John Hughes Fund for Faculty Development

Named for the late John Hughes, the first teacher hired at Commonwealth, the John Hughes Fund for Faculty Development provides grants for teachers to explore their areas of interest and develop new courses. The way Mr. Hughes conceived of his classes—characterized by close reading, rigorous writing, and love for the texts has inspired generations of teachers and students.
The Fund is made possible by generous donations from the Commonwealth community.

This year, twelve Hughes grants were awarded to the following faculty members.

Don Connolly

History and Latin teacher Don Connolly used his Hughes Grant to continue the work studying English and Italian Literature that he began during his sabbatical last year . Included in his reading list was The Phoenix, an anonymously written old English poem made up of 677 lines. The Phoenix is a translation and adaptation of the Latin poem, De Ave Phoenice, a literary piece attributed to Lactantius, the early Christian author and advisor to Roman Emperor Constantine I. Mr. Connolly described the Old English version of the poem as "fresh and fun," adding that by reading accessible Old English, one gets a "distorted view of the literature."

Mara Dale

When English teacher Mara Dale received a Hughes Grant to develop a new art history elective, our very own city of Boston would prove a rich resource. As Ms. Dale puts it, "After mulling over the dauntingly many countries, periods, and genres at my disposal, I took a surprising turn. . .I decided to focus on American art, from the Hudson River School to the Abstract Expressionists." She continued, "It makes a lot of sense: our 11th graders spend the year immersed in U.S. History; we find ourselves at an interesting point in a long history of continual redefinition of what it means to be American; and, here in Boston, we are surrounded by much of the art we'll be discussing."

Boston's art has inspired Ms. Dale to formulate a course that uses images and numerous texts drawn from primary sources, art criticism, and art history, in a serious effort to deepen the way that students look at and make meaning out of art. The course will be called Framing a Nation: American Painting from the Hudson River School to Abstract Expressionism and will study artists such as Thomas Cole, Georgia O'Keeffe, Mark Rothko, Jacob Lawrence, and Jackson Pollock, among many others.


Emma Johnson

Good libraries don’t happen by chance. That is what Commonwealth librarian Emma Johnson learned after traveling to the United Kingdom this past summer. Ms. Johnson received a Hughes Grant to attend The Library and the Academy, an Oxbridge Teacher Seminar at Oxford University. The week long symposium offered sessions with fellow librarians, academic lectures, author visits, and outings around Oxford including an impressive performance at the Sheldonian Theatre. Ms. Johnson learned of the program through the Greater Boston Cooperative Library Association. As a solo librarian, Ms. Johnson shared that, “the most rewarding aspects of the Oxbridge program were the conversations and collegiality I experienced with the other librarians in my study group.”

Mónica Schilder

Commonwealth Spanish teacher Mónica Schilder used a Hughes Grant to expand the curriculum for Spanish 4 to honor the voices of Latina authors. This new course, Women's Voices Shaping Latin American Literature, explores Latina authors who have prominent roles in Latino culture and society. When Ms. Schilder reviewed a list of celebrated Latino authors, she noted most of the figures were male. From there, she realized the lack of representation of prominent Latina writers and conceived of this course in response. She shared, "The Latin American literary canon, created over the last two and a half centuries by institutions where women were vastly underrepresented, is as unbalanced as can be, with most women writers dismissed as sentimental or frivolous when not downright silly or childish. The history and the stories of Latin American societies have been narrated, by and large, from a white, heterosexual, male perspective. That has created a partial account of the continent as a whole, where women have inhabited a vacuum where their voices struggled to be heard, let alone to be granted any authority."

Ms. Schilder's course will feature women authors including Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, Gabriela Mistral, Silvina Ocampo, Alfonsina Storni and Rosario Ferré. The Diary of Frida Kahlo will be an exemplary and essential read for this class.

Barbara Grant

History and Latin Teacher Barbara Grant used her Hughes Grant to pursue two research projects this past summer. The first was to explore early Chinese cinema from its two Golden Ages — the period up to the Japanese invasion of 1937, and the post-war period up to the creation of the People’s Republic. Cinema was centered in Shanghai, the most westernized of Chinese cities. The films of these periods were not only visually beautiful and creative, but they also reflected social issues of the era. Issues such as the lives of women and the poor were central to the political agendas of both the Guomindang and Communist parties, which were vying for power at the time. In researching these films, Ms. Grant also discovered that, like Indian cinema of the same period, there was a strong influence from Hollywood in both filmmaking technique and subject matter.

The second project was to identify a manuscript leaf given to Commonwealth by Charlie Chatfield, Commonwealth's Headmaster from 1983 to 1990. The manuscript leaf is from either an antiphonal or gradual, large music manuscripts used in monasteries, Commonwealth’s leaf is the beginning (Introit) of the Divine Office for the third Sunday in Lent “Oculi mei semper ad Dominum,” using notation for a standard Gregorian chant. The text is written in large Gothic script with decoration only on one side of the leaf. Ms. Grant says, “this research underscores the necessity in the future to preserve medieval manuscripts intact and to avoid the temptation of earlier dealers to take them apart, frame the leaves or cuttings, and sell them at a profit.”

Alan Letarte

When Mathematics teacher Alan Letarte first set out on his Hughes project, he sought to study the properties of conic sections (parabolas, circles, ellipses, and hyperbolas) that are mentioned in modern textbooks, but seldom proved. As often happens in academic research, the exploration lead to unexpected yet fascinating new questions. While Mr. Letarte never knew long-time Commonwealth teacher Farhad Riahi, he has taught from the advanced geometry textbook that Mr. Riahi wrote for many years. As he explored both formal and modern geometry, Mr. Letarte posited he was treading similar paths as to those Mr. Riahi walked when writing that textbook over ten years ago, The mathematical assertions that Mr. Letarte observed can be described as remarkable, and can be established purely through classical geometric methods—making them even more accessible to students.

Kyla Toomey and John Wolff

Chemistry teacher John Wolff and Ceramics and Sculpture teacher Kyla Toomey used their joint Hughes Grant to develop a new elective, The Science and Art of Materials, which they are teaching for the first time this year. The course marries science and art, exploring how neither is independent or more important than the other. The Science and Art of Materials tackles a brief history of the arts and sciences colliding, the parallels of the scientific and artistic processes, observational drawing and taxonomy, an extensive color vocabulary, polymers and food science.

Sasha Watson

English and Creative Writing Teacher Sasha Watson used her Hughes Grant to participate in a three-day School Leadership Institute run by the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS). The purpose of this intensive program is to guide those working in schools toward more effective school leadership.

The Institute was structured aroundThe Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership, a text by Barry Posner and James M. Kouzes. The practices included segments on modeling attitudes and behaviors within a school community; developing and sharing a vision for the future of the school; methods of instituting change within a school; techniques for fostering collaboration among colleagues by building trust in the school environment; and ways of celebrating and appreciating the contributions of those in the community. Ms. Watson shared, “It was enlightening to hear about the challenges faced in other schools – some of which we share at Commonwealth, but many of which we don’t – and to hear in detail about things that work well in other school communities that might – or might not – be applied to the work we do at Commonwealth.” She continued, “ It was inspiring, too, to see that Commonwealth’s particular approach to community and education is as unique and – in important ways – as successful as it is.”

Susan Thompson

Acting teacher Susan Thompson is using her Hughes Grant during her sabbatical this year. Ms. Thompson’s project will be two-fold in its scope: to read and reread a number of Ancient Greek playwrights with an eye towards a possible Commonwealth production, and to travel to Greece this spring to visit Ancient Greek and Roman theater sites that she has been lecturing about for years but have never seen.

While Ms. Thompson has participated in productions of Greek comedies and tragedies outside of Commonwealth and looks forward to bringing such classic work here in the coming years. For this exploration, Ms. Thompson’s reading list includes works and fragments by Aristophanes, Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Menander. Possible sites to visit in her Grecian tour include: Theater of Dionysus, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Epidaurus, Delphi, the Minoan palaces on Crete, and Ephesus in western Turkey.

Anna Moss

Mathematics and Physics teacher Anna Moss is using her Hughes Grant during her sabbatical this year to obtain a Masters of Education with a focus in Mathematics Education at Boston University. Ms. Moss is studying teaching strategies, curriculum design, and equitable teaching for urban populations. She is also working with her advisor, Leslie Dietiker on a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant to create more mathematically engaging lesson plans. On this collaboration Ms. Moss shares, “I am hopeful that I will be better able to serve every student from any background who comes to Commonwealth, and that the work I will be doing to write more interesting and effective courses will help the math department as a whole.”