can help, what we can do.  As I reflect on those whose lives were taken in Paris and in Beirut, where more than forty died on Friday as a result of two car bombings, I am drawn to a bittersweet sense of sorrow and thankfulness.

I am overcome with sorrow for those whose lives were cut short, and for those who lost a loved one. There is little that compares with the grief experienced when a life ends too soon. Twenty- seven years ago, Cathy and I buried our first son, David, who lived only nine hours.  I often find myself thinking about David and the life he did not experience; I know I will think about him the rest of my days.  Like many, I grieve both for those who have died and for those forced to say goodbye to a loved one far too soon.

And yet, on the other hand, I am compelled to be thankful in the midst of sorrow. I am thankful to be a part of the Walker community whose first core value is the “belief in the infinite worth and dignity of the individual.”  At a time like this, when children have so many questions about such tragic events, it is important for adults to remind them how important life is and how much we must treasure each individual. This is particularly important in a diverse community like that found at Walker.  Though we have different backgrounds, come from different cultures, and experience life differently, learning to appreciate our differences is a critical part of our mission.

Life is an amazing journey, filled with exuberant highs and fraught with challenging lows. While it may seem natural to want to shield those we love from that which is difficult, it is neither wise nor healthy. Child Psychologist Michael Thompson, who will speak to our community in March, reminded me this summer that “during a crisis, children want to be with those they love and trust.” Michael would encourage each of us to be present, to listen, to respond thoughtfully, and to encourage young people to reach out for support when they have questions.

Earlier today a friend shared a wonderful message from TV personality Mr. Rogers that speaks directly to us as we walk our children through frightening moments:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping. To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”- Fred Rogers.

Mr. Rogers makes an important point – look for the helpers when life is difficult. Please know that everyone at Walker is poised to be a helper for each and every student.

Walker’s Core Strengths: Meaningful Relationships

WalkerCrossCountryI have great admiration for everyone who runs cross country, no matter where they finish in a race.  It takes courage to join the team and amazing perseverance to train and compete.  So I cheer just as much for the student-athlete finishing last as I do the one finishing first.  This past weekend our middle school cross country team took that perspective much further as the final runner came out of the woods, headed for the finish line.  Without any prompting by a coach or adult, members of the Walker Middle School Cross Country team – who had already finished the race – ran into the woods so that they could run with, encourage, and support the final contestant.  It was one of the most inspirational moments I have experienced as a head of school at Walker, and a picture of meaningful relationships at its very best.

Part of the beauty of Walker is that our school size overall and small class sizes facilitate the degree to which meaningful relationships can develop.  One of the key reasons parents choose Walker for their children is that they know each child is going to be valued, challenged and inspired at an exponentially different level than other schools.  

Several weeks ago, a recent Walker graduate wrote the following as a way of saying “thank you” to her teachers:

“One of the wonderful attributes of Walker is the close relationships the teachers and students have. You inspired me, helped me, guided me, and of course, taught me. One of many things that are so special about the faculty at Walker is that you don’t feel your job ends with the last bell of the day. You seem to love truly what you do.  You have given out cell phone numbers, stayed long after school, and even held review sessions on the weekends to answer questions and insure your students’ success.  Your talents often stretch far beyond the classroom, too.  We see you racing from the all-too-famous Wednesday faculty meetings to a practice or game, and others of you are getting up early to unlock your room for a morning club meeting.  To Walker faculty, teaching isn’t just a job; it’s your life, and your dedication shows.”

Walker has an amazing, long-standing reputation for providing challenging academics, talented and dedicated faculty, meaningful relationships, boundless opportunities, peerless college preparation all within a community that is both nurturing and diverse. These core strengths represent the hallmark of a Walker education, and throughout this school year, I will be using this space to highlight each of these core strengths, starting with meaningful relationships.