Sharing here the Head of School letter from our St. Gregory Annual Report (2010-11), which recently, (belatedly), printed. This is addressed to the entire St. Gregory extended community, and especially its many fine supporters.
We are living in a golden age of writing about innovation: authors as diverse as Steven Johnson, Kevin Kelly, John Seely Brown, Chris Anderson, and Clayton Christensen all published fascinating works in the 2010-11 school year about the dynamic environments which support both innovation and excellence in fast-changing times.
The singular takeaway from all these works is the power of the network: the importance of sharing, collaboration, and connection. We are all made stronger, smarter, and more creative by our connections to each other.
St. Gregory’s excellent and exciting 2010-2011 school year was an extraordinary example of the value of strengthened networks. It was a year of growth, as we added more new students for the coming year that in any year in the past dozen; a year of commitment, with an extremely strong re-enrollment rate for our families; and a year of support, as philanthropic contributions improved in several key areas.
Let me share a few of the ways we strengthened our networks and connectivity. We implemented a 1:1 laptop program for our students, with a primary goal that they become more connected to the ocean of information. One of my favorite elements of the past school year was our increasing connection in all-school meetings to the wealth of storytelling and wisdom that are the “TED talks”: our students have listened to and learned from some of the most brilliant minds in the world this way.
Using the power of the network, students wrote their own AP Government textbooks, produced their own digital videos explaining genetics and bio-engineering to other students, and constructed a trebuchet catapult which launched a pumpkin more than 100 yards.
Our school’s enhanced connectivity and networking has played out in many other ways beyond our student learning. We have expanded our Board of Trustees to include more current parents and alumni. We are hosting more and more community events and organizations on our campus, such as the Perimeter 10K charity run and the volunteer group Flying Samaritans. We traveled to Mexico to develop new “sister school” type relationships with schools in Hermosillo and San Carlos, and I traveled to China to visit with an alumnus in Shanghai and to recruit students from Beijing and Shenzhen. We reinvigorated our athletic boosterism with new parental initiatives, and we revived our favorite fundraising tradition, the Sip for St. Gregory, enjoying the opportunity to reconnect with many friends and supporters at that lovely event.
The Annual Report you are receiving is the product of our Development department, a department which has its first principle to enhance the connectivity of our community and the strength of the St. Gregory network. Its readers are our community members and supporters, past, present, and future, and I hope you know that we know that our school’s future depends on the strength of our connection with you and the power of our network. When you read this report, or visit our campus, or volunteer for our school, or make a contribution, our network grows and improves.
Thank you, readers, for all you do to support our students’ learning and advance our school into our collective future. You are a critical part of the St. Gregory network.
ACADEMIC HIGHLIGHTS 2010/2011
2010-11 was the first full year implementation of our school’s program we call the EGG, the Essential Goals for Gregorians. This report card enhancement is designed to define the core and mission-aligned learning goals we have for our students in the areas of character, scholarship, leadership, and innovation. Each area has several sub-categories. A faculty and administration committee defined rubrics with sub-categories for each area as observed in the classroom. Students work with their advisors each year to define their EGG goals and collect feedback from their teachers about their progress toward these goals.
If we ask students to develop and demonstrate the skills and habits of mind described in the EGG, we need to ensure they have the appropriate regular and high-quality learning assignments and experiences by which they can do so. Project-based learning (PBL) is one of these ways: it demands of students growth in areas such as planning, researching, proto-typing, collaborating, and creating. To carry this forward, teachers traveled in teams to two exemplary PBL schools, New Tech High School in Dallas and High Tech High in San Diego. We also enjoyed a two-day visit to St. Gregory from Suzie Boss, the author of the acclaimed book, Reinventing Project-Based Learning with Technology (the book was also our faculty summer reading in 2010). For an example of a high quality PBL program implemented in 2010-11, see page 10.
Developing the skills for EGG and undertaking high-quality project based learning entails the regular use of technology in many ways: accessing information, communicating ideas, and
creating persuasive presentations and compelling digital videos. When we reviewed in 2009 the state of our computer labs on campus and found them wanting, we determined it time to upgrade and enhance our students regular access to the internet and all that they can do there by taking the initiative to implement a 1:1 laptop program. This was launched with a special grant from a reserved fund provided to the school by founder Bazy Tankersley, and included the purchase of many netbook computers, a major upgrade of our campus WiFi, and a great deal of professional development for our faculty. The program, which is nicknamed “Wings” as it propels our St. Gregory Hawks to the online information reservoir often called the “Cloud,” has been a great success in its first year.
In the 80s and 90s, advisory was an important and valuable program for students under the supervision of the late and much-missed Assistant Head of School Howard Zeskind. Some time after his passing, the school shifted back to a homeroom structure. Fall 2010 saw the return of advisory, in a format under which each faculty member is assigned a group of about a dozen students with whom they meet twice a week for twenty minutes. These meetings vary widely, but every group over the course of the year takes some time for character education, community service and service learning, individual reflection and goal-setting, and much more. To quote the student newspaper, the Gregorian Chant, “Student response to advisories has been overwhelmingly positive in nature.”
LEADERSHIP AND INNOVATION LEARNING
Regular classes are primarily dedicated to scholarship, and our new advisory program attends in part to character education, but we are also pleased to have strengthened our students opportunities to learn leadership and innovation. The experiential education program overseen by Dean of Students Fred Roberts has expanded its focus to include more leadership training and innovative mindset development. Our middle schoolers benefited from a day-long workshop in electronics and design, and our high school students had their first opportunity to immerse themselves in the practice of design, invention, and construction in the new Design-Build Innovation class taught by Dennis Connor.
Academic excellence is always first and foremost, and in 2010-11 we took an important step forward in our ability to evaluate our student progress, benchmark it against national standards, and collect data we can use to differentiate instruction and ensure our students are learning the core skills they need. All this is courtesy of a revolutionary new computer-based testing known as MAP—the Measures of Academic Progress, which assesses each student individually based on his or her proficiencies, and then provides teachers and administrators immediate reports complete with informative guides on how to serve those students. Last year was only our first beginnings with this program, but it is poised to bear greater and greater fruit going forward.