Hello Portledge Community!
I hope that this letter finds you all safe and well. I am reaching out with good wishes and with excitement for the beginning of the school year. I have been eagerly awaiting the official start of my time with the Portledge community for months now.
My name is Carmine Giovino and I am the new Director of Student Life and Director of Athletics. I will also be serving as the Interim Director of the Upper School. As the school year opens and has its natural ebb and flow, one of my goals is to get to know each and every individual who shares this community. One of the things that first attracted me to the Portledge School was the prominent display of and commitment to the Portledge Pillars. Kindness, Purpose, Honor, and Respect are not just buzzwords rather, they are the driving force behind even the smallest of interactions in this community. If I knew nothing else, that would be enough to pique my interest in becoming part of the Portledge community.
However, over the last few months, I have had the pleasure of learning so much more. From my first interview on campus, through subsequent visits in February to meet with new colleagues, to comparing notes with these new colleagues on how to educate through a pandemic and jumping in with both feet as we strive to return to campus, the commitment of each member of this community to bringing those pillars to life has been inspiring. I have never really believed that adversity builds character; rather, I have always believed adversity reveals character. The content of the character of the people at Portledge has certainly been revealed over the last few months and it is impressive.
The history books will hold a special place for the year 2020. We are two-thirds of the way through a year that will stand out for all eternity partially because of the cancellation of, well, everything in the spring leading into the summer of our discontent (apologies to Shakespeare). Now, as we all strive towards normalcy and a regular opening to school, we must remember that the vigilance that has gotten us this far cannot lapse. Every step forward is a step toward a resumption of normal activities, and going backward is unthinkable. When I hear Governor Cuomo remind us to be “New York Tough”, what I hear is a reminder to care about other people regardless of personal sacrifice or momentary discomfort. I hear a reminder that we are all parts of a larger community. Those communities take on different sizes and shapes but they are strongest when we care about each and every member. Be Kind. Have Purpose. Act with Honor. Treat with Respect. The Portledge Pillars predate “New York Tough”, but the message is the same.
The immersion of the people into the thoughtfulness behind these ideals has never been more evident than as we plan for the final third of 2020. I have been honored to spend this summer among a group of people, albeit virtually, who have spent innumerable hours planning with one thing in mind: the safety of the kids in this community. Enhanced safety protocols, face coverings, and social distancing are just a few of the new implementations that await our students and faculty when they return in the Fall. Guided by state and federal regulations, consultations with infectious disease experts and hours of reading and conversation have resulted in a plan that we feel is as safe as any plan in the world.
Equally as important to physical health is the social and emotional well-being of our students and faculty. With this in mind, each and every decision that has been made has attempted to satisfy the dual need for safety and social-emotional well-being. We would never sacrifice safety, but we have been thoughtful about how each decision affects the feelings of each member of our community. Our school psychologists have been engaged deeply in this work, and their input has been invaluable. Advisory will be integral to our plan here and we are working hard to maintain Portledge’s clubs, activities, and athletic offerings.
One of my great personal passions is reading. Sadly, while the pandemic has led to more time at home, for me, it has meant having less time to read. I am sure many of you have had your hobbies wane as you figure out the balance between working from home and raising a family. hen I can find the time, I have been reading and re-reading excerpts from seven different books: She Said by Jodi Kantor & Megan Twohey, The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, 1968 by Mark Kurlansky, The Power Broker by Robert Caro, White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, Boys and Sex by Peggy Orenstein, and Stamped from the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi. At first glance, these books may not seem to have much in common, but they help to bring to light and to contextualize the struggles and histories of different groups in our country Everyone may be dealing with the current pandemic, but the truth is that many of our communities carry different burdens during these times. These books provide meaningful insight and context for the racism faced by Black Americans who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, the sexism women continue to face in the United States, and the challenges of raising smart, compassionate, well-rounded boys.
The world lost a giant this year, with the passing of the civil rights icon and American Representative John Lewis. There is so much inspiration to be drawn from his life - from serving as the chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee to his planning of the 1963 march on Washington, and his leadership of the Selma to Montgomery march across the bridge that will one day hopefully bear his name. However, as a sign of a man whose message was truly timeless, it is a 2018 quote - a tweet no less! - that I find is most appropriate to all of our students right now. “Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful. Be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”
The Portledge community must be a place that stands for what it is right. We must graduate young adults who ask questions, stand up for those being unfairly persecuted, question why things are the way they are, and take a stand. As the 2020-2021 school year opens, I am hopeful. I am optimistic. I look forward to getting into good trouble with all of you.