Designing the Middle School Experience

Designing the Middle School Experience

Our team is beginning the process of iterating the Middle School Experience booklet. We are using boards to lay out all of the pages and comparing notes with the Upper School Advantage booklet for new design ideas. We need less text. More images. Easier navigation with clearer headings and groupings. More color. More relevant info. Stay tuned… (For a color, pdf version of the MS Experience visit our website)

MS experience US Advantage

Leadership Sandy Springs – Graduation Speech May 7, 2014

Chip Speech at LSS Graduation May 2014

At our opening retreat at Amicalola Falls, we were asked to spend 7 minutes writing about the word “leaf.” I would like to read a brief excerpt from that exercise now. A leaf is alive…(read excerpt)…

In the immediate moments after reading this, although all of the other “Intuitive Feeler Idealists” sitting at my table nodded their heads in agreement, I caught a small glimpse of how crazy I must sound sometimes to people on my team at work or in my family and to all of you in the room that day (those of you Sensing Thinker Analysts & Helpers, and you Intuitive Thinker Strategists). This exercise was one of the most powerful takeaways for me from our retreat. It helped me to not only become more aware of the differences among us, but that those differences are all strengths. And that any exceptional team needs to be comprised of a diversity of these strengths, all complementing one another, adding value, and filling in gaps. An exceptional leader will not only seek to include as many of these strengths as possible on his or her team, but will know how to maximize and multiply their collective influence.

Much like the leaf I wrote about, we are each part of a larger living thing – the community of Sandy Springs. Our community is growing, changing, and ever dependent on each of the other parts. When our class started, Eva Galambos was the mayor. As we graduate tonight Rusty Paul is the mayor. No other class can claim the distinction of being in session during that important transition. When we started Ken Dishman was merely a candidate, now he is a Councilman. In fact, Ken was originally part of the previous class, but Ken is wise beyond his years and I think he sensed something special was going to happen this year. Good choice Ken! We all know more about Sandy Springs than we did in October. We know more about Sandy Springs now than 99% of the people we drove past on the way here tonight. We have an obligation to do something, to take action with both the knowledge and the relationships we now possess.

In preparing this speech, I enjoyed reflecting on the whole experience and I think Leadership Sandy Springs was about 3 things for me: knowledge, relationships, and action.

Do you feel vastly more knowledgeable than when we started? I do.

Do you feel more connected to the city and the other leaders in this room? Have your existing relationships grown and new relationships been forged? Absolutely.

Do you know what you are going to do with both the knowledge and the relationships you have gained this year for the benefit Sandy Springs? Yes. You may not know what yet, but you know you will make an impact.

I have been a student of leadership for many years and I’d like to share a couple of my favorite quotes; the ones that have helped to shape my understanding of leadership. Leadership means different things to each of us.

In his book the 360 Degree Leader, John Maxwell dispels the myths of leadership when he writes, “Leadership is influence. Nothing more, nothing less. You may be able to grant someone a position, but you cannot grant him real leadership. Influence must be earned.” This was an incredibly empowering realization for me as a young teacher. It gave me confidence to expand my influence, which later led to new positions. But the influence definitely came first. The positions came later and always as a result of action based on knowledge and relationships.

Another favorite book is, “Lincoln on Leadership.” Upon relieving Gen. John C. Fremont from his command in Missouri in 1861, Lincoln cited his reason by saying, “His cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him; and by which he does not know what is going on in the very matter he is dealing with.

The author Donald T. Philips writes that, “During his four years as president Abraham Lincoln spent most of his time among the troops. They were number one to him. He met with them in their homes, offices, and in the field, principally to provide leadership and direction. He toured hospitals and visited the wounded, inspected the Navy Yard and fortifications around Washington.  ” The lesson here is “Get Out of the Office and Circulate Among the Troops.” I believe each of our monthly themed days together gave us that opportunity. If we are among the leaders in Sandy Springs, these days were a great chance for us to be out among the troops and empathize with the different stakeholders in our community. I am grateful for the chance we have had to see and experience so many different slices of the community this year. It has opened my eyes.

Finally, one of my favorite quotes is from Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” Do you know how iron is sharpened? Iron is sharpened by clanging to pieces of iron together. It happens through interaction, sometimes painful friction, and always relationship. Iron cannot be sharpened alone, by itself. It can only be sharpened in relation to another piece of iron. And so it has been with our group this year. We have sharpened one another. Thank you for the influence each of you has had in my life over the past 9 months. Thank you for sharpening my leadership ability, my ability to be a teammate, and my ability to be a knowledgeable, contributing member of the Sandy Springs community. I hope I have been able to do the same for you in some small way. After all of our experiences together and in light of the potential ahead of us, it seems to me that Leadership Sandy Springs could just as easily be called Teamwork Sandy Springs

In closing, let it be known from this day forth and ripple across to every class that has come before us and every class that is yet to come behind us… We are the Immortal Class of 2014, the best class ever.

Letter to Middle School Families

Dear Middle School Families,

I highly recommend reading “The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators.” The authors outline five discovery skills that distinguish innovative entrepreneurs and executives from ordinary managers: Associating, Questioning, Observing, Networking, and Experimenting.” While the book’s intended audience leans towards adult individuals and teams in the business sector, I believe our students and teachers currently demonstrate and can benefit from continued sharpening and development of these skills. I think you will enjoy reading about the value of generating metaphors, scampering, questioning the unquestionable, observing with all of your senses, disassembling products, building prototypes, and regularly piloting new ideas. Along those lines, there are innovations all around us…

Innovation Diploma

Rising 9th grade students who earn Mount Vernon’s Innovation Diploma will be more than innovation ready. It’s a chance to discover or rediscover creative confidence–that natural ability to come up with new ideas and dig up the courage to actually try them out. Applications are due March 21. Contact Meg Cureton Apply Today!

Interesting Article: Even the SAT is undergoing innovation in an attempt to stay relevant Changes to SAT – College Ready

Upcoming Events

April 17 – Spring Sports Pep Rally 8:50 a.m.

The Middle School will celebrate the spring sports teams, athletes, and coaches while competing for the spirit stick and enjoying a fun gathering of students in Grades 5-8.

April 25 – Mustang Rally

Important details about the Mustang Rally Event can be found here.

What is Mustang Rally? This signature All-School event is one of the Big 4 funding initiatives for Mount Vernon. Mustang Rally is an exciting day where all students in Preschool through Grade 12 build school spirit, increase campus unity and create pride in individual and group achievement. Please invite grandparents and special friends to attend this special day along with you. We invite parents to take the day off from all other commitments to spend the day with their children at Mount Vernon.

ERB Testing
April 8-10 – Grade 6
April 29 – May 1 – Grades 7 & 8
May 13-15 – Grade 5

Rising Parent Meetings 8:00 a.m.
April 28 Rising Grade 5
May 2 Rising Grades 7 & 8
May 5 Rising Grade 6
Locations: TBD

Summer Camps 2014

Important details about Summer Camps can be found here.
Mount Vernon promises a summer to remember for young campers. After surveying over 300 students, we are offering summer camp sessions designed by the students, with the students, and for the students! Dedicated to creating an authentic summer-camp experience, each camper will be challenged to develop strong character, build collaboration skills, and laugh, laugh, laugh. Campers will be greeted, encouraged, and challenged each day by our highly trained counselors.


Chip Houston
Head of Middle School

Division Head Letter – February 2014

Dear Middle School Families,

Two consecutive snowstorms have provided a great deal of excitement and opportunities for rescheduling key events. Despite the winter weather, student learning has continued untethered to the physical space of “school.” For more thoughts about learning, take a moment to read this thoughtful blog post from our Chief Learning and Innovation Officer Bo Adams.

February 18 – Field Trips for Grades 7 & 8 – Students need to wear dress uniforms and bring money for lunch ($10-15). If you have any food allergy concerns, please contact Suzanne Couvillion.

February 19 – The Honors Assembly has been rescheduled and will take place in the Glenn Campus Gymnasium from 8:15 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. for grades 5-8. We will recognize students for academic achievement with the Head of School Awards, Honor Roll, and the MV Mindsets.

February 20 – Class Trip Parent Meetings have been rescheduled and will take place in the Founders Campus Media Center. Each meeting lasts about 45 minutes each. If you cannot attend the meeting or would like to preview the presentation in advance, please click on the link below.

7:30 a.m. – 6th grade

8:30 a.m. – 7th grade

9:30 a.m. – 8th grade

February 21 – The Bowling Social Event for Grades 5 & 6 will continue as planned from 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. at Stars and Strikes on Roswell Road.

For planning purposes, the upcoming conference days (February 26 for grades 7/8 and March 26 for grades 5/6) on both campuses will now be regular school days. Families who have previously scheduled a conference will be contacted by teachers to reschedule soon.

We are pleased to welcome Elizabeth Collins as the Middle School Teacher Intern for Spring Semester. Elizabeth graduated from Miami University in 2010 with a B.A. in English Literature and a minor in French. She has worked as an Account Associate for News America Marketing, a division of News Corporation, for the past two years. In pursuit of her goal of a career in teaching, Elizabeth will be observing classes and working with students across the Middle School alongside our staff.

7/47 Challenge

Through Christian Education this year, Middle Schoolers have been discussing the 7 Checkpoints. Beginning March 5 through April 20, the Middle School is challenging every student, teacher, and parent across the school community to the following three things:

1) Live out the 7 Checkpoints 7 days a week for 47 days (40 days in Lent, plus weekends).

2) Take a break from social media, instead spend that time with family and friends, reading, playing, studying, or praying.

3) Walk through each of the four Gospels during the Lent season. Prepare for Easter by reading the complete story of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. (A reading chart/bookmark will be provided to students.)

We encourage you to take part in this challenge with your family alongside the Middle School community.


Chip Houston
Head of Middle School


Letter to Middle School Families – January 2014

Dear Middle School Families,

Happy New Year! As admissions season advances, I want to invite you to participate in the Open House on Saturday, January 25 from 10:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m. Our inquiries and applications have been on a steady increase over the past several years and this year is no exception. Spaces are increasingly limited. For that reason, I want to remind all of our current families that online re-enrollment takes place between January 30 and February 14. Information will be forthcoming from the School.

Also, I want to make you aware of a number of exciting, upcoming events…

January 29 – Middle School Honors Assembly in the Glenn Campus Gymnasium from 8:15 a.m. – 9:30 a.m. for grades 5-8. We will recognize students for academic achievement with the Head of School Awards, Honor Roll, and the MV Mindsets.

January 31 – Middle School Drama Production of “Cinderella Shakespeare” at 7:00 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall.

February 7 – 7th & 8th Grade Dance at Heritage Sandy Springs from 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. Location address: 6110 Blue Stone Rd NE, Atlanta, GA 30328

February 13 – Parent Information Meetings for Class Trips (Grades 6 – 8) in the Founders Campus Media Center. Each meeting lasts about 45 minutes each.

7:30 a.m. – 6th grade
8:30 a.m. – 7th grade
9:30 a.m. – 8th grade

In order to assure your child’s spot for the class trips, please click on the appropriate links below which take you to a brief reservation form. Please complete it by Monday, January 20, 2014. We are looking forward to a great experience!

6th Grade Space Camp
7th Grade Boston Trip
8th Grade Washington D.C. Trip 

Info about Middle School Trips HERE.

Please note for students going out for a spring sport, tryouts and practices are coming up. CLICK HERE for the complete Middle School Sports tryout schedule.

Additionally, I want to share some exciting news about instruction. Our teachers returned January 6 for professional learning related to Stage 2 of Understanding by Design. Specifically, we focused on ways to increase student engagement and deliver a more balanced approach to classroom assessments. Our Heads of Grade are continuing to pilot an Instructional Rounds network, which is a fascinating way to approach observation, coaching, and feedback for professional growth. I recently moderated a twitter chat with educators from around the country about instructional rounds if you are interested in reading the conversation. The work is challenging, relevant, and fun. Most importantly, it is focused on ever-improving the learning environment and experiences of our students.
As always, I continue to love my job and my School!


Chip Houston
Head of Middle School