Rungate: Monday Straight Story

Junto Editorial Board

The HS Senate has written an open letter to Head of School Dr. Alan Runge addressing recent concerns regarding Monday's assembly. Dr. Runge's response is found here. Students are reminded that all Senate meetings are open to non-officers as well. The speech was delivered twice on Monday first to the senior class, and then again to the junior class with differing messages. Junto has currently covered the senior speech and will be updating on the junior speech later.

We will be posting updates as information continues to roll in throughout the next few weeks. Junto will also be releasing an informational article on the Annual Fund.

On Monday, November 7, Head of School Dr. Alan Runge delivered a speech promoting the HKIS Annual Fund to the Class of 2017 and the Class of 2018 at the request of the school's Board of Managers. The speech was given during the assembly block on Day A1, but while the assembly was expected, the way the message came across was not.

Dr. Runge began his speech by discussing the “astonishing and commendable” impact he believes HKIS has in the world by citing that “High School students volunteer 80,000-100,000 hours a year” both locally and globally.

“I wanted to build community, express the enthusiasm I have for HKIS, and introduce the Annual Fund,” says Dr. Runge. The intent of the speech was “to look to HKIS’ plans for the future and show how we all belong to something greater than ourselves”, while also “highlighting the service work that so many [students] do and the pride that this inspires in us,” Runge adds.

Yet, students saw the speech in a different light and did not glean the same level of “information and context on how HKIS is run” that Dr. Runge meant to convey regarding the HKIS Annual Fund.

"The speech consisted of around 15 minutes of pandering followed by 5 minutes of explicit solicitation intertwined with subtle yet disturbing threats as to what could happen if students don't donate," summarizes Evian Oosthuizen (12).

During the speech addressed to the senior class, Joshua Ellis-Einhorn (12) had asked Dr. Runge, "Isn't this sort of like creepy blackmail?" Many of the seniors applauded.

Following Ellis-Einhorn's comment, Dr. Runge welcomed students to express their concerns to him after the speech concluded. Several students took up the offer including Drew Kraebel (12) and Craig Furlong (12).

"I felt that it was necessary for Dr. Runge to see his speech from a student’s perspective before presenting it to the next group of kids," says Kraebel. Both Kraebel and Furlong expressed concern in the execution of the speech. "I think that students would happily donate money to support their school if it had been done in a different manner," mentions Furlong.

Oosthuizen expresses similar thoughts, saying, "I have no issue with the school having the Annual Fund and soliciting donations as a principle – it's a common thing for private institutions and there is a lot of good that comes from it.”

Even after Dr. Runge spoke, Julian Lee, a parent from the Annual Fund, came to the microphone to share his choice to voluntarily join the committee based around his love for the school and what it is striving to achieve.

"Well, I'd describe the assembly as a disgusting backfire in public relations," states Douglas Lau (12).

Some students were outraged by Dr. Runge’s speech. “HKIS spends so much time helping develop our critical thinking skills that it's almost an insult to be spoken to in the way we were,” says Sebastian Long (12), “We are a well-educated student body and to think that we would suddenly fall in love with the idea of forking cash over just because of an appeal to our feelings regarding Interims and service is somewhat ironic.”

It appears that many students take most issue not with the Annual Fund itself, but with Dr. Runge’s communication. "I think that the way that Dr. Runge worded the whole situation was really wrong, but I don't think that people should be blaming it on him," says Christy Lau (12), while Oosthuizen emphasizes the idea of mutual respect. “I think what this all comes down to is that as students, we don't need to be pandered to or talked up and then asked for things,” he explains.

Other students have commented on Runge’s argument itself, which included the claim that HKIS could be thought of as a charity and that a donation would be a motion of goodwill. “It’s frustrating to see that HKIS is asking for more money when they are not even willing [to] recognize their own problems,” says Elizabeth Cleary (12).

Cleary mentions a number of issues – including the issue of mental health on campus, saying, “We have students who don’t feel secure in this environment so I really don’t think you can approach it from a ‘give back to me because our school is so great’ standpoint.”

“It is not the place of students, especially unemployed minors, to give money to the school for some vague cause,” states Long.

Cleary follows up her criticism by suggesting that the school should “come at it with more of a head-on approach,” suggesting that HKIS ought to emphasize the quality of education as opposed to the image of the school as a charity. “I remember Mr. Hurworth said that he’s talked to college reps and they agree that HKIS is hard. We’re not a joke and the school should have approached [fundraising] by saying ‘we are up there with some of the top schools in the world.’ We are up there with Groton and Andover, and we need to adhere to these values,” elaborates Cleary.

Oosthuizen provides similar feedback, adding that “students want to be respected just like anyone else and asking us the same way they would ask our parents, or the way business pitches to investors would be not only less insulting but far more effective."

Although the address given to the Class of 2018 was already altered, juniors were also aggravated by what they heard. “Initially, I was shocked at the assembly. Some of the things that were said (specifically, comparing HKIS to a world NGO like UNICEF or Amnesty International) were just untrue,” Varshika Kanthadai (11) exclaims. “Asking kids for money from their parents didn't really make sense... Though the message may have had good intentions, the way the talk was worded wasn't good,” she comments.  Rather, she believes that the talk “confused students by trying [to] entice them to donate… through rewards.”

Sharon Hayon Kim (11) was perplexed by the speech and “didn’t appreciate [Dr. Runge’s] approach to the issue nor the assembly itself.” Because it was unclear where the money would go toward, Kim adds that she is “not too sure if his talk was necessary at this point.”

After the assembly, students looked more into some of the statistics on Dragonnet and in Economics classes, and have started to see the value in asking for donations. “I think that what the assembly really needed was first to get straight to the point, as well as explain why the money is needed and where it would be going. We all know that HKIS has a lot of money already, but knowing how this is going to be spent would really help me as well as others understand and maybe even donate,” Kanthadai states.

Seeing that there has been an overwhelmingly negative reception from both the junior and senior classes, Dr. Runge apologizes, “Now, it is clear to me that I did not communicate well, and the message was difficult to understand.” He notes that the outcome of the speech was “unequivocally not [his] intention.” Instead, he hopes students understand “the programs and facilities students and faculty enjoy are not at risk of being cut because of budget concerns.”  

Going forward, Dr. Runge would also like to let students, parents, and employees know that his “door is always open” and that he is willing to keep an open dialogue with anyone who has further concerns. Addressing the apparent issue of transparency, he has also provided a link to the Financial Snapshot, which is currently available on DragonNet, listing HKIS’ sources of costs and revenues.

"In life, things like this happen," remarks Associate Principal of Academics Mr. Brent Brayko. “At the end of the day, these are experiences that we will learn from and I’m very proud of the Senate for bringing the student voice to Dr. Runge so quickly,” he says, referring to the Senate’s open letter, which, according to Senator of Academics Yashvardhan Bardoloi (12), was responded to “in a very timely manner.”

Dr. Runge will be holding a “Head of School Town Hall” on Thursday, November 17 in HS504 from 5:30 to 6:30pm.

The High School Senate will be meeting with Dr. Runge after school on Monday, November 21 with a compiled list of concerns, including those not addressed in their letter.