February 23, 2016

Dear Parents, 

Though not a pundit, I can't avoid hearing what they say. Often the most important information is between the lines.  Amidst the popular media melee one fact is clear: for our children to thrive in the 21st century, they must be:
  • Attentive to our ecological environment
  • Technologically adept and adaptable
  • Prepared to communicate and compete in a globally interdependent economy
  • Able intellectually and ethically to think critically
  • Self-confident 
In a recent New York Times column on the extremism (fomented by economic insecurity and aggravated by terrorism) emerging in the presidential race, I read:
"In fact, the real cleavage is not interracial, but intra-racial: The populism we're seeing stems entirely from the collision of whites who flourish in the global economy - and amid the cultural changes of the last 50 years - with those who don't."

As parents and educators what can we do about it? In the first place we must cherish and support the secure ethical, social grounding that the traditional Stanwich cultural microcosm allows our children. At the same time, we must avoid convenient rationalizations that the socio-economic and educational assumptions of the 20th century will continue to apply. Stanwich has the unique opportunity as a small school to reinforce a sense of order, reason, and goodness in the world while at the same time to advance our curriculum nimbly in response to the emerging educational realities.  

Our institutional consideration of implementing the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program in Grades 11 and 12 evidences such an awareness. Since the late fall a parent/teacher committee chaired by trustee Liz Oestreich and Associate Head Meaghan Mallin has been researching the program.  Moreover the IB Diploma capstone experience necessitates that teachers in the earlier grades consider an enriched learning environment that can successfully culminate with a Stanwich and IB diploma.  Stanwich's ability to coordinate a fourteen-year educational experience represents one of the most valuable opportunities for a small elementary and secondary school on one campus. 

The committee's work has involved visiting other schools both nationally and internationally. An experienced DP administrator spent a day at Stanwich meeting with parents, the Upper School faculty, and trustees to provide practical information and to answer questions.  Meanwhile we are affirming with college admission officers and counselors the effectiveness of the IB in preparing students for matriculation at selective colleges and universities around the world. The next step in this process will involve further education for our parent community. News about the first such open parent education opportunities in early March will be forthcoming. 

Much else is underway this year. Next week heavy equipment will begin leveling the gravel piles to the south of the main building to create additional play areas for recess and sports, and landscape that area between the building and Wildwood Cottage. We anticipate that work being completed by the time we return from Spring Break. Although unnoticeable for the time being, some of the gravel will remain accessible for bringing town water from the Hill Road junction to campus.  Many thanks are to be given to our capable facilities team of Reggie Parron and Phillip Grant for going above and beyond in resolving our water-related issues last week. Their strong work effort is a shining example of the Stanwich Heart in action.

It is our hope that our fund-raising consultants will conclude their study for the next phase of Stanwich's development before the end of the academic year.  They will be gauging the interest of financially able members of Stanwich's extended community to support initiatives to underwrite professional development, scholarships, renovations and new construction. The feedback from those conversations will inform our next step and the logical sequence for those thereafter in realizing our strategic plan. If your family is interested in making a significant contribution to advance Stanwich's future, and you wish to participate in this study, please contact me.

With the assistance of several independent school placement consultants, I have already developed an exciting pool of highly qualified candidates in our search for a new Lower School Head. The Search Steering Committee comprising several trustees, parents, faculty and administrators will soon finalize their process next week and as soon as possible thereafter begin their process of reviewing candidates and scheduling interviews. Based on the candidate pool, we remain optimistic that an appointment will be made next month. 

Such transitional periods allow opportunities for us to consider current realities thoughtfully and to adjust accordingly.  Informed by recent feedback on parent and teacher surveys, the Stanwich administrative structure next year for the Lower School will include Lead Teachers for each of the Houses. These Lead Teachers will continue to work closely with students in a variety of capacities as appropriate given individual skill sets and the needs in each age group. Moreover with administrative coordination, House Leads will support the teachers in each house in refining curriculum and pedagogy, as well as ensuring effective communication among the essential constituencies - students, parents, teachers, administration, support personnel - in each house. By disseminating administrative responsibility among our very capable teachers in a more focused way by grade grouping, the faculty and I believe that Stanwich will take fullest advantage of our ability as a small school to partner with parents and bolster student learning. How this approach plays out in the Upper School will depend upon the Board's decision next month to move forward as an IBDP candidate school, a commitment that will entail a heightened administrative involvement of teachers in those grades.

Parent survey results have been essential in our operational and strategic planning. I have been gratified by the high percentage of Stanwich parents who respond when surveyed. A recent survey on homework and academic support provided some important perspectives for teachers to consider, but also reflected a gratifying affirmation of Stanwich's value.
  • 97% of parents report to have noticed a positive difference in their child since attending Stanwich. 
  • 96% of parents report that their child feels safe at Stanwich and that their child's educational experience at Stanwich is by and large a happy one. 
  • 85% of parents feel that their child has a strong and appropriate Stanwich peer social network. 
  • 91% of parents feel that the Stanwich curriculum appropriately challenges their child. 
  • 84% of parents feel that during the course of an average week, the quantity of homework that their child receives is age appropriate. 
  • 94% of parents feel their child's homework assignments reinforce and extend their understanding of course content. 
Upon this positive feedback and high degree of parental engagement, Stanwich is poised to build in many ways. 

Suffice to say Stanwich's eighteenth year has been a busy, successful one, with lots more on our agenda for its second half. 

Sincerely, 
  
Charles Sachs
Head of School