August 3, 2009

Dear St. Gregory Parents, Students, Faculty and Staff:

Greetings again this summer; forgive me for writing again, but there is more news to share.    I assure you this letter is shorter.

Last week I concluded eight excellent hours of meetings as part of what we are calling the ALT—the Academic Leadership Team— composed of Upper School Head Susan Heintz, Middle School Head Phil Woodall, and myself. We set a simple theme for our collaboration: Focus on Teaching and Learning, with Kids at the Center.  We also reviewed more than twenty agenda items, and made many great plans and new initiatives for the coming year, some of which I want to share with you here.

  • First is the small amendment I am making to dress policy.  Last year, students were required to wear St. Gregory logo polo shirts on Friday; this year we will make a small change to instead requiring collared shirts on Monday.

We believe there is good research evidence demonstrating that students learn better when dressed more formally.  I made my own findings during my research project last year (and have written about them on my blog) about the higher quality of learning which occurs when we re-conceptualize the classroom environment to a form which might metaphorically be described as one of “managers” supervising young professionals on a learning team: viewing students as interns or junior associates, one might say.  The clothes students wear can reinforce this.

Hence, as part of our ongoing commitment to enhance our school’s learning environment, we will have a new simple eight word policy: “Mondays: collars, no words/images, Hawks logo Ok.” Everyone should wear a shirt with a collar (button down, polo, or blouse); it should have no words or images on it; the only exception is that a St. Gregory Hawks logo polo shirt is fine.  Shirts can be in any color or pattern, and they can come from any vendor.  Faculty members are also being asked to participate in this dress policy.

Wearing collared shirts on Mondays will convey to ourselves and to each other that we are shifting our mindset from weekend-mode to the work-mode of the school-week, and our teachers will see our students come into class each Monday as young professionals on their learning team for the week.   It will be great!

  • We are watching the news carefully about Swine Flu and its potential impact on schools.  The good news is that it does not seem too dangerous a disease; the bad news is it is still evolving, and it is expected to be widespread this fall.  We will of course be attending to the directives of Pima County Health authorities, and in the meantime we will be expanding the distribution and availability of alcohol based hand sanitizers; we will also provide regular in-school reminders promoting use of sanitizer and of “elbow-sneezing/coughing.”  You can help us by keeping sick children at home and following carefully any school communications on this topic.
  • Last year, St. Gregory experimented with a pilot program we referred to as iMAP.  This program was largely focused upon 8th graders in preparation for their transition to the high school.  It was developed and administered, on a voluntary basis, by parent and former board member Katherine Kellner, who deserves high commendations for her enormous contributions of time, energy, initiative, and creativity in developing these concepts and implementing various programs for students and families.

Goals for the iMAP pilot included improving student advising and adding techniques & tools to help teachers better understand individual students (and helping students understand themselves).  Although Ms. Kellner is stepping aside, we are taking from her pilot program a great deal of inspiration and ideation about how to proceed in fulfilling these goals.  We will ask our 9th grade homeroom teachers to use the information gathered last year about the learning styles and interest preferences of their students, and we will use the iMAP developed techniques in facilitating the ways teachers use that information as advisors.  I am asking that the school’s Academic Committee commit itself this school year to developing a plan to redefine and revamp the role all of our faculty members play as advisors to students.  And, finally, we will carry forward the work of actively surveying our students for their interests and learning preferences, conducting those inquiries annually from 7th grade through 11th grade, and carefully providing the learning acquired to the students’ advisors.   Again, my thanks to Ms. Kellner for her valuable and important work advancing our school in this important direction.

There are only a few more days left of summer vacation, and I want to pass along the wisdom of Nicholas Kristof in Sunday’s New York Times: Get your kids outside.  Have them lick a banana slug. “Let’s protect nature, yes, but let’s also maintain trails, restore the Forest Service and support programs that get young people rained on in the woods. Let’s acknowledge that getting kids awed by nature is as important as getting them reading.”   Your kids, and your families, will be the better for it.

I enthusiastically look forward to seeing you all—teachers, students, and parents, arriving at school over the next ten days, and you will see me too—in front, greeting and welcoming you to school!


Jonathan E. Martin

Head of School