Dear St. Gregory Families:
Greetings this January, and a (belated) Happy New Year. It is now six months into my new headship of our wonderful school, and there is much I want to share with you about our progress.
First, I should say that I regret not having had more time and opportunity to get to know more of you. Fortunately, I am happily anticipating some forthcoming events being planned to allow me to better get to know you.
I should add that I have enjoyed enormously getting to know St. Gregory students this fall, especially when I have had chances to actively participate with them in their endeavors. My two great highlights of the school year thus far have been the day I spent on Mt. Lemmon with the 8th graders rock climbing, and the day I spent with the juniors on our high ropes challenge course. It is my ambition and intent to do much more of these activities in the months ahead.
Please allow me now to recap some of the initiatives and decisions this school year which best represent my new headship and the future direction of the school: a direction toward ever stronger academic programming; toward an ever-more outstanding faculty and administration; toward an ever-more rich program of extracurricular experiences, and toward ensuring ever-more greatly that our students are engaged in, enjoying and benefiting from an excellent preparation for success in our fast-changing world.
Faculty and Administrative appointments: Nothing is more important for high quality education than appointing high quality people, most especially to our faculty. Since mid-June, I have had a significant role in appointing four new teachers, and three new key administrators. Each of our four new teachers is more experienced than the teacher being replaced, and the first three each have a record of more than twenty-five years experience:
- Steve Owens in Math, who comes to us from a magnet GATE program and with a extraordinary record of teaching students to excel in statewide math competitions;
- Pat Dirksen in Physical Education, who comes to us with a highly regarded career coaching, winning basketball games, and teaching in the Amphi District;
- Ginny Encila in Art, who brings to us a record of receiving multiple state-wide and regional teaching excellence awards in both Virginia and Arizona;
- Andrew Lewis in English, who has more than five years experience teaching both in top-notch independent schools and as a college professor, and has similarly brought excellent marks from previous positions.
To quote the current Atlantic Monthly, “more than any other variable in education—more than schools or curriculum—teachers matter.” It is my hope you will judge my leadership on the basis of the strengths of the faculty members I have appointed to teach your children.
And it is not only about teachers: schools need outstanding administrators also, and I am very proud of the new people we have brought into our administration, including
- our outstanding new Admissions Director Christine Thornton, a former teacher, a former Director of Admission at an 800 student school in Maryland, a very successful corporate professional, and the holder of a Masters from Johns Hopkins in Educational Admin;
- Assistant Admissions Director Susan Warren, a former teacher and small business owner, a thirty year resident of Tucson and mother of a 12th grader herself, and herself also the holder of a Masters in Education from the U. of A.;
- and new Development Director Jerry Farnsworth, the Director of Capital Giving for the Tucson YMCA, a former Development Director for several institutions and schools, and a longtime fundraising consultant.
In education, like in so many enterprises, we know that what gets measured gets done, and we have been swiftly implementing new measurements for better data-driven decision-making. They are not just measurements; they are also new accountability standards. We want to be held accountable for the quality of the engagement of our students, and the quality of critical thinking and higher order thinking skills our students develop. To do this, we have adopted two national measurements of exactly these things, the High School Survey of Student Engagement (HSSSE) and the College and Work Readiness Assessment (CWRA). I have attached a table of results comparing our students’ engagement in learning as compared to the national average of schools participating in the survey.
Another new measurement we have added, this one internal rather than external, is something we are calling the Essential Goals for St. Gregory Students, or the “Egg.” This is an addition to our standard letter grade report cards (letter grades will continue on exactly as before), and ensures we are both measuring, and promoting the learning of, the habits of mind, the skills, and the values we believe are most important for our students’ future success in college and careers. Evaluating our students in this manner has recently been recommended to us by our national and regional associations, and we are proud to be a leading school in implementing it.
A third important category of my work thus far is filled by our new Summer Camp initiative, being put in place for Summer 2010. We are calling it Minds Alive: St. Gregory’s Leadership and Innovation Camp, and it is designed to be a program for students going into grades five through eight after summer is over (and will also offer junior counselor opportunities to our high school students). We are very fortunate to have so many of our own terrific school year teachers serving on the faculty of this new program, including Mr. Clashman, Dr. Morris, Mr. Conner, Ms. Bodden and Mr. Mossman.
Faculty Professional Development, the fourth area, must always be a high priority for the leadership of any school, and it is excellent work we are doing collaboratively this fall. With the introduction of weekly late-start Thursdays, which is in itself excellent for our student sleep needs, we have now quadrupled our time commitment to this critical endeavor. Our approach is primarily teambuilding and collaborative, a process of promoting shared reflection on practice, discussion of new ideas and best practices, and stimulating brainstorming about new approaches and complex issues in teaching and learning. We have been extremely inspired and informed by the very important new book by Harvard Education Professor Tony Wagner, The Global Achievement Gap, and we are excited to share that Dr. Wagner himself will come to Tucson in March and work with our faculty and speak to our parents.
A fifth area of attention is the plan we are putting in place for a new system of student advising by our faculty, and an advisory “curriculum” for next school year. Already the school’s Academic Committee has carefully reviewed some articles about advisory programs, and for our next step we will be welcoming David Streight, the Executive Director of the national Council for Spiritual and Ethical Education (CSEE) to facilitate a day-long processing of advisory questions and issues for us in order to best launch this program for next year. He will also speak to parents on this day, both about advisory programs in general and more specifically about how they can be effective vehicles for ethical and character education. This is a very high priority for me for the school’s future.
Sixth, I am very pleased that we launched this fall two new extra-curricular programs: First robotics in both the middle and upper schools, and Science Olympiad in the upper school. These are opportunities for students in an engaging and competitive fashion to strengthen scientific knowledge and innovative skills. Research has found that students participating in robotics clubs are twice as likely to major in science or engineering as comparable students in a control group.
Finally, we have adopted a new slogan or motto for St. Gregory—Creating Leaders and Innovators for the 21st century—and are developing new programs to support it. This change was made by the unanimous decision of our Board of Trustees in September. We have not changed our mission, which is still to challenge students to excellence in character, scholarship, and leadership, but we think the new slogan captures the energetic forward movement of our program and better conveys what we are accomplishing, and what we aim to achieve ever more effectively, for our students. You will begin to see this new slogan more and more prominently.
A majority of employers surveyed in 2006 reported that their new employees are deficient in leadership skills, and another report found that “controlling for cognitive skills, those who occupied leadership positions in high school earn more as adults, varying from 4 to 18% depending on definitions.” As for innovation, a major national commission found that “academic knowledge and skills, applied literacies, and critical thinking [though essential!] will not be sufficient for the US to maintain its competitive edge in the global economy. ‘The crucial new factor, the one that alone can justify higher wagers in this country than in other countries with similar levels of cognitive skills, is creativity and innovation.’”
I should acknowledge that some of you have said it is unfortunate that the word “character” is no longer in the motto of the school. But I want to share with you briefly my belief that while perhaps we are talking about character less loudly, we are educating for it more emphatically. Ethical and character education will be an important component of the new advisory program we are developing (as above, our trainer and consultant in the development of this is the director of the Council for Spiritual and Ethical Education). Also, with the new “Egg,” we are, more than ever before, evaluating and reporting on our students’ growth and demonstration of ethical decision-making and integrity.
In establishing this new motto, it is our intent to be very serious about implementing structural elements that will make real our promise to create leaders and innovators. In just a few weeks we will launch two new “institutes” within our school, one for leadership and the other for innovation. Each will have a Director, an advisory board, and each will oversee ongoing work to research, identify, and implement teaching techniques and learning opportunities for every student in every grade level to grown in and better strengthen their skills and habits of mind for both leadership and innovation.
While the primary purpose of each institute will be to better the learning experience for all of our students in each domain, the institutes will also establish and implement special programs in which students can choose to “concentrate” in leadership or innovation. By the accumulation of carefully designated “credits” for high caliber school-work and accomplishments both in and outside of school, and by public demonstrations and exhibits of extraordinary mastery of these domains, a subset of students can and will earn special and unique “diplomas” in leadership or innovation.
Innovation diplomas, as an example, would be awarded to students who have accumulated a set of credits earned by accomplishments that might include such things as write and stage original plays, lead a robotics team to a fine tournament performance, execute an exceptional extra credit project in computer programming, oversee the production of a literary and arts magazine, collaborate with students and school staff to re-engineer some significant facet of the campus, mentor younger students in an innovative activity, or work with a Science teacher to redesign a laboratory experiment. Not a single one of these things would qualify, but the accumulation of such credits would entitle a student to this distinction.
It is true that I am passionate about educating students ever more effectively for the challenges of this fast-changing world and economy, but I want to tell you too that my two highest priorities as Head of School are strengthening the future of our school and ensuring our students have excellent and extraordinary college preparation.
In closing, I want to thank you for your warm welcome this fall, and reiterate my eagerness to seek and find greater opportunities to get to know each of you better in the spring. And remember, my door is very much open to you, and I welcome the opportunity to talk with you further; I delight in the discussion of how best we can promote the future of our students and our school.