Head of School’s Blog

Upcoming Twister Trot – October 12,2018

Middle School students have Physical Education classes each day at TDS. Under the leadership of Coach Morrison, students develop athletic skills, play games focusing on teamwork and problem-solving, and build their physical fitness. To that end, Wednesdays are running days – either the mile or the pacer – and Coach M charts their progress.

We have some fit, fast students at TDS. To date, our grade-level leaders for the mile are:

  • 8th grade – Kyle  (6:55) and Adri  (7:18)
  • 7th grade – Otto (6:01) and Kate (7:25)
  • 6th grade – Wil  (5:57) and Avery (6:47)

To add some perspective, I have a vivid memory of lining up next to my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Murray, to await the start of the Apple Pie Invitational in the spring of 1984. Mr. Murray had proclaimed that any sixth grader who beat him in the two-mile race would enjoy no homework for one month! My plan was simple: stay right on his heels until the end, then sprint in front. The plan lasted one hundred yards, after which I collapsed and walked the rest of the race with my mom. I think Mr. Murray’s pace was in the 6:30 range. He would not be able to make that proclamation at TDS in 2018!

Looking ahead to next Saturday, the entire TDS community will have the opportunity to gather for a morning of exercise and fun. Calling all runners and walkers: I hope to see you on campus on Saturday, October 20th at 9:00 AM for our 5K run, or 1-mile fun run, through American Village.

The TDS Twister Trot, formerly Marcy’s Run, is a race to honor the courage and strength of our community. Marcy Speer was a dedicated wife, mother, and world-renowned geneticist at Duke University. She lost her battle with cancer in 2006. At the time, Marcy’s Run was created as a way to honor her memory as well as her contributions to the TDS community, and to support science education. Sadly, in the years since the race began, the TDS community has had many other families affected by cancer. With the blessing of the Speer family, the race took on a new a few years ago. The Twister Trot honors all families who have been or currently are being affected by this terrible disease, and we invite all of our racers to honor a friend or family member impacted by cancer at our race.

Racers will have much to look forward to upon crossing the finish line, including some treats from local merchants, face painting, a performance by the TDS cheerleading squad, a bouncy house in the gym, and a fire truck to explore! You, and more importantly your children, will not want to miss this community event! Click here to register for the race.

To ensure the success of this race, we need a team of volunteers. If running or walking isn’t your thing, please consider directing runners on the course, managing the water station, or helping with race-day registration or parking. Click here to join a team of dedicated race-day volunteers.

Finally, my annual challenge for TDS students (not alums!), which has lightened my wallet in recent years.  All boys who cross the 5K finish line ahead of me, and all girls who finish the 5K ahead of Ms. Hoffman (our Lower School Spanish teacher and, I certainly hope, a fast runner!), will earn an all-you-can-eat lunch! Last year, several students beat me, including [then 2ndgrader] P.J. Look out, P.J., I’ve been training! Please consider joining us for this fun-filled morning at TDS. Sign up today!

Douglas E. Norry
Head of School

Core Values – October 4, 2018

With apologies to Middle School parents, I’m using this week’s letter to share my remarks at last Thursday’s Back to School Night with a wider audience.

This morning, like every other morning, my daughter Kate and I got into my car to drive to school, and she did what she always does, she turned off the radio. In the 5-10 seconds that NPR was playing, of course, we heard the term “sexual assault.” We’ve probably heard that term 10-15 times over the past several weeks, and that’s just in the few seconds that she lets me listen to the radio. And if it’s not sexual assault, then it’s something else that I have mixed emotions about her hearing.

I don’t know if the world is appreciably different from when we were in Middle School, but our access to the world is exponentially greater – the 24 hour news cycle, our phones, social media – it can be overwhelming. As Hurricane Florence was battering the Carolinas, we saw corresponding imagery of Typhoon Mangkhut moving across parts of Asia, causing death and destruction. And as we now mobilize to help victims in our state, should we care any less about those halfway around the world? These are tough questions that, even though many of us feel the urge to shield our children from what’s out there, they will have to grapple with as they transition to adulthood.

And I haven’t even mentioned politics and competing ideologies. Spend a few hours watching CNBC and Fox News on split screen, and you might conclude that they are reporting about different countries.

More than ever, we need to teach our students to think critically for themselves, to be thoughtful and skeptical consumers of information, to tell fact from fiction, to understand bias, and to be able to clearly articulate their own views both orally and in written form. In fact, this is a major focus in both Language Arts and Social Studies, particularly in 7th grade, as students deconstruct, analyze and write persuasive pieces, discuss biases and motivations, and investigate primary sources. Math and science get in on the act as well. Just a few weeks ago we read stories in class which exposed the dangers of inferring causation from correlation.

Simply put, there is just so much noise, we need to give our kids the skills to make sense of it all. So, even during this time of adolescence when self-absorption is the norm, we need to expose them to what’s going on in the world, with no specific agenda other than that they should begin to interpret the world, and they should figure out what they care about.

Finally, in today’s world, it seems more important than ever to focus on the TDS core values. If our children graduate from TDS more honest with themselves and others, more respectful of everyone, particularly those with whom they don’t agree, more responsible when it comes to their duties, but also when it comes to this planet, more compassionate, empathetic friends who listen before they talk, and more resilient, not shying away from challenges but rather using failure as fuel to try harder and get stronger, then we will truly have succeeded at providing a transformational experience, and they will be far more than prepared for high school, they will be well on their way to leading lives of purpose, which our world so desperately needs.

Douglas E. Norry
Head of School

Time for reflection – September 20, 2018

As you likely know from the various communications, yesterday was Yom Kippur. Many of our Jewish students spent the day at a synagogue or at home with their families. Occurring ten days after Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), Yom Kippur is known as the Day of Atonement. Jews typically fast from sundown to sundown while reflecting on the past year and seeking forgiveness for their sins.

There are two types of sins that members of the Jewish faith must address: those against God and those against other people. Regarding the former, God is forgiving. The latter type is interpreted more broadly; into this category fall actions or words which have made someone unhappy, have hurt someone, or have caused someone to be disappointed. In these cases, Judaism instructs the offender to seek out the other person and clear the air. Accomplishing this requires deep reflection – thinking about where one is in life, and how one’s actions affect other people.

Judaism is not alone in having holidays that encourage introspection and reflection. In Christianity, Advent and Christmas are both widely viewed as times to reflect on the important foundations of Christian faith. Moreover, Lent, which dates back to the fourth century, is a time when Christians have fasted (or given up something) to facilitate self-examination and, ultimately, penitence.

Similarly, the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, which occurs during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, includes fasting from sunrise to sunset. During this time of reflection, Muslims purify their souls, refocus attention on God, and practice self-discipline.

What do these various religious holidays have in common? For those who observe, time slows down. The days are spent with family. People are asked to examine themselves and their actions, to reflect on their self-discipline in treating others with kindness and respect. In some cases, fasting serves to sharpen one’s ability to bring all of this into focus.

To be very clear, I am not espousing any particular religion, or even the concept of organized religion in general. That said, I see much in these customs that is applicable to school. First, the notion of reflective self-examination. Schools attempt to build this into the program, but meaningful reflection is often precluded by the frenetic pace of life that exists between 8:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. If we ask students to reflect on their effort and academic performance when report cards are published, then shouldn’t we also ask them to consider what type of people they have been throughout the quarter? Have they embodied the TDS core values? Have they been a good friend? Have they hurt anyone? Have they been positive members of our community?

Second, the notion that we can take action to make things right. Taking initiative remains a major goal that we have for our students. I often find myself telling students that they will be judged less by what they did, and more by how they respond to the original act. Do they demonstrate integrity by admitting it to themselves and to others?  Do they take responsibility? Do they feel remorse? Do they take the necessary steps to make it right? Do they learn from the situation?

To accomplish all of this requires human contact. All of these holidays and traditions evolved well before Instagram. Let’s not wait until the next holiday to look inward, be honest with ourselves, and set a goal of making things right. If this were a continuous process, it would enrich our community immensely.


Douglas E. Norry
Head of School

End of the Year Thoughts

If a picture is worth 1000 words, perhaps I should stop right here.


What does this picture say to you? ‘I’m not afraid to toss convention aside; I’ve found a better way!’ Or more likely: ‘I’m exhausted. At the end of my rope. Something has to give!’

As a parent, eleven years ago (when my children were 1, 4, and 5), I recall feeling like this all the time. Today, this utter exhaustion is tied to certain times of the year. While the passing of time slows to a crawl from November to February, the end of the year has the same furious, frantic pace as the beginning. Our students have done their best to remain on task, but, as I am sure you have observed, it becomes progressively more challenging to stay focused as the thermometer rises and we all count down the final days. Since starting Kindergarten with Mrs. Beecher forty years ago, I have been living and measuring my life in nine-month chapters. Some of you have heard me say that nothing should last longer than nine months. That was the length of my engagement, and, having delivered our oldest child two weeks late, I know my wife would agree about the duration of a pregnancy.

Truth be told, the school year is closer to 9.5 months, but nonetheless, it will be over soon. Routines will relax. We’ll have yelling-free mornings, breakfast at the table instead of in the car, and homework-free afternoons. In short, we’ll feel the calm after the storm. The TP will go back on the dispenser.

And what should we do with all this calm? While the tendency in 2018 is to fill every waking moment with travel-team practices, camps, rehearsals, classes, and educational trips, I would advocate that you preserve some time for your children to “do nothing.” This downtime might entail simply hanging out with family and friends. It might involve walking barefoot through the grass, building a sandcastle, catching lightning bugs, sketching a flower from the front yard, watching the sunrise, skipping stones at a lake, stargazing, or creating a sidewalk mural. Summer is an opportune time for over-programmed, over-scheduled kids to develop their powers of imagination and creativity, and to learn how to amuse themselves.

To clarify, down time does not mean plopping oneself on the couch to play Fortnite. In his book, Last Child in the Woods (2005), Richard Louv coined the term “Nature Deficit Disorder” to describe the phenomenon of children spending more and more time inside. Now is our chance to combat this trend. You’ll note that all of the suggested activities above take place outdoors. Apply sunscreen if necessary, hand your children water bottles, and then boot them out of the house. Summer is also a time to be less plugged in, less connected to the various media that monopolize our daily lives. Take the family camping, preferably to a spot where there is no cell phone service, or, as my mother-in-law advised in a toast at our wedding, just “play in the dirt.”

My second recommendation is that you encourage your children to try something new. Several years ago, I worked at a school where all students, in between their junior and senior years, undertook a “personal challenge.” Some learned how to rollerblade, others taught themselves how to cook or take black-and-white photographs, and one non-athlete even spent the summer completing an exercise regimen designed to allow him to dunk a basketball. The common thread through all of these activities was that students, only nine months away from being on their own, were expanding their interests, skills, and passions. Much is written today about the opportunity that summer presents as an “extended learning session.” While I agree with this sentiment, I would rather see children learning how to set up a tent than studying quadratic equations.

With completing construction of the new building, moving the location of twelve classrooms, and working on numerous other projects, life at TDS will continue at high speed this summer. That said, we welcome visitors, particularly those willing to carry a box, so stop by if you’re in the neighborhood. May your summers be filled with new experiences and memorable family moments.


Douglas E. Norry
Head of School

Fieldtrips near and far – May 18, 2018

While daily routines are certainly important at TDS, we also believe that some of the best learning opportunities take place outside the walls of the classroom. Along these lines, each grade has taken multiple field trips this year, within Durham and beyond. In the upper grades, these trips include an overnight component.

Our fourth graders were slated to travel to Beaufort today, visiting the NC Maritime Museum and Fort Macon before taking the ferry to Shackleford Island. The driving rain forced Ms. Tedeschi to postpone this trip until next week. Instead, fourth graders are ruling the roost at TDS.

In the fall, each fifth grader researched, designed, and presented a three-day, two-night trip to a city within a six-hour radius of Durham, complete with a full itinerary and budget. This constituted the first component of the Great Fifth Grade Adventure (GFGA). After much presenting, politicking, and deliberation, the class eventually settled on Hershey, PA, following an itinerary that reflected the detailed work and creativity of Oliver Guan and Jake Pettibone. Mr. Forringer, Ms. Tignor, and their charges left early yesterday morning, reenacting the Battle of Gettysburg and touring Indian Echo Caverns on the way. Today’s highlights include Chocolate World and ZooAmerica.

If you missed me at carpool, that’s because I’m writing this from our nation’s capital. I have joined Ms. McAllister, Sr. Dowd, Ms. Carnes, and Ms. Khan on our Middle School trip to Washington, D.C. Yesterday, we were afforded a firsthand look at the highest levels of two of our three branches of government. First, we visited the Senate chamber and were witness to several speeches. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) argued in favor of net neutrality only hours before the Senate voted in favor of a resolution that would keep the FCC’s rules in place, and John Barrasso (R-Wyoming) spoke passionately in support of Gina Haspel’s leadership of the CIA, again, only one day in advance of the full Senate vote on her confirmation. How special it was to see our federal government in action! Immediately following this, we headed across the street to learn about the history, significance, and personalities of the Supreme Court while sitting in the hallowed courtroom. Having visited various museums today, we’re all looking forward to our nighttime tour of the monuments and memorials this evening.

It was fun to see many of our students share my excitement about the inner workings of our government. Still, they would no doubt point to simply being together as the true highlight of the trip. They carry these memories throughout their time at TDS, and beyond. I’m sure my colleagues concur that there’s still more to be taught this year – another book to read, Spanish verb tense to learn, science lab to complete – but we also agree that these trips, and these experiences, are well worth the time.


Douglas E. Norry
Head of School