Culture: Deliberately Developed or Determined by Default?

“Is your school culture deliberately developed or is it determined by default.” – Bob Hassinger

I just got back from an inspiring 2 days in Harrisburg, PA where Joe Gauld, Pam Hardy, and I joined forces with some awesome Pennsylvania public school educators to present and facilitate a Hyde Public Schools Solution (HPSS) conference at E. Pennsboro Middle School (EPMS). We had 60+ teachers and administrators in attendance with the majority hailing from the host school and the two other school systems that have already adopted HPSS programs: Halifax and Upper Dauphin.

I wrote about HPSS back in March:


The goal of HPSS is to help schools institute or develop character cultures by utilizing aspects of the Hyde philosophy and process. Whereas our charter school work has focused on establishing brand new soup-to-nuts (or, in Hyde terms, admissions-interview-to-graduation-speech) Hyde models, HPSS aims to serve existing schools as a school culture improvement resource.

HPSS began 25 years ago thanks to Bob Hassinger, former principal and superintendent of the Halifax, PA schools. On his first day on the job in 1993 as principal of Halifax Middle School, he found himself troubled by some of the attitudes that seemed to be ruling his school’s culture: older kids cutting the lunch line, lack of respect for peers and faculty, etc. After a colleague suggested he check out Hyde and some guy named Joe Gauld, he read Character First and followed this with a visit to Bath. The rest is history. In accordance with Bob’s above quote, HPSS is for schools who want to get deliberate about culture.

At the core of the HPSS program is the Discovery Group, a mixed-age homeroom grouping (as opposed to the conventional age-specific public model separating students off by grade). All students (and all faculty) then participate in a minimum of 5 activities: intramural athletics, performing arts, student jobs program (considered radical in many public schools), and “clearing the decks.”

The E. Pennsboro folks were the true drivers of this conference. After a dozen of them spent a few days here in May — see photo — they decided to bring the party home and invited colleagues from neighboring school systems.  Workshop topics included:

  • Hyde History and Overview;
  • Discovery Process Components and Procedures;
  • The Biggest Job parent program (a 2 hour workshop);
  • The Non-Negotiables (of Developing a Hyde Culture);
  • School Breakouts (hour-long blocks to discuss implementation strategies);

Hyde old-timers might be interested to learn that both the “Non-Negotiables” and “Burden of Proof” sections were presented by three of our public school colleagues, two of whom have never set foot on a Hyde campus. Not only was that cool, it challenged any assumptions we “Hydeites” might have had as to how much Hyde experience is prerequisite for either explanation or facilitation of the Hyde process.  (On second thought, maybe it actually broadens the definition of Hydeite?)

The Burden of Proof section involved a near exhaustive presentation of hard data (At risk of understatement, our public school colleagues are data-driven creatures!) demonstrating a range of benefits attributable to HPSS, including:

  • a 40% decline in disciplinary incidents over 3 years at one school;
  • 85% parent satisfaction at another;
  • zero playground fights last year at another;
  • budgetary cost savings of $50K at one school due to fewer costly suspensions;
  • 92% teacher approval at another;
  • test score improvement (one school over a 4-year period went from 72% to 80% in reading proficiency and from 69% to 80% in math).-

Where to from here?

During our time in PA, we were also fortunate to spend a couple of hours with Claudia Morrell  — ( — a consultant who has specialized in helping public schools address gender equity issues related to school vocational programs.  After attending our first day, she had two reactions: 1. “I’m totally blown away by what you do.” 2. “What you do is hard. But, that’s OK because we’re at a point in the world when everything that’s left is hard.” (Been giving that point a lot of thought!)

Claudia went on offer a strong caution: “Don’t get caught promoting something that isn’t going to deliver the exciting results presented in the ‘Burden of Proof’ piece of the workshop.” Prior to this workshop, I had been operating under the idea that we might develop and offer a range of products from cheap and shallow (manuals, banners, and posters for sale) to expensive and deep (in-depth school consultations). After our two days, two points were clear:

  1. The school cultures at Halifax, E. Pennsboro, and Upper Dauphin have been substantively and measurably improved as a result of their engagement in the Hyde process.2. These schools have earned these improvements the old-fashioned way: Thru. Hard. Work. On the front end, they have faced initial resistance from a range of stake-holder groups, educational authorities, and teacher’s unions. And on the back end, they have pretty much won them all over to seeing the value of the HPSS idea. Conclusion: It is folly for us to assume that there is an easy route to the aforementioned benefits. So…

We believe that our future will involve a lot more training and consultation than banners and posters. One good thing: We have a tremendous amount of material already at our disposal in the form of training materials for The Biggest Job, our public charter schools, and programs like Know Yourself, Be Yourself. As we define the product, we will turn our attention to marketing, trademarking, and staffing.

I am very excited by the unique synergy evolving with our mix of Hyde veterans and our Pennsylvania colleagues. From the Hyde side, we bring a deep understanding of the Hyde process, one that includes both triumphs and setbacks. We also feature an individual who has received the highest honor bestowed in the character education world: JWG and The Sandy McDonnell Award. (See link)

Hyde School Founder Joseph Gauld ’51 to Receive Lifetime Achievement in Character Education Award

This will prove especially helpful as we market HPSS in geographical locations where Hyde is not well known.

Our Pennsylvania colleagues bring an understanding of the inner workings and cultural nuances common to public schools. They also bring a deep respect for and understanding of data, something that we private boarding school folks can get lazy with. But most important, they are deeply committed to bringing the Hyde difference to their schools. As I drove away from PA, it struck me that we are developing a great team.

At risk of understatement, the 60+ workshop attendees are now charged up about HPSS. Each participant filled out a survey and the results were uniformly “Off the charts!” according to the EPMS principal. During the coming year we intend to spend meaningful time with the 3 schools currently engaged in HPSS.  After all, they represent the most important demonstration models possible for the future growth of HPSS. Exciting days ahead. More to come.

Onward, Malcolm Gauld