Head of School’s Blog

Twister Trot and Spring Fever

With third quarter report cards coming out tomorrow, this has been a week of reading rather than writing for me. These documents are just one of many signals that we have crossed the threshold into the final chapter of the school year.

In August, 1994, I was not yet through my first full week of teaching when I received a bit of advice that I still remember today. From Mr. Nuzum, who taught Physical Science down the hall from me: “Anything really important, anything you really want them to learn, make sure you teach it by Thanksgiving.”

Hyperbole? Absolutely. But Mr. Nuzum was on to something. As I discovered that spring, for some Middle Schoolers in particular, there exists a direct correlation between “days left in school” and kids’ attention spans. In April and May, both are hurtling toward zero at what seems like an alarming rate.

As teachers, we summon extra doses of patience and good humor, keep expectations consistent, and keep our feet on the gas. Not surprisingly, children usually respond as we would hope, and summer doesn’t visit our classrooms until…summer. For the past twenty-four years, I’ve employed Mr. Nuzum’s adage with one exception. We teach the important stuff by Memorial Day.

Speaking of spring, I hope to see everyone on campus this Saturday morning for the Twister Trot. Please join us for either the 5K or the 1 mile course through American Village. This race honors the strength and courage of those in our community, and those whose lives have been affected by cancer in particular. Click here to register. On-line registration closes tomorrow at noon, so please act now. Please arrive by 8:30 on Saturday. The opening remarks begin at 8:45, and the race will start promptly at 9:00. Stick around for the fire truck, bouncy house, and performance by the TDS Cheer Team.

Remember, TDS students who finish ahead of Mr. Norry win an all-you-can-eat lunch and the class with highest percentage participation earns a popsicle party. The stats to date show 3rd grade in the lead:

  • TK – 40%
  • K – 35%
  • 1st – 44%
  • 2nd – 29%
  • 3rd – 59%
  • 4th – 45%
  • 5th – 26%
  • 6th – 22%
  • 7th – 22%
  • 8th – 19%


Douglas E. Norry
Head of School

Pi Day and Memorization

Pi, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter, is an irrational number. While most recognize pi as 3.14, the decimal goes on forever with no discernible pattern. Since Pi Day (3/14) occurred over spring break, we have chosen to celebrate this week at TDS. Many classes have measured various circular objects and used these data to calculate pi in order to test their precision. Tomorrow, students who recite the first 25 digits will earn an oatmeal cream pie, and those hitting the 50-digit mark will be recognized during our all-school assembly. Additionally, top performers from each grade level will recite what they know, and we will crown a TDS Champion. Their significant accomplishments notwithstanding, I doubt they will reach the mark set by Austin Baio, who, at age 11, captured the world record for his age group by reciting 2091 digits. If you have 18 minutes to spare, check out Austin in action.

As educators focus on 21st century skills such as problem solving and creativity, memorizing has fallen out of favor in recent years. It’s likely that many of us had to commit to memory the words of Chaucer, Shakespeare, or Frost as we progressed through high school, and it’s equally likely that our children will escape this arduous task. The smart phone is the latest in a long line of inventions, perhaps beginning with the printing press that allows us to outsource memory. Is this a good thing?

In a piece appearing in the New Yorker, Brad Leithauser pleads his case for memorization. A college professor who bemoans the fact that his students resist memorizing sonnets, Leithauser’s argument hinges on forming an emotional connection with literature. Memorizing allows you to “take the poem inside you, into your brain chemistry if not your blood, and you know it at a deeper, bodily level than if you simply read it off a screen.” Jim Holt echoes this sentiment in a New York Times article entitled Got Poetry?, concluding that, when it comes to deriving pleasure from literature, “the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within.”

Memorizing poetry is one thing, but what about numbers? Even if surpassing the one hundredth digit doesn’t enhance our emotional connection with pi, research suggests that memorization serves as important fitness training for the brain. Studies have shown that, as we memorize more and more, we improve our neural plasticity, and we stretch the capacity and duration of our working memories. This mental gymnastics can counter the effects of aging while also helping to increase one’s focus. Additionally, it’s widely accepted that factual knowledge (memorized) precedes skill development; that is, we can’t think well on a topic in the absence of factual knowledge about that topic. Put another way, we understand new things in the context of things we already know, so memorized material serves as a launching pad for novel learning.

Moonwalking With Einstein, a New York Times bestseller, is Joshua Foer’s fascinating account of his yearlong quest to improve his memory. Interviewing contestants at the 2005 U.S. Memory Championships, Foer learned that the participants were not savants, but rather men and women with average memories who spent hours perfecting techniques that worked for them. To test this theory, the author began his own memory training regimen. Twelve months later, he won the U.S. Memory Championship. Moonwalking With Einstein* weaves Foer’s journey with historical attitudes toward memory and the science behind memory creation. He concludes that we remember when we pay attention and are deeply engaged.

Tomorrow’s pi champions will have some work to do before they can memorize the order of thirty decks of cards in one hour, but Foer explains that this task is actually accessible to most of us. Furthermore, as memory and understanding go hand in hand, there’s much to be gained from the experience.

*Interested in this topic, but not sure that you want to read the book? I recommend starting with Joshua Foer’s TED Talk.


Douglas E. Norry
Head of School

How to Raise an Adult – Breaking Free of the Overparenting Trap

Some of you have children in high school, but most of you don’t. With that in mind, allow me to share a quick story, and a TED Talk, that you might find relevant in the near (or distant) future.

On Tuesday night, I went into my son’s bedroom, found him engaged with homework, plopped myself down on his bed, and asked him the classic question: “how was school today?”

“I got a 94 on my math test.”

Did he actually answer my question? I didn’t give it much thought at the time. I recall feeling a sense of relief because he had shared a few days earlier that he (and others) didn’t have time to finish the test. Since he had only seen the result online, he wondered whether the teacher had curved it.

Fast forward twenty-four hours. Last night, I watched this TED Talk by Julie Lythcott-Haims, author of How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kids for Success. Haims describes the experience of kids today as a “checklisted childhood” – the result of parents feeling that their children cannot achieve success without their micro-managing – where children are shepherded into the right schools and classes, pushed to earn the right grades and awards, and driven to complete myriad activities and service, all with an eye toward gaining acceptance to the right [highly selective] college. Beyond leaving our children “brittle and burnt out,” Haims suggests that the real danger lies with the message we send our kids: “‘I don’t think you can achieve any of this without me.’” For our children to learn self-efficacy – that their own actions are linked to real outcomes – they need to be left to do things for themselves, which often involves trial and error.

What does this overparenting look like, besides managing their lives, driving them from travel soccer practice to SAT tutoring, and e-mailing their teacher about a B+? It involves squandering those precious, few minutes of conversation by grilling them about homework and performance on tests. Did my son (Will) offer this specific, numerical response because he knew, from months of my asking and nagging, that it was important to me? I’m not proud of it, but probably. Another of Haims’ observations resonated with me: “We expect our kids to perform at a level of perfection that we were never asked to perform at ourselves.” As a sophomore, Will is taking the same math class that I took as a junior in high school. That’s just ‘how it works’ these days. I seriously doubt that I could have pulled off a B twelve months earlier in my academic development, but that hasn’t stopped me from expecting even more from my son.

If we aren’t supposed to fill our teenagers’ lives with activities, then what? Haims’ suggestion works for kids of all ages. First, plenty of unconditional love – so they know that they truly matter to us as humans, rather than simply as a collection of grades and scores – and also plenty of chores. Teaching our children to lean into unpleasant work for the sake of the community (or home) will serve them well, and perhaps even help them get ahead, in any career.

I have discovered that, contrary to the principles of Newtonian physics, time does accelerate as one’s children grow up. Spending fourteen minutes with Julie Lythcott-Haims has caused me, at a minimum, to rethink my goals for my nightly conversations with my children. I encourage you to take a look; yours will be teenagers someday!


Douglas E. Norry
Head of School

Auction Time – “Take Me Out To The Game”

In the fall of 1995, after what has been described as “several years of debate,” the TDS Board of Trustees decided to hold an auction. Patty McClendon and Sharon Myers chaired the first event, titled “Champions at the Speedway,” which took place at Croasdaile Country Club. Generating a profit of $12,000 (which far surpassed the $5,000 goal), the first auction was hailed as a smashing success.

Now celebrating its 23rd anniversary, the TDS Auction remains both a wonderful community event and, along with the Annual Fund, the primary fundraising mechanism for the school. This year, Tammy Fox, Kelley Keats, Kristen Pavlicek, Sabrina Schneider and their team of volunteers invite you to join us at the Rickhouse in Durham on Saturday, March 3rd at 6:30 for the “Battle of the Blues: Take Me Out To The Game.”

Interested in watching your Heels or Devils take to the hardwood in the fiercest rivalry of the year? Don’t have a ticket to Cameron (currently $1,700 and up on StubHub)? No problem! Come watch with your friends while bidding on fabulous items and priceless teacher experiences. Click here to purchase your tickets now! As an extra incentive, the class with the highest percentage of tickets purchased by February 15th will earn an ice cream party, and their teacher will win a spa gift card!

Funds raised at the auction directly support the school’s operations this year. Specifically, auction proceeds allow us to attract and retain an outstanding faculty and staff, support athletics, technology and the arts, continue to upgrade our facilities, provide professional development for our teachers, and much, much more.

In recent years, the Fund-A-Cause has become an integral component of the auction, with donors raising their paddles in support of a specific initiative. This year, I am thrilled to announce that Fund-A-Cause dollars will go toward the construction of an outdoor eating area and classroom. With most TDS grades eating lunch outside each day, this new structure will improve the lunch experience and also provide a flexible space for classes to meet outside.

The TDS Auction has generated many wonderful memories over the years. I sincerely thank all of you who have donated time and items thus far, and I encourage you to join us on March 3rd. Come dressed in your favored blue, enjoy a delicious meal with friends, bid on a fabulous experience with your child’s teacher, and raise your paddle to support the creation of an outdoor multi-use space at TDS. Click here to learn more about the auction. Sponsoring a teacherto attend the Auction is also a wonderful way to support the faculty and the school. I hope to see you at the Rickhouse!

Those who consider themselves true fans of the greatest rivalry in all of sports should take the quiz below. Submit answers to Doug Norry. A winner will be announced on March 3rd.

  1. UNC has played in how many NCAA Final Fours?
  2. Coach K notched his 1000th career victory against what opponent?
  3. Before leading UNC to 879 wins, Dean Smith played basketball at Kansas. Who was his college coach?
  4. Who passed the ball to Christian Laettner in the final seconds of the Elite Eight game v. Kentucky in 1992?
  5. Who holds the UNC record for most games scoring in double figures?
  6. Duke avenged a loss from a year earlier by defeating UNLV in the 1991 National Semi-Final. What was UNLV’s record heading into that game?
  7. What current UNC assistant coach averaged a double-double over his career at UNC?
  8. Who earned the honor of Arizona High School Player of the Year in 1982 before matriculating to Duke the following fall?
  9. UNC and Duke first played on January 24th, 1920. How many combined points were scored in that game?


Douglas E. Norry
Head of School

What are you doing for others?

“What are you doing for others?”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1994, eight years after the day was first observed as a federal holiday, Congress passed the King Holiday and Service Act, designating the (observed) birthday of Dr. King as a national day of service. TDS will be closed on the federal holiday next Monday, but our community will join the service effort later in the week.

Next Friday, TDS will partner once again with Rise Against Hunger, “an international relief organization that distributes food and life-changing aid to the world’s most vulnerable.” Based in Raleigh, Rise Against Hunger has worked with thousands of community volunteers to package meals – more than 372 million since its founding in 1998 – and ship them to 74 countries spanning the globe.

Yesterday, Jeff Gonder from RAH spoke to 2nd – 8th grade students. He began with a simple question: “How do you feel when you’re really hungry?” Four Lower Schoolers offered these responses:

“I feel tired, and I don’t want to do anything.”

“All I can think about is eating.”

“My stomach really rumbles.”

“My head hurts.”

Mr. Gonder then shared that more than 800 million people don’t receive enough daily nutrition to lead healthy, active lives. He then explained RAH’s four strategic goals:

  • Emergency Relief – providing food to areas torn apart by war, poverty, or natural disasters.
  • Nourishing Lives – linking meal distribution to school programs to bolster attendance in school.
  • Community Empowerment – beyond meals, offering financial literacy and business skills classes, to women in particular, to break the cycle of poverty.
  • Growing the Movement – relying on volunteers to recruit others and spread the word. What began as a grassroots effort in one warehouse has spread internationally, engaging 370,000 volunteers last year alone.

Next Friday from 1:00 to 3:00 in the TDS Gym, students in all grades will work alongside teachers and parents to package and box 10,000 meals consisting of rice, soy protein, dehydrated vegetables, and a vitamin packet. Representatives from RAH will bring the supplies and lead the initiative, and they will inform us as to where the meals are headed.

As part of our partnership with RAH, TDS is responsible for raising funds to cover the cost of these meals. Earlier this year, our Middle Schoolers organized and led two initiatives – Quarter Games for our Lower Schoolers and Candy Cane Sales before Winter Break – which raised $1,150. If you would like to contribute financially to this effort, please do so at the front office. In particular, students are asked to consider forgoing a week’s allowance or a trip to McDonald’s; a $5 donation will pay for more than 17 packaged meals.

We are all looking forward to rolling up our sleeves, donning our hair nets, and doing our part to combat hunger on January 19th. I know that some of you have packaged meals with RAH through other organizations. We would love your help next Friday. Please consider volunteering alongside your son or daughter. Click here to sign up.