Why the Spirit of Princeton Day School Steals Our Hearts
Why the Spirit of Princeton Day School Steals Our Hearts

It's not easy being new. Even in an exceptional community like Princeton Day School, where the School takes pride in its intentional focus on warmly welcoming and acclimating so many new students and adults each year. As new Head of Upper School, Trixie Sabundayo knows, just like every new student and adult here, that she has a long road ahead to make her mark. If you were here yesterday for US Back to School Night, you would know that she's approaching the challenge with love, grace, sensitivity, and a laser focus on the student culture. And she's drawing strength from seeing how PDS students step into moments that are hard for them with courage and confidence that good things will come of their efforts. Here are Ms. Sabundayo's remarks to the parents, faculty and staff who filled McAneny Theater last night:

The last time I spoke to you as a parent body I was actually interviewing for this position. And in that moment last fall I was asked to talk about my values as an educator and the way my values dovetailed with the values of Princeton Day School.

Of course, I spoke about my shared value of the outstanding instruction, which I saw in teaching and learning across all programs here—not just academics, but athletics, arts, clubs... And I also spoke about how excellence is marked by innovation, forward-thinking, student-centered instruction.

The second thing I spoke about was the importance of having strong and robust faculty. To me, what is critical is cultivating a faculty that loves the art of teaching, loves their particular discipline, AND also loves creating habits of mind for our students that they can carry out of the classroom.

The third point that I spoke of was the students and student culture. Students who are happy and healthy are students who are given the opportunity to be full participants in their education: to cultivate those habits of mind that will serve them throughout their lives, and to invite challenge, and sometimes failure, with eagerness and a sense of grace. And when I spoke to this community last fall, I didn't know what was going to happen. I didn't know if my values aligned with the Princeton Day School community, but luckily enough, someone else did, so I am standing here today. I did not know then that, to answer that question, I needed to live life here.

And today marks my 11th day here. Even though I started here in the beginning of July, really, I feel like I've been here since the beginning of September—since the faculty and students have come together as a community. This is going to sound terribly hokey, but already I've fallen in love with this place. And I've fallen in love with this place not because my values align with PDS—and thank God they do—but I've fallen in love because of the way this community embodies the values that we espouse. Whether it be in the lunch line or behind closed doors, when I listen to faculty, what I hear is not just a deep love of teaching and passion for their particular discipline. What I hear is all of that coupled with their sense of responsibility to teach to the whole child. And that is really exciting—and essential.

When I listen to students, they're thoughtful. Whether the conversations have been over difficult situations or about victories and triumphs, time and time again, students are reflective. They step into moments that are hard—and they do it with curiosity and eagerness. And, the most important thing is that they are joyful. Even in conversations that are difficult, our students see a good that can come out of whatever it is that we're talking about.

And so, here I am on my 11th day at PDS. I'm finishing my third week as your Head of Upper School. This time last year, I hoped that I would be celebrating the fact that my values align with the School's. But, actually, tonight I celebrate this place because of the spirit. The way we engage and approach every day at PDS—with care, with thoughtfulness, and with the best interests of our students. That's what's exciting. And so tonight as you walk your child's life, I hope you, too, experience the spirit and the magic of this place that has made me love coming here to work every day. Tonight, you have the opportunity to walk your child's everyday routine, and I really hope it is a delightful one.

Caption: Upper School parents gather in the STEAM Center with their students' advisor, STEAM Coordinator Jonathan Tatkon-Coker, during Back to School Night on Thursday, September 20.