The Commons: Our Blog

Timely, sometimes tough, questions and insights from NAES and Episcopal school leaders on leadership, governance, Episcopal identity, community life, and other issues.

A Library Fit for Our K.I.N.G.S.

The library at the Bishop Walker School is at the heart of our campus. It is a light-filled space with floor-to-ceiling windows that span almost the entire width of the building. Looking out of these windows, we can see The Washington School for Girls, DC Central Kitchen, and The Washington Ballet—three of the 14 non-profit partners who share a home with us at THEARC on Mississippi Avenue, in east Washington DC’s Ward 8. BWS partners with most of these nonprofits to provide our scholars with three meals a day, easy access to healthcare, childcare until 7 pm, as well as arts and academic enrichment. THEARC is truly a village with children at the center.

Biographies and histories on the shelves tell the stories of forebears who looked like our boys highlighting their resilience, perseverance, achievement, and joy: Frederick Douglass, Shirley Chisholm, Thurgood Marshall, Barack Obama, and Malcolm X. We honor our boys’ dignity by sharing stories that illustrate what is possible for them and lift up our KINGS who are Knowledgeable, Independent, Generous, Noble, Servant-leaders (K.I.N.G.S.) 

Bishop Walker Ribbon Cut
The new BWS building, located in THEARC, opened on January 8, 2018.

Our library is a venue for reading, being read to, debating, parent association meetings, board retreats, alumni reunions, benedictions, and village-hall gatherings. In this place, Kwame Alexander has read aloud with our young scholars and Presiding Bishop Curry has encouraged them to follow their dreams. Just a few days ago, high school graduates who began their educational journeys at BWS returned to tell us their plans for the future, and to cheer on our 5th grade scholars as they prepare to move to new schools. The library is not just located in the heart of the campus; it is the heart of our school and a place for our boys and all who visit to find inspiration. 

Named in honor of the great humanitarian and first African-American Bishop of Washington, the Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys formally opened in 2008 with a single class of 13 four-year-olds and a staff of three teachers. We now serve K through 5th grades. BWS is a tuition-free school that relies almost fully on philanthropy and grants to fund our mission. 

Bishop Walker School, and our new Head of School, Dr. Angelina Arrington, will host the Episcopal Urban Schools Alliance biennial meeting this fall and look forward to welcoming leaders from schools with similar missions to provide low or no-cost accessibility to the opportunity of an Episcopal school education. The institutions of the EUSA make generational impacts on children and families who deserve the wonderful, holistic education that only Episcopal schools provide.

In 2009, NAES established the Episcopal Urban Schools Alliance (EUSA) goals to: 

  • Articulate and promote a common interest in serving the educational needs of economically disadvantaged children;
  • Share best practices in economic models, institutional management, and Episcopal identity among its members and aspiring members;
  • Explore the ways the Holy Spirit may move the continuing calls of justice in an educational setting

We love to receive visitors at the Bishop Walker School. If you find yourself in Washington DC, come and visit. We’d love to show you a library fit for our KINGS. We have 83 scholars and 11,000 wonderful books; the perfect ratio, I believe.

Andrew W. Clarke is Board Chair at The Bishop John T. Walker School for Boys in Washington, DC.

Eat. Sleep. Repeat.

“Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, ‘So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I... Read More »

Spiritual Answers for Hard Questions

Wow! An email I did not expect during COVID. This communication began an exchange between this student and me over the next four years. Understanding that spirituality is not separate from life but part of being human is an essential conversation for our schools. Often we try to create boxes of learning, not realizing that everything is connected, our minds, bodies, and spirit. Read More »

The Power of Perseverance

“Mr. Finley, will you please step out of the room so we can go into executive session for your review?” I had known this young man since he was nine years old, and now he was chairing my evaluation committee. After college he had been the first Epiphany graduate to join our teaching fellows program which helps train the next generation of urban educators and provides fellows with room, board, health insurance, educational debt relief, and often a free master’s degree. Now he was a successful entrepreneur, happily married with a baby on the way, and serving on our Board of Trustees. I, meanwhile, was no longer the twenty-six-year-old founding head of a tuition-free Episcopal school surviving by the skin of its teeth. Of the many lessons I’ve learned over the years, the importance of perseverance and trust in the work of social justice has been one of the most critical. Read More »

The Power of Our Worship

“What can I do?” I said this to a family in our school earlier in the fall, who had just tragically lost their son, one of our seniors. It’s something we all say, lay people and clergy alike, in difficult situations. We want to be helpful. We want to bring food, run errands, give hugs. Something. Anything. “What can I do?” The news of the loss of this student came on a weekend and started to seep into our community and as I wondered, other than responding pastorally to the family and communicating to our school community, what it was I could do, I realized that worship was probably the best answer. Read More »

Biennial Conference 2022: Reflections from a Newcomer

As a somewhat new member of the Episcopal school family, the much-anticipated attendance at NAES Biennial Conference in person had arrived. Upon my journey up the escalator of the hotel for registration, I realized that there was something different and refreshing about this conference. It is always a pleasure to see familiar faces, reconnect with old friends, and put faces to names, even if every two years. While my name tag may have helped, I was greeted with several smiles and hugs as if I were a longtime friend.  Read More »

Reflecting on God’s Time

As a chaplain, part of my job is to be a calming and peaceful presence in the midst of the chaotic storm that sometimes accurately describes modern education. In my short time as a chaplain, I have... Read More »

Creating a Culture of Inquiry

“You have a question about our math program? We have a curriculum coordinator for that! Diversity in our curriculum? We have a curriculum coordinator for that! What’s an Episcopal school? Talk to the curriculum coordinator!” Four years ago, when I took the position of the first Curriculum Coordinator at St. Matthew’s Parish School, the job felt a bit like remodeling a house. There was a strong foundation as an Episcopal school and, like an old New England farmhouse, additions that had been incorporated over the years. But the rooms and additions were actually different parts of the curriculum, and my job was to examine the structure as a whole and build hallways to make connections and identify priorities for construction. Shortly after I started, St. Matthew’s began a strategic planning process that involved various constituent groups. What emerged from all of the observation, reading, and discussion was unanimity that we were a school fiercely committed to doing intentional work to develop good young people, but were less clear about our academic identity: Who were we academically, and how did certain themes connect our programs? Read More »

Noses In, Fingers Out

Heads of school will recognize immediately the goal of that first meeting: good governance. I think the three biggest areas of concern for schools coming out of the pandemic are student health, faculty retention, and governance. You probably have experienced a critical moment in at least one of those areas. The fast-paced, prolonged, and unpredictable disruption to our schools created existential demands about enrollment and operations. By necessity, the crisis required trustees to work nimbly with heads and administrators in an area of decision-making formerly marked by a clear separation of roles. Many schools may be discovering now that good governance is threatened when the Board or individual trustees linger in that place where they enjoyed being tactical instead of strategic. Coming out of the pandemic, therefore, is an excellent time to review good governance. Read More »