April 20, 2016

Dear  Parents, 

Although we should be grateful that this winter was mild, (Hallelujah!) spring finally seems to have sprung in Greenwich. Only eight weeks remain of this academic year: an exciting prospect in itself. However, despite the successes of the year thus far, much remains to be done and our work continues. When the Board of Trustees hired me, they asked for an objective analysis and assessment of Stanwich School program and operations, as well as for recommended improvements and means to achieve them. In the course of the last ten months, this directive has informed my efforts, and we are now beginning to implement those recommendations for the coming year. Some of those adjustments are shared in this letter and others will be in an early May edition. 

Program recommendations
To strengthen and bolster our high school program, a community task force formed to evaluate the IB Diploma Program. Based on the due diligence of that faculty, parents and trustees group, initial feedback encouraged us in proposing a two-year candidacy process in order to educate our faculty and parents better on the IB Diploma capstone for Grade 11 and 12. Next week I will share an overview of our process to date and some responses to fundamental questions upon which the IB Task Force can elaborate in future informational sessions. In the wake of our first meeting on the topic before Spring break, a  second informational parent event to learn more about this initiative is planned for 6:30pm on Wednesday, May 25.  

Organizational and programmatic recommendations
After discussing the currently perceived strengths and relative weaknesses with our teachers and staff, I have proposed an adjustment for the alignment of grade groups and program within our "House" alignment. In up-coming Lower School parent meetings, we will discuss the advantages of shifting our sixth graders from Intermediate House to Junior House.  Among the developmental and programmatic advantages of aligning Grade 6 with the JH rather than with IH, as has been our tradition, included:
* Interscholastic sports offered in JH 
* Junior House Chorus, Band, or Orchestra
* Drama and public speaking
* Service Learning 
* Seminar or Second Language instruction for longer periods four times a week.
* Developmentally appropriate social programming and individual support

Rising Grade 6 parents have been invited to a coffee tomorrow morning, Thursday, April 21 in the IH Assembly Room to discuss this intended shift and transition in more detail with a follow up coffee to be scheduled later for those that cannot attend on the 21st.  Additionally, a separate coffee for parents of students in rising Grades 1 - 5 will be held on April 28 to discuss Lower School programmatic advantages. 

Educationally efficient space allocations
After two years of being one PreK-Grade 12 school on one campus, a trustee Facilities Sub-Committee evaluated our current classroom assignments to determine if we were maximizing the potential of our current buildings. Their discussions highlighted several suggestions including creating additional STEAM and other more flexible learning spaces. The desire for these educational spaces, along with the anticipated realignment of the sixth grade stimulated the group to think creatively in the overall best interests of all our students. Although we don't currently anticipate  changes for the Grade 7-12 classrooms on the second floor of the Main Building, they will have the benefit of easier access to age-appropriate library books, a dedicated technology space, a quiet study area, and an additional science lab. With Grade 6 moving to the lower level of the Main Building, the current IH building can become a Lower School building with a dedicated Lower School library space, a "Maker" STEAM space for robotics and other STEAM initiatives, and a dedicated Lower School science lab. This shift will also allow our new Lower School Head and the Lead Teachers in Grades 1-3 and in Grades 4-5 to work more closely with teachers, students and Student Support Team. As a result, both Intermediate House as well as Primary House students are now closer to the new nurse's office and it will be significantly quicker and easier for parents to pick up sick students from there. 

Glowing reports about our wonderful faculty paved the way to accepting my role at Stanwich. Since then my experience has clearly highlighted the fact that we have exceptional teachers.  To ensure that Stanwich continues to promote and retain our amazing educators who make a difference in your children's development and learning process, a more formal evaluation and professional development program implemented last fall will ensure we promote and support our most effective teachers. My next letter will announce several job description adjustments and provide information on several new hires. At this time however, we are excited to announce that Keith Radcliffe will transition this summer into a new administrative role as Associate Director of Admissions, working with Jessie Drennen and Lori Murphy. While Grade 1 will miss him, Keith will be a tremendous asset to our admissions team and looks forward to his professional development opportunity this summer in preparation of his new role. Additionally Gary Dunn's responsibilities will expand with his title of Upper School Assistant Head to include continued development of the athletic programs in the Upper School. 

Earlier this week we announced the appointment of Ms. Trudy Davis as Stanwich's new Lower School Head. Currently the Assistant Principal of the Lower School at the United Nations International School, Ms. Davis emerged as the unanimous choice of the Search Committee from a large field of candidates. In addition to her administrative and teaching experience, her curricular knowledge will prove beneficial to programmatic advancement. We should finalize Lead Teacher job descriptions and those roles soon, and I will explain the anticipated improvements in our ability to differentiate and thereby strengthen student learning in my next letter.

The Stanwich Turf Field
As you may have read recently, heightened controversy has emerged concerning alleged health risks of playing on artificial turf fields.  As the health and safety or our students is a top priority, we take this public issue and research very seriously.  We are in close communication with the other independent schools and the Greenwich Public Schools regarding the available information and their positions on the matter. Although all agree that many studies have proven inconclusive, we will watch closely for any new information should a clear correlation exist between playing on turf fields and increased health risk. Fortunately, the new grass practice fields will soon to be seeded and provide us with additional outdoor playing space for PE, Wildwood Cottage, and athletics in the coming year.

Greenwich School Start Time
The local public school systems transport Stanwich and the other independent school students. The Greenwich Public Schools are considering a later start time for the high school and are in communication with us concerning possible implications for our daily schedule. On the basis of the information we have received to date, any possible rearrangements for the high school should not affect our morning pick-up times - nor our official school start time.  

Stanwich's Added Value
Stay tuned for my additional communications over these next few weeks. As my dedication to Stanwich and your children is unwavering, I look forward to continuing the advancement of Stanwich School in the achievement our unique educational mission. As a small, intimate independent school we can respond uniquely well to educational research, teachable moments, and our students' needs. 

In these days of global anxiety and political backbiting, I am reassured daily of Stanwich's enduring value. As referenced in a recent Greenwich Time article, today's students are stressed not only by pressures to succeed in an increasing competitive world but also no doubt by the discord and strife evident daily on the media. Stanwich's traditional culture provides a secure microcosm that is rare anywhere these days. With our teachers' active personal commitment, Stanwich students assimilate high standards for academic achievement, ethical behavior, and personal interaction that will distinguish them throughout their lives. 

As always, please contact me if you have any questions that I might be able to help answer. 

Charles Sachs
Head of School