A Message from Rick Swanson, Principal, Hingham High School
What a great start we’ve had to the 2017-2018 school year! Even before our 1,256 students arrived for the first day of school on September 5th, it was already clear to me that this school year would be one to remember.
You may have heard that David McCullough, regarded by many as “America’s Greatest Living Historian” and often described as “a national treasure,” accepted our invitation to speak to all of Hingham’s teachers at our August 30th convocation. The high school auditorium was filled close to capacity with several hundred teachers, representing all four of our elementary schools, the middle school, and our high school, all there to hear from a man who has won two Pulitzer Prizes, two National Book Awards, and even the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. Mr. McCullough also happens to be a neighbor, and no fewer than ten of his grandchildren have attended Hingham schools.
Mr. McCullough spoke for close to an hour, and his address lived up to our highest hopes. Our teachers left the room feeling totally inspired, appreciated, and eager to begin what Mr. McCullough described as the most important work in the world. I know I felt that way. And as I left the auditorium that morning, a colleague turned to me and held up a copy of Mr. McCullough’s latest best-selling work of history, which she was hoping to get signed. The book is called The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For. “What a great title,” this colleague said to me. “And what a great theme for the school year ahead.” It got me thinking: If somebody wrote a book about this high school and used the same subtitle (“Who We Are and What We Stand For”), what stories would be told in its pages? Now, the school year is still fresh, and I’ve only been principal for a few months, but I’ve already got a bunch of brand new examples of stories that could find a place in that book.
For example, I think of…
- Our girls’ volleyball team organizing a major fundraiser at their home opener to raise money for pediatric cancer research. And not only that, but the players inviting a young girl from a neighboring town, battling cancer herself, to join them on the bench, and making her feel like a part of the team.
- The three boys, all juniors, who approached me a few weeks ago, looking for some guidance on how they could raise funds to support hurricane victims; if you were among the many hundreds of people who attended our first football game, you might have purchased one of their “One America Appeal” wristbands.
- The four senior captains of the football team who stepped to the podium during the first week of school to deliver a powerful message about healthy choices to hundreds of their younger peers in our grade level assemblies; to me, that’s what powerful leadership looks like.
- Those students in the crowded hallways during the first few days of school who were looking out not just for themselves but also for those new students who might have been lost and needed a friendly face to help them find the chorus room or some other far-off part of a pretty large building.
- The 20-plus members of our school’s incredibly active environmental club who showed up here on a Saturday morning, in the rain, ready to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty because the work matters to them. They sifted compost (collected on site during school lunches), cleaned up the courtyard garden, and planted some fall crops: kale and lettuce that will eventually be consumed in the school cafeteria. They’re called the HHS Green Team, and the name is entirely fitting. As somebody mentioned during that project, our Green Team shares something in common with New England’s most acclaimed sports team. Among other things, both teams (the Patriots and our Green Team) subscribe to the motto of “No Days Off!” Their show of force at the compost bins on a weekend morning showed that it’s more than a slogan.
We worked hard to put our school’s values on full display last month during a decennial accreditation visit from the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). But as I told the sixteen members of our visiting team on the day they arrived here in Hingham, “We make no claim to having arrived at our destination. We’re eager for growth, we’re determined to continue moving forward, and we understand that no school can achieve its full potential without constant effort.” Indeed, our school community has confronted several significant challenges in the first month of school.
And though the instances of our students’ good (even inspiring) behavior vastly outnumber the counter-examples, we have also noticed opportunities for increased kindness and awareness. This is inevitable, since HHS is part of the real world, but rest assured that we will address those issues with transparency, integrity and resolve, demanding respectful behavior from our students at all times. And we won’t rest until we’ve built a genuine community that enables all of our students to feel welcomed, appreciated, and respected. Please join us in that endeavor!
Appropriately enough, on the very day that our accreditation team began its visit here at HHS, many of the same students mentioned above joined legions of their classmates in Wompatuck State Park for a 5K run and walk to benefit NephCure Kidney International, another cause we hold dear. Hundreds of our community members turned out to raise money for medical research designed to combat a rare kidney disease that plagues one of our own students, a member of the junior class. Most of the field hockey team, most of the cross-country team, and many others came out to run, walk, or staff the event. As I ran the course shoulder to shoulder with so many of our students, parents, and staff members, it occurred to me that every one of our school’s core values was on vivid display, and all at once.
At the same time, of course, I think of classrooms where powerful learning is already taking place, where our students are not only achieving new insights about the world around them, but where they’re also gaining an ever greater desire (and an ever greater capacity) to improve that world. And finally, I think of the parents who literally filled our halls and classrooms at Open House on September 28th. Our parents always turn out in big numbers whenever there is a chance for them to make a contribution to the important work of this school.
That’s who we are and that’s what we stand for.
Look to our mission statement and other published documents for a clear statement of our core values and beliefs. But look instead at our behaviors, and examine our actions, for a more genuine and meaningful understanding of what Hingham High School is all about.
I can’t wait to see what else this school year holds in store!
The mission of Hingham High School is to graduate students with the academic, civic, social, and personal skills necessary to become productive, responsible members of a democratic and ever-changing global society. With the support and involvement of the community, Hingham High School will engage all students in a challenging, well-balanced educational program complemented by co-curricular activities.