Head of School Blog
Susan Tyree Dempf, Ph.D.

Welcome to the 2019-2020 School Year!

I hope you have had a summer break that offered moments of true joy, time for restorative rest and opportunity to connect with the Spirit dwelling within. Each of these will fuel you on the next leg of our journey together.

I have given much throughout this summer about that journey–our shared journey. I will admit to having a NASA geek side that comes out periodically–and well let me say, the NASA freak flag was out of my storage unit and flying well above the hedge this entire summer as the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing was recounted and celebrated.

So why was I so engrossed with the NASA story…you know the story. President John F. Kennedy presents a challenge to NASA that we shall send a manned space ship to the moon, land and safely return the astronauts to earth…within the decade.

In a speech given at Rice University…

And so it was. We boldly set forth.

There were failures along the way–Apollo 1 being perhaps the greatest–when on Jan 27, 1967, three astronauts died after a fire ignited inside the command module on what was expected to be a routine ground test. The result of that fire, and in response to the astronauts’ death, NASA turned a critical lens on itself. They recognized that they could not get to their desired goal from where they were at that moment. The time had come to revisit the ship that had been designed to carry us into space.

The outcome of this self-examination was a redesigned command module–one that did not employ a highly flammable pure oxygen environment. Flammable materials were re-fabricated and replaced with those that did not burn. The interior of the cabin was engineered to handle increased pressure and most significantly–the escape hatch door no longer opened inward. 

To launch a manned craft into space, land on the moon and safely return the astronauts home to earth took the collaborative work of an estimated 400,000 engineers, scientists and technicians. This is why we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Eagle landing and the first human to walk upon a celestial body.

So what does this have to do with us, 50 years later, we do not work at NASA…we are in the field of education. We work with children, not astronauts.

Here is the challenge as I see it–we do not know what will be presented to our incoming Little Acorns as they graduate from college and begin their career paths in the year 2038. Oxford University Associate Professor Michael Osborne has looked at 702 occupations and predicted that 47 percent will fall to computerization by 2035. Just consider the job options that have been lost during our own lifetimes…there is no elevator operator, no telephone operator, no telephone book. There is no gas station attendant, no typesetter and no need for a milk man. How many of us skip the line and go to self check out? Order a meal online for takeout? Or shop online for Christmas gifts? We are active agents in changing the employment world.

Just as our present decisions influence that realm of life, we as educators have the ability to make the choices that will influence and guide what the Academy, this school of Christ’s heart, will look like in the future. We need the courage to reflect, challenge and innovate to create a school worthy of the next generations. What we knew as school, what we experienced as school was right and good. It prepared us for our future–the one we are living out today. 

The challenge that faces us as Sacred Heart educators is to shed that which is familiar, comfortable, safe…and boldly go forward to consider and then act upon that which our students need to be successful in their future. It is not supposed to be about us. It is about them and what they will need.

In a short time we will have the draft of the revised Goals & Criteria of Sacred Heart Education. These re-envisioned statements will shape our thinking and be the lens through which we examine ourselves as a school community from 2020 to 2035. I think you will be happy to find that some criteria have endured and surprised to find that some have taken a bold step forward. Soon in our future we will face questions such as “What is the role of Artificial Intelligence in our school?” and “What does it mean to be human?” are those that we will tackle in our near future.

We talk frequently about what differentiates us from our neighbor schools–it really is about intentions. We intend to prepare students for their future. We intend to make sure that the constant of faith is at the core of that preparation. We deliberately place students in learning situations that requires problem solving, collaboration and innovation capabilities. We seek to inform them about the world around them–helping them to see the needs of others and to act in a tangible response to those needs. Through our intentional decisions, we help students to experience and possess the human tools and emotional intelligence to be able to build community…not just to exist in community but to establish it. We together seek to provide students with a safe environment in which to try, to possibly/likely fail and then to recover and try again. We allow them freedom to grow into the independent thinkers, creators and humans that they are in the process of becoming. 

We choose to go to the moon! We choose to make the Academy the launching point from which those Little Acorns are ready for an unpredictable future and their parents confident that they have given their child the best opportunity for readiness for all that life will bring. 

While we do not have 400,000 on our team…we do have a committed faculty and staff, who working together, can envision, develop and fund the new initiatives such as an Innovation Center, the offering of Chinese language classes and dialogue training. 

In the summer reading assignment, Looking for salvation at the Dairy Queen, near the conclusion of the story, our new friend Catherine Grace Cline tells her sister “it’s a funny thing Martha Ann, how much time we spend planning our lives. We so convince ourselves of what we want to do, that sometimes we don’t see what we are meant to do.” 

There is much to be proud of in our history–one bit of which is the fact that Philippine was always looking forward–ahead to the next step in advancing the mission…in that regard she had the tendency towards being persistent if not, in Sophie’s eyes, relentless…she was always future focused. After all, she returned from the Pottawatomie with eyes on the Rockies. Let us be like Philippine, the real Philippine–bold in thought, mighty in will with our eyes firmly fixed on the road ahead. This is what we are meant to do–this is the year to do it.

Dr. Dempf

August 15, 2019