By Rachel Deems
Head of School

If you are a Griffin, you know how special it is to belong to the Spartanburg Day School community.   Whether your years as a Griffin happened decades ago or you are brand new, there are many aspects of this school that have remained constant: a dedication to excellence; a focus on community; and a commitment to “being more.” I like that.

All that said, there is also a time in every school’s life to reexamine its identity, affirm exactly what its beliefs are and put a fresh foot forward. For the past two years, hundreds of Griffins and some key leaders in the Spartanburg community have dug deep into the meaning and mission of Spartanburg Day School. We have considered what is most important to us and how we feel about it. We have researched what others know about us and what they still need to know about the many opportunities here. We have consulted independent school experts in marketing and messaging. And, after two years of building consensus and making a plan, we have unveiled a mission statement and key values that are at the center of a rebrand of this school.

The successful and fun launch of our new brand and look coincided with the beginning of school, and it was a happy celebration of all things Griffin. As the word implies, the “launch” was just the start of a comprehensive and intentional plan to share our story with future Griffins and with this community.

From this work we have a brand identity and know what sets us apart. Yes, here there is a difference. There is an energy about this work of rebranding and about the focus and clarity that we now have regarding who we are and what potential lies before our students.

This is so much more than tweaking the Griffin (doesn’t he look handsome though?) or a new word mark or ads and new signs. This is about a spirit that has run deep at Spartanburg Day School for 60 years. The voice is clear, and the message is strong… here, you can be more. That is our promise.

A festive first week

Welcome to the start of 2016-17 – a brand new school year for the Spartanburg Day School Griffins. And, just three days in, what an exciting one it has been already.

Students, faculty and staff arrived bright and early Wednesday morning, fresh off the heels of our Griffin Launch Party (more on that in a later post) and the annual back-to-school picnic.

There were smiles – lots of them – hugs and an overwhelming feeling of happiness that is truly unique to a first day of school at Spartanburg Day School. Here, students WANT to come to school, and, even on that very first day, it shows.

Thanks, Griffins, for another successful start to what is sure to be another successful year.

17aug, 15 copy

Lower School students enjoyed having a first day photo made by one of our painted griffins. See a photo gallery here.


All smiles on the Middle School halls

17aug, 46 copy

Mrs. Burnham loves take photos with and of her students throughout the year.

17aug, 41 copy

A big welcome to Mr. Roark (Upper School English) and all of the other teachers new to Spartanburg Day School this year


First graders in Mrs. Roush’s classroom were hard at work on the first day.

17aug, 57 copy

This year’s senior class continued the tradition of escorting kindergartners to the first day assembly. 

17aug, 8 copy

We all love the newly redesigned Spartacus, our Griffin mascot!

17aug, 1 copy

Student Body President Devin Srivastava and Vice President Haley Sinsley welcome all students, faculty and staff back to school for a new school year.


Congratulations, Class of 2016!

Diplomas now in hand, 36 Spartanburg Day School seniors became alumni Friday morning – the Class of 2016.


Remember that with everything you’ve done here, you’ve left a piece of yourself behind… With everything you’ve done, you’ve affected someone… You, probably without even knowing it, made an impact. – Aimee McVey, valedictorian

IMG_3253 (1)

Today ends a chapter, and the end of this ceremony turns the page. The page is turned to a lifetime of opportunity, leading you to new places, new people and new experiences. Your futures are bright. You are well prepared. You have much for which to be grateful and so very much to give back. I know that you are going to do your part and more to shape the future of our world. – Rachel Deems, head of school


SDS is more than just a school; It’s a place to call home. – Anne Brady Moore Carlson ’01 – commencement speaker


From here, this accomplished class of students will go off to attend 24 different colleges and universities in 14 different states, the District of Columbia and the Netherlands – to new schools, new experiences and new journeys. But they will forever be Griffins.

Click here for full graduation details, including this year’s award winners.

Forty-five years and counting and the remarkable Class of 2016

By Bill Pell
Upper School English teacher

As I conclude 45 years in the classroom, which includes nine and one-half years at Spartanburg Day School, I wonder, as I always do in May, what exactly brings me back year after year after year. I should be long retired, but, no, I continue to labor in the vineyards of academe, and, I hasten to add, I do so happily, remembering that the most enduring pleasures of teaching are working with students and developing positive relationships with them.

I am so lucky to work at SDS. Classes are small. I have total academic freedom. I have an enlightened administration. Most important, I work with wonderful, talented, and curious students. Each day, to borrow from Hemingway, is a movable feast. Which brings me to the Class of 2016. I had heard that it is really something, and it is and then some. Please see the following for an explanation.

I glory in the diversity of students. Each is, of course, different from the others, but each is also different from one day to the next, even from one minute to the next. Time spent with a class of students at any age or level of development shows the vastness of human experience and potential. Unlimited!

To have the ongoing and amazing opportunity to work with this potential is a serious pleasure, and I help students shape their interests and talents so that they will find their careers as rewarding as teaching has been for me. To help this happen, I need good relationships with them because I want them to know that I am sincere in all that I say and do, that I am not simply blowing smoke. Sometimes a total class responds, which happened this year.

Humor is important in our shared pursuit, and it is, I think, an underappreciated component of life in the classroom and life in general. (See, for example, the current political campaigns. I haven’t laughed yet!) My classroom is both serious and raucous, with everyone free to make everyone laugh, even if off topic, which gives me openings to sneak in learning. In short, our 45-minute daily gatherings are verbal and mental free-for-alls, which I love, which students appear to love. They are fun! Teaching is fun! Learning is fun!

Students enjoy creating humor themselves, as I daily enjoyed in the classroom and also evidenced by the pictures of shirts they came up with that accompany this blog. For the record, Herman is my middle name, and the picture on the back of one of the shirts is the scowl I apparently make when looking at my computer. A clever student took the picture with her cell phone, surreptitiously, of course.

Praise and acknowledgment are paramount to relationships. Everyone needs, indeed craves, both, and I give them aggressively. I say something nice as often as I can to as many students (and others) as I can. At times, this “praise” may be in the form of an ironic “insult,” intended to cause laughter, not consternation. I tell students I only insult those I like, which is almost always everyone and especially so this year in this super talented, super nice Class of 2016. Go, Griffins!

The only negative this year is that I will miss both honors night and graduation, but this blog gives me the chance I won’t have on honors night publicly to deliver thanks, praise, and exhortations to the seniors as they launch themselves into the next phases of their lives. I wish I could write a paragraph of praise about all 36 of them because they deserve it, but they know how I feel about them. We said farewell last week.

So, seniors, here goes with the final pontifications. Do not use the word “great” and feel guilty when you do because you will. No puns allowed (remember the gong). When you eat candy, have fond memories of Presnell 932. It was a smashing year all around, wasn’t it?

You are remarkable individuals, the best. Fifty of our fiery language’s most positive adjectives would not do justice to all that you are. Let it to suffice here to restate for all to see that you are creative, purposeful people of character. The last, I think, is a major foreshadower of success.

I suggest that success also depends on your always reading, thinking, discussing, and writing. As you find your roads not taken, please never abandon your stunning sense of humor, your keen sense of irony (a must in a participatory democracy), your startling passions, and your invigorating energies. How joyful they are. We need you in the future. Be great! (Oops!)

As Shakespeare (I saved him for last) puts it: “The past is prologue.” Enjoy! Thank you for being you! Thanks to your parents, too!


Feel the Fern

By Farrar Richardson
Head of Middle School

(A very clever and apolitical 6th grader adapted the title of this blog and slogan to fit our Fern…because we do feel the Fern; especially when she is away at obedience camp and we really need her. This week has been full of those days, and we can’t wait for her to come home.)


For a long time, I have wished for a big dog at school; not a large dog, but a giant dog.

My husband asked a lot of good questions such as: Did I know what it would mean to have a dog bigger than me? Did I know how much it would cost to feed a dog that may weigh over 150 pounds? Did I know anything about training a dog I could not pick up to correct? Had I thought about which entire couch I was willing to give over to such a dog? Did I think my car was big enough for her to fit safely inside? Would school allow such a dog, and what was I going to do if the dog of my dreams wasn’t cut out to be a “therapy dog?” And…the most concerning to him: Was I aware of the how much such a dog would poop?

I did not have adequate answers to any of them. In fact, “I don’t know,” was all I could respond over and over again. Still, on Valentines’ Day, he gave me a Great Dane, and I named her Fern.


I named her Fern after a character in one of my favorite childhood novels, Charlotte’s Web. While Charlotte and Wilbur were the popular favorites, I remained in awe of the loyal, gentle, but feisty young girl, Fern.

I think a few minutes of reading prior blog entries will impress upon you that we do things a little bit differently at SDS. Sometimes, we don’t always know how things will go, but we try them anyway. Having a dog in the Middle School is a pretty good example of what I am talking about.

My reasons or arguments about why having a therapy dog was a good idea were solid, I thought, and I had some research and several other independent schools to back me up. It was actually difficult to find one negative article about the experiences schools and students were having related to inviting dogs into classrooms. The trick, of course, would be finding the right dog. This was my big risk, and only time (and camp!) will tell if Fern will be the “truly right dog.”

While I knew and soundly predicted that students would love petting Fern, that faculty and staff (for the most part) would enjoy having Fern around, that certain students would take an immediate interest in Fern and love her fiercely while others would be unphased, and that I would drastically reduce my productivity during school hours those first few months, there were several things I did not know nor foresee.

I didn’t know that the students who needed Fern the most would find her first. I didn’t know that Fern would quiet a study hall so that she could sleep and students could read.


I didn’t know that Fern would immediately grasp that the Middle School office was such an exciting place.

I didn’t know that Fern would love being a mascot for Junior Griffin games and Middle School baseball and soccer. I didn’t know that Fern would also make friends with Lower and Upper School students


or that “the principal’s office” would become a place that my students came without being sent. I cannot tell you how happy it is to walk into my office and see students sitting on the rug with Fern.


I didn’t know that she would be such good company for all of my routine duties.

30mar, 27, Farrar and Fern, MS hall copy

As far as disposition goes, Fern is pretty laid back. This was the picture I sent to her trainer when he asked for a little information about her behavior.


Last weekend, in preparation for “camp” I thought I’d take her to the dog park to play with other animals and not just children. Well, just like Ferdinand the Bull, she hid in the flowers and watched.


Then, she climbed up on the people bench and watched over all of the dogs…just like she watches over our students at recess.


Now, I have almost all of those answers to my husband’s questions.

At four months old, she is a third of her predicted body weight, wearing her fourth collar, and growing too big for my car. When she chooses “not to budge,” I can no longer pick her up. She has her own couch. She eats six cups of food a day, and I have just purchased an extra large shovel. We love her.

As I have read over and reflected upon the collection of blog entries from this year, I am struck by the number of times that the Day School is compared to a family…and now, our family has a dog.

28mar, 4 copy

Learning to lead

By Tim Fisher
Upper School teacher

Google “high school student leadership” and your results will return a laundry list of programs, blog posts, conferences, websites and books, many sponsored by corporations or universities, and each declaring some expertise. Leadership is a buzzword in secondary education and is increasingly becoming a core part of many schools’ extra-curricular focus.

Of course, SDS has long offered opportunities for students to take on leadership roles. From student government associations to Lower School line leaders, from sport captains to service club presidents, Griffins demonstrate they know how to lead. But, then, what is the value of an explicit instructional course in leadership?

The answer, oddly, can be found in hammocks.


If you take a stroll through the Wallace Taylor courtyard these days you will likely find half-a-dozen Middle and Upper School students perched in ENO hammocks. This “ENO village” was the product of hard work by many, notably sophomore Sam Freedman. But it is also an idea that emerged during the SDS Leadership Institute last summer. The institute, developed and led by Scott Cochran (previously of Wofford College and Milliken, and current president of Spartanburg Methodist College) is an intensive immersion in leadership. It tackles a wide variety of topics but, honestly, what this boils down to is that it helps students develop the skills and mindsets to get things done.

At SDS we understand that making ideas reality – be it winning the state championship, planning a fundraising event or building an ENO village  – takes leadership; it requires student leaders. And making student leaders requires more than just opportunities to lead, it requires intentional instruction.

This summer SDS will host the third annual Summer Leadership Institute, open to SDS and non-SDS students. For more information or to register, email Tim Fisher tim.fisher@sdsgriffin.org.

Scholarships are available for students who will attend SDS in the 2016-17 school year.

Filling life’s portfolio

By Mandy Johnson
PE teacher, volleyball coach

If you’ve gone through the Lower School at Spartanburg Day School, you no doubt have an overflowing binder stored somewhere in your home. Starting in the 3k, students and teachers work together to create a portfolio, and year by year, this portfolio gets a little thicker. It is a snapshot of the child’s educational journey. It shows where they started, where they’ve grown and how they’ve gotten there. A reflective piece.

As a Lower School faculty, we have spent a significant amount of time in the last several weeks discussing the purposes of these binders and how we can make these as meaningful and telling of a student’s progress as possible. They are filled with pictures, pieces of writing, artwork, teachers’ comments, etc., and upon the completion of fourth grade the students take their binders home. Their Lower School portfolio is complete, and they move on to their next stage in life – Middle School.

This year, I will be completing my third year at Spartanburg Day School, and crazy enough, it will be my last. Although I do not have a physical binder to show my growth and experiences at the Day School, I am still leaving this place with my own kind of portfolio. It is one full of well-invested relationships, professional maturity, a few moments of defeat and countless memories of laughter and excitement.

Blog Photo 1blog photo 2blog 9

I wasn’t ready to walk away from SDS; my binder here isn’t nearly as thick or completed as I expected it would be when the time came to move on. But, sometimes there are circumstances in life that force you to end chapters a little sooner than you expect. In this case, my husband received news that we will need to relocate for his job. It is a wonderful opportunity for us and our future, however, it is still hard for us to leave the sweetness of the South when we feel like our life here as just begun.

You see, the thing that we all hate to admit in life about change or moving on is that it is scary. It isn’t easy. We get comfortable. We get in a place that feels right and all is “as it should be.” However, the good thing about change, when you are in a place like the Day School is that you will always have support along the way.

Lower School teachers easily stay in touch and engaged with students’ lives as they travel through the Middle School. Middle School teachers continue to support and monitor the progress of their students as the move on through Upper School – from band concerts to sporting events, they’ll be there. Upper School teachers encourage their students in the classroom and on the courts or fields, and more importantly, guide students as they map out their future. They stay in contact along the way – from students’ freshman years in college all the way through graduation, they are just a quick email away.

The faculty here builds and shapes different sections of students’ portfolios. When it’s all over, they make sure a student has the strength to carry it with them, no matter how heavy, and more importantly, have the courage to begin another.

blog photo 3IMG_1988Photo 4

Since we found out about the move, I have had a chance to be reflective regarding my own time here. Professionally, I have expanded my horizons. I have learned so much about what it is to be an effective educator thanks to our administration and co-workers. As a coach I was reminded that hard work, determination and the will to win will get you farther than you can ever imagine. My volleyball girls – my strong, willful, amazing girls– taught me what it means to fight. This section of my SDS portfolio, the one where I spent hours in the gym, on a bus or hanging out in my office with girls that mean so much to me will be the hardest to close.

I have been blessed beyond belief to have a part of my life here at the Day School. This community has made my journey here meaningful and the relationships I have formed within this community is telling to the integrity and warmth that surrounds this place. I know, for certain that I will leave here holding on to my Spartanburg Day School portfolio nice and tight. I will carry it with honor and pride, and I will not forget where I was when I started here and the kind of person I have become because of this community. No matter what binder I start to fill next as we begin a new life in Indiana, I know one thing is for certain: in my heart, I will always be a Griffin.

PAIS Festival of the Arts

By Nancy Corbin
Photos by Mike Corbin

Art is an important tool for learning as well as a basic part of human nature. Art is as old as the paintings of energetic animals on cave walls by our earliest ancestors and as new as the work created at the Palmetto Association of Independent Schools 2016 Festival of the Arts at Spartanburg Day School earlier this week.

Early Monday morning 380 young artists and teachers from all over South Carolina and a few from Charlotte poured into Webster Athletic Center.

18apr, 1, PAIS copy18apr, 13 copy

The Stone Family Court served as the registration point for all arriving teachers and students.

18apr, 12 copy

As the Jazz Band played and beach balls bounced, students and teachers from 11 schools gathered in the “Home” side bleachers to kick off a wondrous day.

18apr, 16 copy18apr, 11 copy

Student body leaders Jeffrey Butcher and Matt Poliakoff welcomed artists with these words:

“On behalf of the entire Spartanburg Day School family, we are glad to welcome you to this year’s Palmetto Association of Independent School’s 2016 Festival of the Arts.  We’re hoping you have an enjoyable and memorable day on our campus celebrating the arts.”

18apr, 129, 2017 Festival Logo Design copy

Jeff continued:

“The arts play a pivotal role in the educational experience here at SDS from 3k all the way to 12th grade and have a huge impact on a majority of students. Thus we are ecstatic to extend the opportunities we value to you.”

Matt added:

“Jeff and I found a new appreciation for the arts through our Advanced Placement Art History class. Art on any level, whether a Broadway play or a high school drama production, is equally significant. Art, we discovered, is the essential language for expression.”

18apr, 23b copy

18apr, 79, Revving Your Writing Engine copy

Jeff closed the welcome meeting with these remarks:

“We can promise that this festival will be a very memorable event for everyone participating. I would like to end with a quote by my personal favorite artist to set the tone for the day. ‘Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.’ – Claude Monet.”

18apr, 126 copy

With those words as inspiration, each student headed off to enjoy three out of 60 workshops offered in subjects as diverse as visual journaling, stage combat,

18apr, 48, Stage Combat, stage slap copy

shibori, ballet, creative writing and collaborative choral singing. Collaboration was an oft repeated word on Monday, as students and teachers worked together to learn new techniques and creative approaches.

18apr, 115 copy18apr, 50, Ballet copy

Smiles were wide and energy was high

18apr, 42, Identifying Features, pastel-Burtnett copy

as artists engaged in 80 minute long classes that offered opportunities to have new experiences in all the fine arts.

I observed band students in visual arts classes and students who have never been on stage try out an improv class. The spirit of adventure was everywhere.

18apr, 127, concert band copy18apr, 57, compose and recompose - Mitchell copy18apr, 71, Portrait Photography and Lightroom Basics copy

At lunchtime the energy shifted from classrooms and studios to Dorrance Plaza.

18apr, 109 copy

Drum circle, giant interlocking blocks, unicycles, writers’ circle and spontaneous musical theatre were all going on at the same time. What a blast!

18apr, 94a copy18apr, 111 copy18apr, 95b copy

After 3 workshops, lunch, and a multitude of Street Fair activities our guests gathered in the Susan Bridges Dining Commons for our Closing.

Again, Jeffrey and Matt expertly handled the proceedings:

“Welcome everyone to the closing meeting of this year’s PAIS festival. We hope that everyone had a fantastic, energetic, and enlightening day today. We would like to thank everyone for creating such a positive energy at our campus today.”

18apr, 85, Ashton Sculpture copy


“This year Jeffrey and I learned firsthand how immersive and inspiring the arts can be, through our enrollment in art history.”

18apr, 124, printmaking copy

Matt and Jeff closed with this quote:

‘The world is but a canvas to our imagination.’ – Henry David Thoreau…

…and wished everyone a safe travels homeward.

The arts humanize us by encouraging communication, expression and cooperation. The appreciation for creative potential in others was very clearly present on our campus Monday. What an awesome community we share!

The learning curve

By Rachael Kahn
Fourth Grade Teacher

It was a gray, Tuesday afternoon, and I was sitting in a Lower School staff meeting with our International Baccalaureate consultant, muddled in thought (and feeling an overwhelming mixture of confusion and exhaustion) when I noticed it. An innocent piece of paper beckoning my eyes away from their blank stare. I focused in, and the words became clear. It was a Pablo Picasso quote that would change the course of my year: “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

My immediate thought was, “Where in the teaching universe had my plea been heard? And who had delivered their message via this colorful, Pinterest-esque quote poster? And why, oh why had they not given me a simpler solution?!” Philosophy is great, but it doesn’t answer questions about how to do things like, “How can a 10-minute mini-lesson make my kids better writers?” and “How can math possibly be a part of IB?” or “How on earth should I know the difference between an Action Cycle and a Plan of Inquiry?” These were the answers I had really been looking for in my befuddled state.

The truth is, coming to Spartanburg Day School had been an easy decision for me. I was craving a professional challenge, a chance to grow, a chance to spread my wings and soar. What I didn’t expect was how new it would all be – teaching all of the subjects, learning how to weave the IB curriculum into those subjects, having the same group of kids all day, and heck, even figuring out how to use a Mac for the first time. I had prepared and organized and dreamed and planned for my year. And everything was supposed to go according to that plan. Yes, you guessed it…. I like control.

As fate would have it, I received a class filled with kids that were pretty much the exact opposite of me. They were open-minded about having a new teacher, were in no way what I had been expecting, and they could care less about control. And between them and good ol’ Pablo Picasso’s wake-up call, this has become one of the best years in my teaching career. I have learned to let go, and I have finally embraced the “learning curve,” that often uncomfortable place where you’re not always sure what you’re doing, but you’re trying your best and that just has to be good enough.

My class has embraced the learning curve with me. My students have gone from wanting me to just tell them the answer (or where to find it) to accepting that you have to stumble through new concepts sometimes to reach those “aha!” moments. They’ve realized that they have the power to ask burning questions and research to find the answers. In fact, they practically never stop questioning anymore. They’ve reached the point where they’re “behind the wheel” leading their own inquiry process, and they’re comfortable there.

These kids are constantly seeking out new learning opportunities, and for now, you can find me following their lead, because this journey of ours along the learning curve is just that…. ours.

1sep, 7, Kahn class copy-2

Proud to be a Griffin

By Dick Barnes
Band Director

I am proudly a Spartanburg Day School Griffin.

A product of the American public school systems, through and through, I didn’t expect to find my teaching home at an independent school. I grew up in the local public schools and attended two state colleges: The University of Kentucky and The University of Texas. My parents were both products of the same process, as were their parents, and my father taught at USCS (now USC Upstate). Digging deeper, my great-great-great grandfather Isaac Wellington McAdory helped draft the state of Alabama’s Henry School Bill establishing the first successful state school system in Alabama on his belief that every child deserves an adequate education.

So how did I find myself here, at Spartanburg Day School? One phone call. That’s it. It took former band director Fran Davis one phone call in the summer of 2001 to have me investigate the possibilities of teaching at SDS. I showed up for the interview with some trepidation, but also quite a bit of curiosity. Jerry Prickett, former Middle School principal and Fran were to meet me on campus in the Dent Fine Arts Center, but I had to go through a trial by fire before I even reached them.

I was “greeted” at the door by Elsa Crowley, a flute student who dearly loved Mrs. Davis and who I went on to teach in band class for four years. The details of the greeting will be left out here to protect all involved, but it was at this point that I could have known something was a little different at SDS. The short story is that Elsa, without hesitation, welcomed me, an unknown person looking to see if there might be a connection to this new school, into a place she felt at home. I quickly discovered  that SDS feels like a home to each of its students and faculty members as they grow to understand the school. They are comfortable with their school, their teachers and their education.

12feb, 4a copy

So, what have I learned in my 15 years at Spartanburg Day School?  I have learned that SDS is an incredible place to be. I came to campus with a set of goggles on. I saw no locks on lockers and parents sitting and eating with their children in the lunchroom as peculiar. I have since shed those goggles and now see that those things are symbols of trust and kindness in a community that is constantly striving to teach those ideals. I know that SDS is for any family that desires for their child to have a world-class education with a faculty that takes care of its own like it was a family. What I have taken from SDS in my 15 years is that everyday is a chance for me to learn and grow side by side with my students.  Mostly, though, I have learned that I am proudly a Spartanburg Day School Griffin.

9dec, 86 copy