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“Why Does a Fish Love Water?”: Dr. D’s Reflection on his Transition to the Classroom

By Emily Swope '22, Editor-in-Chief

When Mr. Austin sent an email in late November informing the NA community that Upper School Principal, Dr. Richard DiBianca (affectionately known as Dr. D), had decided to step down from his current role and return to the classroom, many community members responded with uncertainty. At Newark Academy, Dr. D is a steadfast leader, a friendly face in the hallway, and a voice who advocates for students’ individual experiences and well-being. Imagining someone else leading the Upper School might feel concerning, but this transition in Dr. D’s role will allow him to spend more time teaching, work closely with students, and continue making an impact at Newark Academy.

In his 24 years at NA, Dr. D has made countless differences in both the coordination and culture of Newark Academy. When reflecting on his time as Upper School Principal, Dr. D explained that he was really excited about and proud of the initiatives he collectively called “The Triplet”: June Term, the immersion requirement, and the Global Speaker series. These initiatives focus on experiential learning and are “progressive initiatives designed to focus on the individual experience.” 

Furthermore, Dr. D is a champion of academic and intellectual excellence, and in this ideal, he bolstered the Extended Essay program. Dr. D was a part of the group that scheduled the program at the end of candidates’ junior year, dedicated a night to students presenting their work, and included the essays on the transcript in order to “celebrate that sort of intellectual experience.” Similarly in the pursuit of intellectual development, Dr. D spearheaded the schedule change from eight forty-minute classes a day to a schedule with six periods a day and two drop days per six-day cycle. Dr. D explains, “That’s something that I’m proud of [because it] sent the right intellectual message: slightly longer classes so you can dive a little more deeply.”

Another important part of Dr. D’s legacy was his role as a fierce proponent of racial justice and equity at NA. Some of his accomplishments include initiating the routine review of Upper School policies and activities “in order to unearth and dismantle bias and to equalize access,” developing the Creating Community 9 graduation requirement, mandating that all Upper School Leadership Team members attend a People of Color Conference, and unwaveringly advocating for increased diversity on NA’s faculty and administration. 

Dr. D had originally planned on maintaining his current position for a few more years; however, when he took a medical leave in the fall, he realized how much he appreciated having some unstructured time in his schedule. When making the decision to transition his role at Newark Academy, his priority was his own happiness and self-fulfillment. He realized that for him, “it doesn’t make sense to just continue with the plan to do it for 25 or 26 years if I think I might be happier stopping after 24.” Even as he steps down from his position, Dr. D continues to be a role model for his students: he demonstrates that plans are malleable, and that it is important to be adaptable in order to fulfill your greatest happiness.

When I talked with Dr. D about his future plans in the classroom and asked him why he loves teaching, he replied, “Why does a fish love water?” While this is an apt response for a philosophy teacher, it also speaks to his genuine passion for teaching and love of being in the classroom. Dr. D explained that teaching philosophy is his “favorite hour of the day because I can hang out with great people and great texts. It’s … about living in the moment and being with kids.” Beyond the content, Dr. D remains a “student-first” teacher and prefers to make authentic connections with students. As he transitions to being in the classroom full-time, Dr. D looks forward to making these kinds of connections with “a little wider swath of kids” and to be able to “meet more [students] for a little bit longer period of time.”

One particularly inspiring moment during my conversation with Dr. D was when he described his teaching philosophy. His teaching goals are guided by the same three questions: “Will [my students] love the subject by the end of the year? Will [my students] have seen me as an ally by the end of the year? Will [my students] have learned some important skills that that subject offers?” None of these questions revolve around content, memorization, or curriculum; rather, Dr. D instills a passion for learning in his students and creates an environment in which they are safe and encouraged to grow, develop skills, and challenge themselves. As a current student in Dr. D’s IB Philosophy HL class, I can attest to the power of his teaching and the sense of community he constructs during every class. Even though we will miss his devout leadership as principal, we should be excited for more students to experience the magic of being in a classroom with Dr. D. 

Photo Caption:
Dr. D teaching a TOK class
Image courtesy of Dr. D, 2003
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