University School of Jackson


January 3, 2022


Greetings Bruins Families,

I recently read a post from marketing author Seth Godin, in which he penned, “This is the most normal the world is ever going to be again.” Initially, the statement took me back, but upon further consideration, I have found this argument to be a liberating baseline in thinking about the days ahead. The pandemic and the related political, economic, and social repercussions have brought out the worst and the best in people. While exposing cultural divisions and pent-up frustrations, which have risen all too often to the surface, the challenging times we have experienced since the spring of 2020 have also resulted in so many rising to the occasion to meet the needs of their fellow man.

Healthcare workers have served through uncertainties not seen during our generation to treat those in desperate need, teachers who braved the classroom in spite of the pandemic weathered not only health challenges but took on the fears of apprehensive parents and anxious students alike to grow our students. Workers in so many fields continued to produce and deliver products consumers wanted while persevering in jobs that workers needed. 

And during these times, we have learned. We should be reminded that learning does not happen in spite of difficulty but because of it. Growth is change and simply stated, change is hard. No one is congenitally a Rhodes scholar, a great leader, a virtuoso violinist, or an all-pro quarterback. All must put in the work to become whom we are called to be. Godin’s statement reminds me that the challenges of life will not get easier, nor should we want them to. We must get better.

As I have shared in prior communications, USJ is working through the process of developing a new 5-year strategic plan. With the help of a consultant and using input from school stakeholders, the Board of Trustees, along with school leadership, is developing a long-term plan that will continue to chart the positive course of our school and grow our students. We are playing the long game and, in doing so, will meet the needs of our students, develop our faculty, improve our campus, and strengthen the community of USJ. Exciting days are ahead of us.

However, let us make no mistake in stating that, in addition to long-term planning, success depends on what we do today and, therefore, this year. We are preparing our students for life, but we have the opportunity to shape them as they live their lives today. It is incumbent upon us as teachers, parents, and students to show up, go to practice, do our homework, and most certainly, stay positive today. We all want to accomplish great things, and in doing so, we must embrace today’s meeting, algebra lesson, and science project. Building this daily discipline can be arduous, and it is supposed to be. As a parent and educator, I desire not for our children to regularly experience “easy” tests or athletic opponents who fail to push us but to learn to overcome difficult challenges.

As 2022 unfolds, we may not experience a “more normal world”; life tends to present us with new and unexpected situations. I choose to accept them and am truly appreciative of your trust and partnership as we continue to be obedient in advancing our school’s mission. For USJ to reach our collective potential and to continue to be the light in this community we are called to be, we must do our part and answer the call today. 

Happy New Year, and Go Bruins!

Let’s Get to Work,

Don Roe

Head of School

December 1, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas, USJ Families!

Being thankful requires us to practice the very profitable exercise of getting over ourselves. It seems impossible to be thankful for something I have accomplished if even one is capable of truly doing something worthwhile alone in the first place.

Thanksgiving serves as a reminder that God is truly the author of all things, the giver of every gift, and the One who stands totally in control of solar systems, the mightiest of nations, and the tiniest of viruses. As the Psalmist wrote, “It is He who has made us and not we ourselves.”

He has also provided so many people in my path from whom to learn and with whom to serve. So from the perspective of a school leader/teacher, I am most thankful for:

Teachers - who “bring it” from bell to bell every period and are totally committed to working with and preparing for our students long after the 3:05 bell rings. There is no “Best Teaching School in West Tennessee” without our excellent teachers.

Parents - who get the big picture; who get their child to school every day well-rested and prepared to learn; who support and cheer for every student-athlete on the team and not just their own; who trust and love their child’s teachers (oh, and who pull all the way forward in the carpool line; I had to say it).

Students - In speaking with them one-on-one daily as well as through watching them perform collectively: hands-down, the most mature and sweetest students I have encountered in 28 years of education.

A Leadership Team - who understands and lives out the truth that nothing falls into the category of “not my job.” Servant-leaders who are growth-minded and loyal to the mission.

Trustees - who are caring volunteers and donate countless unseen hours and valuable expertise that benefit so many. Their efforts and vision have offered the support that has brought us to the point we are now and will lead us to the next level.

Lessons learned during the pandemic - It is not easy to think this way during a time when so many have suffered. However, if growth is the goal, then difficulty can serve as a blessing if we are open to learning from it.

A culture - where it is cool for a student to work hard in the classroom, perform on the stage, hustle on the field of play, and encourage others who are doing the same.

A nation - whom Lincoln proclaimed to be the “last, best, hope on earth.” I believe this remains an apt description, and we offer the opportunity, resources, and conditions to grow ourselves and improve the lives of others far beyond where we stand today and what many imagine possible.

A mission - that defines and focuses USJ as an institution to grow our children into leaders who can play an active role in doing that important work.

It is my holiday wish that our school would embrace the mindset of thankfulness even more during this season, and we would not only be known for challenging academics and beautiful facilities but for joy.


With my Sincerest Thanks,


Don Roe

Head of School

November 1, 2021


Greetings USJ Families,

Few things are more exciting than potential...Many of us remember driving a baby home from the hospital and speculating on just how exactly this child was going to change the world. I love receiving and opening a new book in anticipation of all the lessons it has to teach me buried in its pages. In sports, we always look forward to the future accomplishments of the first-round draft pick or rookie of the year.

We have just begun an ambitious initiative of strategic planning at USJ that brings a tremendous amount of potential with it. For those who have been around for a while, you may recall we last went through a strategic process during the 2015/16 school year. We can see the impact of that project all around our school today. The most noticeable examples may be the campus master plan and the Imagine More campaign that has literally changed our landscape. This important work continues, and soon you can expect to hear much about “Imagine More” entering perhaps its most significant “Fourth Quarter.”

Much more than buildings came from our last plan, as we updated our school’s mission statement, began the Jones Academic Center, and have invested much more in the growth of our faculty and staff through late start professional developments, book studies, and an enhanced annual evaluation model. Now, we live out this mission of constant growth by developing a new five-year plan this fall and winter.

A new strategic planning process, which will be led by our Board of Trustees and senior administration and facilitated with the help of outside consulting, promises to guide the important work of educating the total child as we continue to improve upon our goal of being the best teaching school in West Tennessee. We are currently gathering input from parents, students, faculty and staff, and the larger school community to initiate the process. We are evaluating our current status as it relates, not only to academics but facilities, finances, personnel, and more. We will soon be compiling and analyzing all of this data to guide us in setting goals that we hope will be challenging, achievable, and meaningful as we look to the next five years.

Strategic thinking seeks to ask three very basic but crucial questions which must be answered honestly and thoughtfully:

  1. Who are we?
  2. Who do we want to become?
  3. How do we get there?

Once these questions have been answered, we are given the task of implementing this plan over the next five years. Not only will such a plan lead to our continued accreditation with SAIS, but it will become our roadmap to continued growth and not allow us to fall into the death trap of complacency.

As a historian, I constantly attempt to see things in the larger scope of time. Throughout the pandemic, we have talked as a faculty and leadership team about the fact that people will always remember how we respond as a school and how we treat people during these challenging times. I know that what we are working on now will have a tremendous impact on the lives of so many in our school family. This makes it even more exciting and consequential. 

As a school family, we are preparing to write the next chapter of the history of our school. This chapter will guide us as we pour our lives into the lives of our children who will then be better equipped to go out and make an impact on the world. Therefore, we must take every step carefully and prayerfully as we all have the opportunity for input on our collective future and then actively live out our plan. I cannot think of anything better to do.

I appreciate your constant support and the honor of working with your children.


Don Roe

Head of School  

October 1, 2021


Greetings USJ Families,


We live in divisive times, and there are many issues and forces at play that amplify these divisions. Unfortunately, it is often easy to allow ourselves to get caught up and taken for a ride via our mass culture, as we are exposed daily to the dull discourse and predictable talking points that media outlets, political interest groups, and Facebook provide. Beneath the banal banter of our media, daily crime reports, and political infighting, however, real accomplishment occurs that often gets overlooked.


Daily life in the real world consists of worthwhile work that brings tangible results to people’s lives. Magic happens at school on the playground, in the science labs, classrooms, and practice fields. Our children are growing every day despite the 24-Hour news cycle and Twitterverse (Is that even a thing?).

I am sure you have heard that Middle School Aspire scores increased this year across the board in every subject and grade. Did you see Annie Jr., or have you happened to catch a girls’ soccer match this fall? What about the Lower School halftime show last week? Our community is thriving, and growth is occurring on campus.


We are making strides, not by accident, but through intentional reading, critical thinking, creative writing, and deliberate academic, artistic and athletic practice. This is the work that builds personal discipline and stronger teams. Our students are being challenged and being held accountable for clearly communicated expectations. We continue to daily teach respect for others and the value of striving for a goal larger than self. It is not that we have our hands over our eyes or our heads in the sand; we just choose to roll up our sleeves and get to work rather than engage in competing social agendas, fighting over vaccines, or shouting each other down over the drama du jour.


I have found it personally helpful to turn down the noise of the increasing irrationality of the news of the day. I prefer to read history, biography, and the Bible rather than contemporary news magazines or get caught up in the vortex of vapidity that is our 21st Century media. I read and watch enough to stay abreast and follow the narrative but try to avoid the gravitational pull of the propagandists and stay “above the fray,” and it is most definitely a constant struggle for me.


I am so proud of our faculty, staff, and students who collectively strive for a cause and those who are so busy pouring themselves into others and their work that they haven’t responded to the message that the world is falling apart. We are certainly challenged by the realities of the pandemic and the concrete economic and political issues of the day. But here at USJ, we are focused on growing people. Period. I would challenge all of us to concentrate our attention beneath the surface, keep our composure, and continue to serve one another. We would not want to get distracted by yet another Twitter war and find we’ve missed the joy of learning and progress that can be applied to make a real difference in the world. Let us continue to love one another and stay focused on the task at hand.


Go Bruins!


Don Roe

Head of School

September 1, 2021


Greetings USJ Families,


We strive for intentionality in being a mission-based institution. At almost every meeting and professional development session, the idea of mission is mentioned and questions are raised about how the issue we are addressing applies to our mission as a school. These conversations often make reference to the “three pillars” of the USJ mission:


“We instill a passion for academic, artistic, and athletic excellence while committing to personal integrity, mutual respect, and lifelong learning.”


When we mention the pillars, we are referencing the classroom, arts, and sports; we often postulate how this current project or that initiative moves the needle as it relates to these three areas. But as one whose responsibility stands to keep us on the mission, I’d like to take a moment and remind us all of a very important point: the “pillars” of USJ’s mission rest upon principles, without which the pillars cannot stand.


We talk often about growing people, as that serves as our mission in a nutshell, but just what kind of people are we trying to grow? The answer is to be found in the dependent clause: men and women of integrity, no doubt. Success is predicated on it. It is impossible to succeed in any endeavor without it. Period. When we see USJ graduates making an impact on the world, we don’t just see doctors, engineers, teachers, and pastors. These are our sons and daughters who are applying the principles learned here to their respective fields. We must produce competent professionals, yes, but there MUST be more substance beneath the expertise observed on the surface.


I am proud to work with a team of educators who are dedicated to leading themselves, young people, and their families to be better people. We are about daily growth in areas of conscientiousness, teamwork, kindness, humility, and honor. These are prerequisites to learning algebra, theater, and soccer. It really isn’t about just being a factory for Jackson’s future professionals; we aspire to grow leaders. People who are accountable, determined, and whose lack of entitlement spurs a desire for personal growth, service, and the pursuit of God’s calling for their lives.


We must demand of our students to do their best in every endeavor, to respect their teachers and the rules, and to encourage their classmates, not to avoid punishment but because (and this is important) it stands as the right thing to do. A core principle of integrity is just doing the right thing at all times. What if we all placed learning ahead of making the grade and playing well before the win? What if we ranked character above popularity and work ethic ahead of results? Then we will grow people who we want to hire and with whom I want to engage in business and in life. These are the leaders of tomorrow who we are growing here today.


These principles are applicable in our daily lives as parents and students. We cannot claim to value honesty, then utter the words, “Don’t tell Mama.” (unless we are hiding a birthday present. Hint: It’s always chocolate) We can’t teach accountability while seeking ways around the rules for our children. The best way to teach them is through our actions and prioritizing what really matters. A 90 mph fastball isn’t worth much if one cannot play well with others. A brilliant artist won’t succeed if beneath the surface there exists an alcohol problem. And of what value is there in a straight-A student who cannot be trusted due to dishonesty? Each of these examples personifies failure in spite of the tremendous blessings of talent.


Our mission of excellence in academics, the arts, and athletics, which we must daily accept, stands upon virtue and must be built firmly on a foundation of good character and faith. May we do our best to never sacrifice our core principles in the seeking of temporary or superficial results. I am honored to pursue this mission with you daily and for your trust in partnering with you in educating your children.


Most Sincerely,


Don Roe

Head of School

May 18, 2021


Class of 2021 Commencement Address


3 Words, 3 Truths, 3 Pieces of Advice


3 Words:




I have a tremendous affinity for them separately, as well as when combined as one.


University: Latin for a community of teachers and scholars. Having been around for a thousand years, the university has grown thousands of minds by advancing inquiry, research, freedom of thought, and rigor.


School: I love every component of it - history lectures, recess, science labs, spelling bees, soccer practices, study halls, hot rolls from the cafeteria, musical productions, and even homework! I started at four years old, and I have never left school.


Jackson: Only 200 years old thus almost brand new, my birthplace, hometown, and my favorite place to be. It is where I was educated, fell in love with my wife, where my son was born. Wherever you end up, no one should ever be ashamed of Jackson, Tennessee, or the United States, for that matter. I am proud of who we are, where we are from, and who we will become.


Altogether, the University School of Jackson stands as a special place filled with dedicated people. You will forever hold cherished memories, take valuable lessons, and be proud of USJ.


3 Truths:


One - It’s not about you. This may be a hard pill to swallow. How is that possible in a year of senior breakfast, senior walk, senior recognitions, senior privileges, and senior nights? Well, you now cease to be seniors, and USJ sends you to begin. And you need to understand that everything we have done here is to grow you, not for you, but for you to make an impact on the world. Not to be a doctor, but to heal others. Not to be successful in business, but to provide goods or services that improve the lives of others, not to be a teacher, but to grow others. You are learning and growing so you can serve your fellow man. It’s not about you.


Two - The world needs you. You have an integral role to play. This is not graduation hyperbole, but fact. God has a purpose for you. The world has been arranged so that every person has been given a life task. Our world needs thoughtful, energetic, educated, caring citizens with integrity to work, serve, and lead. This falls on you. Do not wait for someone else to do it. It is not someone else’s job. This is your life, our world, and you are here for a reason. The world needs you.


Three - Because of this, everything you do matters. Details matter. Today matters. Life is made up of “todays,” so take advantage of the opportunity. Every rep matters. Every mile matters. Every book matters. Every class, lesson, meeting, and relationship matters. Learn something, do something, build something today — everything you do matters.


It’s not about you, but the world needs you. So everything you do matters.


3 Pieces of Advice:


One - Be on time. One lesson in life is that you must be present to win. One of the most important lessons we can model and teach our children is showing up daily. Go to school and to work every day. When you don’t feel like it, when uninspired, on Monday morning, on the Friday before spring break. So much of success is consistently showing up. And this means punctually.


Disrespecting the time of others is the ultimate display of being inconsiderate. You see, few things are more valuable than time. We have all heard the colloquial phrase “Time is money.” It is not. We can make more money. We cannot make another minute. Do not ask another to spend their most valuable asset waiting on you. Be on time.


Two - Smile - Whatever you do, do it with a positive attitude. No one wants to be around someone with a poor countenance. Live your life well, do your best, be kind, and do so with a great attitude. Smile.


And Three - Do more than what is required. If asked to do six reps, knock out eight. A forty-hour workweek? Let’s work forty-four. Four-mile run? Let’s go five. Doing the minimum will not cut it. Doing only what is required will result in mediocrity at best. And that is far short of the standard of excellence by which we, as Bruins, live. 


Just think of one who would always follow those three pieces of advice, being prompt with a great attitude and doing more. Would one not benefit from having such an employee, boss, friend, spouse, or brother?


Be on time. Smile. Do more than what is required. Because it isn’t about you. The world needs you, so everything you do matters.


University School of Jackson seniors: You have made us proud, and we are proud of you. I love you, and I am eager to live in a world in which you are dedicated to serving and improving.


Thank you, and Go Bruins! 


Don Roe

Head of School   

April 6, 2021

Headnotes: Tested

A few years ago, a friend and I planned to run a half marathon. We set goals, trained accordingly, and were ready to go on race day. On that cool, perfect for running April morning, we came out of the chute faster than usual and were “banking” time and feeling great, strengthened by the wind at our collective backs. As we hit mile six, still rolling and way ahead of our goal pace, I had a sense things may be going just a little too perfectly. I shared what would turn out to be an apt prediction, “I think today we are going to be tested.” His response was classic: “I sure hope so!”


It seems to me the proper attitude is to welcome the coming of life’s tests. Life presents these challenges to show us where we stand. We learn from them our areas of strength and need. They don’t just show us what we need to improve upon, as we can improve in every area of our lives. They can validate certain actions we have been taking, but they can also provide a needed wake-up call. The act of stepping on the scales or playing a strong opponent in sports or business may provide us with actionable intelligence from which we may improve.


In the educational world, April and May often bring with them reflection in the way of student assessments. What have we learned this year? Where do I stand? While May often correlates with finals and AP exams, April tends to be a big ACT month, as well as a time for spring achievement tests for our younger students. It is important that we understand, as parents, teachers, and students, how to best approach these assessments and the information they provide.


First, there is always test preparation that can benefit every student. Reinforcing content material as well as learning testing strategies are essential first steps. It is always wise counsel to get a good night’s sleep (every night, all the time!) as well as practice solid nutrition as one approaches seriously and intentionally the challenge ahead. 


Sun Tzu famously penned, “Know thy self, know thy enemy.” A little knowledge can be a positive thing, and it makes good sense to understand what kind of assessment one is facing, and the content tested. The ACT family of tests our students take at USJ (i.e., the ACT Aspire and PreACT) are neither IQ nor aptitude tests but achievement tests. This means they exist to measure student learning and are not necessarily intended to predict future performance. They measure content knowledge and skills acquired at the time of test administration and are a snapshot of learning and produce scores that can be improved upon (remember, growth mindset!). Receiving these scores, therefore, should neither be considered a coronation nor a death sentence. At the individual and institutional level, they can show us areas of mastery or proficiency and areas that may need increased focus or perhaps an adjustment in the manner in which they are being taught or studied.


We face all sorts of challenges or tests in everyday life. A problem in a relationship, an obstacle standing in the way of success, or an opponent in this week’s game can all be seen as tests, and I believe they should be seen in a positive light in that they can teach us much about ourselves and often illuminate the path to growth. While a part of me wants to go undefeated or would be so happy with the achievement of a perfect score, I know that success is not about what I want, nor should happiness be the ultimate goal. We need to be appropriately challenged to learn and grow, and learning happens on the other side of obstacles.


This pandemic has certainly tested us all in a myriad of ways, and I know I have grown as a leader and a person in attempting to navigate its pitfalls. We will not respond to every situation perfectly nor get every answer correct, but we can use our successes and shortcomings as catalysts for positive change. 


Lastly, perhaps the most crucial element in facing tests may just be showing up well every day. We sometimes think what’s most important is bringing it on game (or assessment) day. Still, we all know learning happens during our first-period class on Monday morning, Tuesday afternoon’s workout, Wednesday’s lab, and Thursday’s tutorial… you get the picture. One can often tell who does well on life’s tests by who is present and how they go about their daily business. 


It was mile nine where I hit the wall that race day, by the way. The time I banked was all spent by mile thirteen, and I staggered in a mere eight seconds ahead of my goal. Completely spent, thoroughly tested, and with the lesson of pacing being clearly reinforced to me.


Let us embrace tests with humility and a hunger to improve, and let us use this spring and this day as opportunities for growth.


Most Sincerely,


Don Roe

Head of School 

December 1, 2020


Greetings USJ Families,


As I put pen to paper (yes, I still write in this manner) post-run but pre-turkey on Thanksgiving morning, my thoughts are centered around the times in which we find ourselves and how we respond to crises. 


I do not know if America has been more unified in the past fifty years than during the week following September 11, 2001. Churches were filled, thousands of young men and women enlisted, and patriotism surged as flags flew from western ranches and urban apartment windows alike. People voiced support of the President and seemed ready to do what was required of them, whether it be standing in airport lines or fighting terrorism abroad. 


In 1940 and ‘41, during the Blitz, Londoners mustered great resolve and resilience – their proverbial “stiff upper lip” – to weather the nightly, deadly attacks on their city by German bombers. These moments, which brought fear and destruction, also resulted in unity and singleness of purpose.


As our nation continues to weather this pandemic, along with electoral controversy and social instability, I’ve been considering leadership principles, whether it be school leadership or other areas, such as leading in the home, at church, or place of business during times of uncertainty. I want to share three for consideration:


1.) Double down on one’s values. As Paine famously penned, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” In challenging times, we must know who we are and for what we stand. In these times, one’s faith is critical. Our training prepares us for this. At the school level, we remind ourselves in meetings and strategy sessions regularly of the mission of USJ. We discuss its meaning and application. We review our operating principles:







Effective leaders cannot merely react to events or follow the wave of public opinion but must think foundationally upon principle and be intentional concerning applying their ideals to decision-making.


2.) Read from sources outside of the current time. We must understand the 24-hour news channels, daily periodicals, and social media (don’t get me started) reflect the opinions of others experiencing and seeing things through the lens of our day. We live in a time of collective irrationality; therefore, we must listen to voices that lived outside 2020. In the past few weeks, I have been reading:

A.) Paul’s letters. These are the words of a man who stood firm in the faith and kept perspective in times of extreme personal trials as well as social and political unrest.

B.) The Last Lion. This biography of Churchill set in the 1930s demonstrates a leader who was going against the grain of contemporary thought and holding firm when Britain needed truth spoken to them while serving as a model of firm resolve.

C.) Decision Points. I wanted to understand President Bush’s mindset and personal experience of 911 and how he perceived events and led during that tumultuous period.


3.) Empathy is integral. Regardless of whom one is leading during these times, one needs to listen more than talk. People have been impacted in very different ways, and we all are anxious to differing degrees. We live in a time of fear and polarization, and we often speak with people when they are at their worst. Frankly, we as leaders do not always respond well to these troubled voices. Understanding, then, goes a long way in our decision making and in communicating well.


Our times stand as a tremendous opportunity to learn from each other and love and serve our fellow man. Learning from and serving others is such an essential component of what leadership truly is. On this day, I am most thankful for these times and this very moment.


Most Sincerely,


Don Roe

Head of School   

November 2, 2020


Greetings USJ Families,


Did I mention that I love baseball? As a student and teacher of American history, I appreciate it as a quintessentially American invention and activity. I really appreciate this Gerald Early quote:


"There are only three things that America will be remembered for 2000 years from now when they study this civilization: The Constitution, Jazz music, and Baseball. These are the three most beautiful things this culture's ever created."


Baseball is traditional. It brings back so many memories as it has been such a constant in my life. My friendships, family vacations, books, maybe a few video games, and simulations (anyone remember Strat-o'-matic?) all seem to have a connection to the national pastime. And every October brings with it post-season baseball (and not enough Kansas City Royals!). I still enjoy watching the games and the drama play out every night. 


One aspect of the game I truly appreciate is the opportunity to learn. I enjoy watching with friends and family and talking about situations and strategies. As a teacher, I love life lessons, and baseball is chock-full of them! Keep your eye on the ball! It ain't over till it's over. Always think one play ahead. The best team doesn't win; the team that plays best wins. Here is my favorite: It always comes down to fundamentals.


One gets reminded of this in big moments, such as with the recent Braves base running debacle or how the Dodgers absolutely blew a World Series game due to a lack of attention to fielding, throwing, and catching(all in the same play)! The experts said they had never seen it before, but true baseball fans witness it EVERY night. I would argue every game at every level is won or lost due to attention (or lack thereof) to details. And we teach most of these elements to ten-year-olds: It's throwing and catching, getting one's glove down, laying down a bunt or moving a runner, hitting the cut-off man, etc. While folks dig the long ball, it usually comes down to getting in that runner from third with less than two outs or often just throwing strikes. This is a beautiful, and often a hard lesson to learn. I know I sound like a grandpa here (and I am all about letting the kids play), but perhaps our time could be better spent on situational hitting and less on handshake choreography.


This lesson translates well to other areas. In business, no matter how well you produce a widget, one must take care of the customer at the point of contact. Regardless of how bright you are, one must show up on time and put in the work. And what about our business of school? The business of student success, as I just stated, always comes down to fundamentals. If we want students to learn, they must get a full night's sleep from pre-K to grad school. There is no way around it! We want to hit the home run on the ACT, but we must complete our 8th-grade math homework, read that summer reading novel, write the 5th-grade essay, and learn Spanish vocabulary terms. Our kids need to move! Exercise increases blood flow to the brain and burns energy to increase focus. Strong bodies and strong minds have always been related. We need to get our kids in the habit of eating healthy food, to be involved in a faith-based community, to be good listeners, and kind to one another. These are the fundamentals of student growth, and there are no substitutes. These components are integral to learning. Did I mention that it always comes down to fundamentals? Always. So keep your eye on the ball, and Go Bruins!


Don Roe

Head of School   


November 2, 2020

The Bruin Walk

For those who proudly wear the Red and Columbia Blue, this path isn’t just special but treasured. It stands as a symbol of accomplishment. Emblematic of success. This leads to an important, if not existential question: Just how is this success defined?


We at USJ often speak of it. Of whom we are and aspire to be. We proudly (and rightfully) affirm the accomplishments of merit scholars, state champions, celebrate the elusive 4.0, or the ultimate score of 5 on the AP exam. Even as adults, we define our own measures of accomplishment: the well-earned promotion, new title, or corner office. Although these are all worthy of respect, one could make the case there are higher things for which to strive.


I would pose authentic success is measured in standards over status and can only be achieved by first growing our character. We must, as we are often told by our elders, get our priorities right. A learner must often ask himself the question, what do I truly value? What am I putting first in my life? What is most important to me?


For example, am I putting grades before learning? Popularity over principles? Results rather than fundamentals? Every day we are forced to make choices that really begin with our own ideals and values. When I complain instead of encouraging or lash out instead of showing restraint, it almost always begins with my poor attitude. I too easily get caught up comparing myself to others or mired in temporary, shallow disputes that reflect my own misaligned priorities.


You see, the Bruin walk isn’t a place as much as a mindset. The Bruin walk is the daily process of growth, striving for improvement, even greatness. Integral to this process is practicing and studying harder, putting others first, and the desire to “be” good as well as to “do” good as we advance our mission. When one treks daily toward virtue, discipline, and growth, success in many forms tends to follow. This journey leads to excellence, and one never completely arrives at its destination.


It is truly an honor to daily walk this path with you.


Thank you for your support, and Go Bruins!


Don Roe

Head of School

September 1, 2020


Dear USJ Family,


Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, established a philosophy that has become legendary in the business world. He believes and teaches that successful businesses stay in Day 1 mode; the idea being that start-ups are hungry, think creatively, and outwork older, Day 2, operations who live in the static world of complacency. In spite of any criticisms Bezos may deserve, there is undoubtedly merit in this mindset. Major issues tend to grow as soon as one believes he has “arrived,” and we can all benefit from an attitude of constant improvement and daily seeking to solve problems constructively.


As we work through this crisis of COVID, we encounter difficult issues daily. This weekend brought three more positive cases to our school family, a middle school student and two faculty members, while three students returned from quarantine Monday. We also face new logistical challenges, updated CDC and health recommendations, as well the daily issues that one encounters in working toward growing 1200 people who enter our campus every day for school. I believe the Day 1 mindset for problem-solving might look something like the following:


Gratitude. We should start with being grateful for the day and yes, its problems. I am grateful for life itself, for the people with whom God has blessed me, and the opportunity to improve myself and positively impact others. Even these challenges with which we are faced should be seen as the opportunities they are. We face difficult decisions and conversations, criticisms and challenging tasks every day in educating people during these times. What a blessing! As I’ve said before, life is not safe and it isn’t easy. It isn’t supposed to be, and on the other side of working through these problems is exactly where we find the much-needed growth. I am so grateful we are in school today. As we look and learn from other schools around the world and even in our backyard, we can see others aren’t even trying. Others are struggling to stay open, and there are those who are finding much success. We can learn from all of those experiences.

Ownership. We tend to find it pretty easy to blame others and dodge accountability for our problems. ”I didn’t sign up for this,” or “this isn’t my fault” are lines we’ve all heard and probably used ourselves. What if we thought differently and just assumed it was our fault? Did I cause it? No. Ok, could I have prevented it? Did I make it worse? Can I improve the situation, or solve the problem? Now we are thinking in a manner that may bring about better results. As teachers, parents, and students, we should all own this crisis and the related problems. Then I understand that I can perhaps play a better role in improving them. The problems that come from our current crisis have tentacles that can extend into far-reaching consequences that are often worsened by our responses. So what can I do? I can focus on the fundamentals today. Again, teachers must enforce procedures every period. Parents must make the hard decisions regarding what students need rather than what they want. Large group gatherings, for example, such as sleepovers, parties or pick-up games, must be answered with a hard “no.” I know kids will be kids, but we adults must make these adult decisions. And students must “own” their behaviors as well, understanding that there are major consequences for how we respond today.

Teamwork. So our response must be collective. Teachers, parents, and students must work together. Saying no to social gatherings isn’t easy, but as I always preached to my students, “popularity is overrated!” Wearing a mask is no fun, and I am so tired of not shaking peoples’ hands, but success is often the result of doing the unpopular and uncomfortable things. This is a burden which must be shared together, knowing we all reap the benefits of on-campus education. We all want to be in school, to learn and grow together, to discuss a novel, solve a problem, play on the playground, and enjoy the Friday night football game. We all benefit from doing the right things to stay healthy today.


Doing things well on Day 1 may just give us the opportunity to experience another Day 1 tomorrow. So, let us respond well to this challenge today.


Don Roe

Head of School

August 3, 2020

Our Daily Commitment to Health, Safety, and Families

I am a huge proponent of consistency. If one wants to be successful academically, the key is not about rising to the occasion on the day of the ACT but about meaningful time in the books today. A happy marriage does not hinge on a romantic getaway, but on a regular evening strolls. Success under Friday night lights results from challenging afternoon practices and early morning lifts. As a lifelong educator, I believe that great teaching is not measured by the latest program but by the level of student engagement during the second period on a random Monday morning.


During these challenging times, I have had the pleasure of speaking and corresponding with many members of our community about the issues we face today and the importance of working together to meet our children's needs safely. Simply stated, our children need school. They need it for the academic growth it promises and vital relationships, experiences, social interaction, and challenges that accompany the classroom, stage, and fields of play. 


Our team has worked all summer to develop plans and procedures to ensure the health and wellness of our students, faculty, and staff. Know that we are committed to following these plans and to the consistent focus their implementation will require. We cannot "lighten up" or look the other way. To make this work, our parents must also be "all in." Success in this endeavor will require support, communication, patience, and cooperation by everyone involved.


We understand that these short-term sacrifices will allow us to accomplish our long-term objectives. So today, I wear my mask, social distance, and scrub up! We are committed to

doing things differently. The classroom, performance, and game won't look the same as they did in March, but we can and will do this to meet the needs of children and advance our mission.


Speaking of March, we remember when so many schools "closed up shop," our teachers rolled up their sleeves, cracked open their laptops, and went to work. They did not shirk from the call in the spring, and they will answer the bell in the fall. They will do the difficult things today, and we will not retreat from making hard decisions. We will make mistakes, learn from them, and adjust accordingly. 


I cannot promise you 100% safety. Life is not 100% safe. We take risks by driving cars, flying in planes, and walking out our front door. What I can promise is that we will be committed to the consistent implementation of our plan and procedures. When things get difficult, we will not walk away from this responsibility, from our friends, family, churches, nor our school community. USJ has been here for our families for 50 years, we are here today, and when this current crisis is over, we will still be standing...together.


I look forward to seeing you on campus soon.


Don Roe

Head of School

July 13, 2020

The Heart of Decision-Making

The mission. We all should know it…

“We instill a passion for academic, artistic, and athletic excellence, while committing to personal integrity, mutual respect, and lifelong learning.”

At the heart of this mission lies one objective: growing people. This frames everything we do. The Head of School must grow. Our Board of Trustees, administrative team, and faculty are all dedicated to improvement, and we are all committed to growing our students. We are works in progress, and in order to better serve, we need to learn.

Therefore, every decision we make is centered around growing our people. Learning, whether it be solving algebraic equations, playing the trumpet, or fielding a ground ball, is what we do. Woven throughout learning we find the theme of the second half of the mission statement: character. Without integrity and respect for others, it really matters not how adept you are in the other areas.

So this idea of growing students pervades every aspect of our operation. Who we hire, how we allocate dollars, set our schedule, lead our classrooms, and manage our athletic teams all center around learning. This is why we exist and who we are as a school. Let me say it again: we exist to grow people.

In our current environment, I understand we face many challenges and anxieties that are very real. People are concerned about a virus one cannot see, are worried about safety for our families, economic issues, and we are experiencing a political climate and media that play on our differences and fears. These uncertainties lead to many of the questions I hear concerning the details of how we at USJ will begin the school year. I get it. As we finalize our plan which will be communicated next week, we must respond to a bigger question…

It isn’t just how will we start the year, but how will we sustain it? 

We must be prepared to move forward to grow our students. The times and situations are very fluid, but our objective does not change. We must do this for them. So we research. We collaborate. We ask difficult questions. We listen. Then, we make decisions that will meet their needs. Needs that are academic, developmental, and social. Furthermore, we must do so with our minds not just on growth, but safety.

Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning as well as Simon Sinek’s It Starts With Why both address this very theme in their respective works. Essentially, much anxiety in life derives from the inability to find meaning, and once we understand the reason for what we are doing, our decision-making becomes focused and our motivation heightened. Our mission should guide me as Head of School in relations with the Board, our staff and our families. The question must always be, “What do we need to do to best grow our people?”

I understand that this is not easy. I do not believe we exist to do the easy thing, to make people happy, or do what I want. We stay on mission. This must be the address of where decision-making lives. 

Thank you for the privilege of partnering with you in growing your child.

Don Roe
Head of School

June 22, 2020

Greetings USJ Families, 

While our leadership team has recently been focusing on the challenges of ending the spring semester, recognizing the accomplishments of our students, and now starting school in the fall, I feel I would be remiss if I did not take the opportunity to share and to challenge our school community in the wake of recent national events that, no doubt, also impact us as a school family. 


Our nation has experienced trying times through the COVID-19 pandemic, the accompanying social and economic stresses, and now we have been moved by accounts of racial injustice, and daily scenes elucidate how these have shaken our nation. Like everyone, I have been deeply troubled by images of racism, frustrated by violence in the streets, and inspired by acts of kindness and reconciliation. As a long-time student and teacher of history, I understand how the issue of race has shaped our nation, how much progress has been made in this regard, as well as the challenges we continue to face as Americans. We are now living in a critical period in our history.


As an educator in an independent school whose mission expressly values mutual respect, I see this as an opportunity for us to practice what we preach. I have taught in many institutions, none of whom value diversity more or are more welcoming of all students than USJ. This being said, we must always recognize that we are all works in progress, have room to grow, and much to learn. It is my hope that we as individual families and as a school community use our current state as a society to initiate conversations with our children that challenge them to rise above the negativity and political noise and seek to advance the cause of understanding and love for our fellow man.


Education is a noble profession, one that calls us to higher things. I love our school and the principles upon which we were founded. We value all people and are proud to be a part of an inclusive community. We strive daily to live up to the ideals of our Judeo-Christian tradition, which teach us to embody love and to strive toward the standard that we treat others the way we wish to be treated. Let us always be willing to speak out against the injustice of racism and to use our voice to defend those who defend the helpless. Let us as an institution of learning seize this moment to encourage our children to act in a peaceful and positive manner that might bring about a better world and to live lives that constantly place others before self. These ideals are consistent with the mission of USJ and are worthy of our efforts as a school community.

Sincerely and Optimistically,


Don Roe

Head of School

For More Information

Don Roe
Head of School

[email protected]


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