Pinnacle Program Demystified

by Ryan Feeley, Assistant Head of School for Academic Affairs

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. I arrive at my office on a Wednesday morning, and my boss is waiting for me with a No. 2 pencil and an answer sheet. He instructs me to complete a test, demonstrating my knowledge of the American Civil War. I proceed to struggle through question after question, hoping I can recall the information I’ve tried to memorize over the last several weeks, depriving myself of sleep and sifting through stacks of flashcards: How many soldiers were killed at the Battle of Chickamauga? Who did Abraham Lincoln appoint to replace General George McClellan in 1862? What was the name of Robert E. Lee’s horse? Just another day at the office, right?

Of course not. While the answers to these questions may be interesting, the information isn’t essential for the work we do on a day-to-day basis. Nobody is asked to simply recall enormous amounts of content in their professional lives. I’m not suggesting that content knowledge isn’t important. It’s useful to understand the causes of the Civil War and how some of the divisions of the mid-nineteenth century might be similar to our current landscape, but having an encyclopedic memory of all the facts just doesn’t serve us well.

This tension is at the crux of Berwick’s shift away from Advanced Placement classes to our new Pinnacle Courses. Rather than drive our students through enormous amounts of content in preparation for one high-stakes test, we’re excited to give our teachers the freedom and flexibility to design new courses that will focus on essential content, but also help students develop necessary skills for the future, and offer a similar level of rigor to APs by allowing for depth of understanding as opposed to broad content coverage.  

I’m grateful to our Curriculum Council for the work they’ve done in creating a vision for Pinnacle Courses in which rigor isn’t quantified by how much gets crammed into a school day, but rather by depth and breadth of understanding. At Berwick, Pinnacle Courses will encourage students to confront ideas and problems that are meaningful and authentic, to stretch their thinking, to unleash their sophistication, and to foster an appreciation of deep knowledge.

As we continue to work through this transition at the zenith of our academic program, exciting conversations are happening all over campus. Teachers are collaborating on ideas for Pinnacle Courses that will cross disciplines, that will challenge students to make connections between historical events and contemporary issues, and will give students opportunities to troubleshoot and problem-solve in authentic ways.


Serving Maine, The Seacoast of New Hampshire, and the North Shore of Massachusetts

Berwick Academy, situated on an 80-acre campus just over one hour north of Boston, serves 600 students, Pre-Kindergarten through grade 12, from Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. Deeply committed to its mission of promoting virtue and useful knowledge, Berwick Academy empowers students to be creative and bold. Berwick strives to graduate alumni who shape their own learning, take risks, ask thoughtful questions, and come to understand and celebrate their authentic selves.  Founded in 1791 and rooted in a tradition of college preparation, our culture of innovation prepares students for a complex and dynamic world.