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In Gratitude – A Closing Message for the 2023-2024 School Year

June 28, 2024

Dear AFS Community,

What a privilege, gift and honor it has been to serve as Head of School at AFS for the past 19 years. The experience has been transformative for me professionally and as a person, as it has been for our entire family. This community, rooted in spirit and a deep and generous sense of who we are and can be as human beings, is life changing and life giving to so many of us, children, families, faculty and staff alike.

I am seeing in my own children how the seeds planted during their AFS education have led to lives of meaning, contribution, spirit, hope, resilience, and an orientation to goodness and all things of highest value. As a parent, there is nothing more I could have wished for them. As Quaker educators, this is our highest aspiration and deepest fulfillment. In a world of many misguided ideas about education, I am grateful for this community’s enthusiastic embrace of the beautifully wide experiences that truly nourish spirit, intellect and social emotional wellbeing in children.

In this reflective moment for me, on the eve of transition for our school community, I’ve been thinking about three essential lessons learned and reinforced for me over and over in my time at AFS that I’d like to share here. Here goes:

First, I’ve come to believe that all lasting and meaningful change, for us as individuals and as a collective, comes not from the order of an authority, the advice of experts, or coercion or exhortation from leadership, but simply from learning. Learning is the impetus of lasting meaningful change because it alone truly transforms us in enduring ways. When you come to a newer, deeper, and truer understanding of anything at all, change in how we do things, how to move forward, how to be better as individuals and as communities becomes a pathway lit by the lantern of that learning.

At its heart, AFS is a learning community, rooted in the discernment tradition of Quakerism that is a continual search for deeper understanding. It is a tradition that encourages a disciplined humility, honesty, even skepticism of what we think we know, joined with an eagerness to learn more, seek out blindspots, complete our understanding with multiple perspectives and grow in the process. And when we do come to a better and truer understanding – whether it be about pedagogy and curriculum or how to move forward at a difficult impasse – we are led forward by new insight, compelled to grow in lasting ways. This continual search for understanding in a complex world is such a powerful foundation for the education of our students even as it is also the culture of professional growth that makes AFS a leader in Friends education. It is this tradition of being led by learning that makes the development of the Fourth Century Center so exciting to me, making central and well-resourced the true engine of excellence and innovation at AFS, the learning lives of teachers.

Second, it is clear to me at this time that significant accomplishments, successful innovation and growth are almost always collective in nature. Our Western culture emphasizes individualism and ascribes great meaning to leaders and acts of personal gifts, even heroism, but the truth is that a community like AFS, and life itself, is an orchestra of many essential and differing parts. I think often of the scripture that says there are many parts of the body, that the eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you”. I tell our students that there are so many roles to play in a right-functioning world. The world needs writers, care-givers, humorists, builders, historians, musicians, good friends, prophets, scientists, activists and teachers. I believe that an essential role of leadership is in understanding and nurturing the many roles to be played and in understanding this fuller conception of accomplishment. This perspective honors the wide human diversity necessary for a more complete and better functioning world and resists narrow definitions of contribution and purpose. AFS has taught me this lesson over and over as we have faced the challenges of the Great Recession and the pandemic and celebrated community successes like the Headwaters Discovery Playground and the opening of the Berman Athletics Center.

Finally, I believe that, truly, all things are possible in the Spirit. Quakerism and all contemplative traditions teach that at the heart of each of us as individuals and for us as a community, is a well-spring of life-giving spirit, an Inner Light that is an inexhaustible capacity for love, for resilience, growth, healing, compassion, goodness and direction from which we can never be separated. It is the human condition to perhaps have a flickering connection to this deeper identity, but I do believe that all things are possible when we encounter the difficulties and challenges of life nourished and grounded by this spirit. No mistake that we make, no suffering we experience, no loss we endure can ever foreclose our ability to play the roles we are made to play in this world. There is always a path forward, always a way to accomplish something good even in the most difficult times. And there is an always present peace at our center even as we navigate the many turbulences at the surface of our lives.  I believe this wisdom is the greatest gift we give to children and the greatest capacity of our community, one that will ensure it flourishes well into its future.

Thank you for letting me share those thoughts that are on my mind this week.

I am pleased to see our community prosper on so many different levels as we all look forward to welcoming Nicole Hood as our Head of School next week. Nicole is exactly the right leader for this next chapter in our 327-year-old school. Her bright intellect, warmth, love of students and the learning lives of schools, and her own rich spiritual life will light the way for all that is ahead.

Finally, thank you for the extraordinarily warm and generous send-off this community has given to me this spring. Your many notes of encouragement and support have meant the world to me, and I am so honored by the plans for the dedication of the Rich Nourie Green that were shared in May. While certainly sentimental at this time, and full of love for the AFS community, I look forward to retirement with our five grandchildren, a growing creative life with my trio and many adventures ahead with Robin. In a recent New York Times piece on retirement, one retiree spoke of the journey from being a VIP to a PIP – a previously important person. I love it!

Thank you, for all you have given me and my family. I look forward to following the continued success and thriving of AFS.


Rich Nourie
  • Rich Nourie
  • Head of School
  • Abington Friends School
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