Ahead of the Curve

Spree MacDonald PhD, Head of Upper School, Bosque School
Last June, my family was packing for the great journey we would soon take in our moving van from the bayous of south Louisiana to the high desert of Albuquerque.  As I took a break one day from the seemingly endless, sweat-drenched packing labors, I saw that my social media world was buzzing with the sudden announcement that eight elite independent schools in the Washington, D.C., area were doing away with offering Advanced Placement (AP) courses. This was seismic news in the realm of independent schools. These schools, including Sidwell Friends School, St. Albans, and Georgetown Day School, read like a “who’s who” of elite schools in which traditions run deep and Secret Service vehicles are frequently seen on the carpool line. Yet, these schools were collectively jettisoning AP coursework, one of the longtime cornerstones of academic “rigor” at the high school level.
The statement issued by these schools justified this radical departure from AP curriculum because of “the diminished utility of AP courses and the desirability of developing our own advanced courses that more effectively address our students’ needs and interests. Collectively, these schools declared, “we believe a curriculum oriented toward collaborative, experiential, and interdisciplinary learning will not only better prepare our students for college and their professional futures but also result in more engaging programs for both students and faculty. We expect this approach will appeal to students’ innate curiosity, increase their motivation, and fuel their love of learning.” (Jaschik)
Although packing up the memorabilia from seven wonderful years in Louisiana had me in a cloud of melancholy in those days leading up to our move, this news seemed like some cosmic signal which resonated with the very reasons for our move. It was all I could do not to paste a link to Bosque’s Academic Mission in the comments below this news story on the various outlets carrying it:

     At Bosque School, we design learning experiences that inspire students to explore challenging concepts and ideas and to be daring in their pursuit of deep understanding. Our academic program is grounded in inquiry and prizes curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. Decisions of content and pedagogy reflect the diverse and changing world in which we live and offer a pathway to discovering individual passions and how to live ethically in the world.
This mission so clearly crystalizes the desires expressed by these schools in their joint statement; it shows how bold and progressive Bosque’s work is. Indeed, it was Bosque’s Academic Mission that lured me a couple months earlier—very late in the school year and far past any advisable time to apply for a new job across the country―to throw my hat in the ring for the Head of Upper School position at Bosque. I had been fortunate to be a part of schools in Louisiana that made significant inroads into more student-centered, inquiry-driven methods, and my administrative teams and I had looked longingly at someday joining some of the more progressive educational movements in the independent school world, such as the Mastery Transcript Consortium and the ISEEN Network. Yet, like so many schools, it was clear that such work would probably remain peripheral to these Louisiana schools’ central alignments with other long-standing traditions, such as the AP curriculum.
Thus, the emphasis of Bosque’s Academic Mission on inquiry, depth, daring, and designing learning experiences focused on preparing students for a “diverse and changing world” rang like a clarion call to me. And my visit to Bosque during the interview process only underscored the authenticity with which Bosque was and is living out this mission. The humidity was low, the cottonwoods were “snowing,” and I was hearing Bosque students and faculty use magical terms like Inquiry, Service Learning, BEMP, Tech Club, Senior Thesis, pumpkin flinging, and bird banding—all within this web of conversations about what is clearly a living, progressive Academic Mission. In Bosque School, I found a community that is delving deeper and deeper into a progressive mode of learning that resonates with the desire for change that even many of the most established schools in the country are grappling with.
My few months at Bosque have only served to reaffirm the preciousness and power of the school’s academic approach. Although independent schools typically are afforded relative freedom in choosing models of curriculum and instruction, many are simultaneously bound up in powerful traditions (such as offering AP courses), that greatly limit their ability to teach in ways that best prepare their students for a rapidly changing world. It is a great credit to the Bosque community that the school has worked to create and align itself with such a progressive Academic Mission, and it is an honor to be a part of this work.