Mission and Vision: The Cornerstones of Tradition and Change

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By Lark P. Palma, PhD, Head of School

From the Winter 2010-11 Caller

When you think about your experiences in school, what do you remember best? It’s probably not what happened in class, but the long-held traditions: the plays, the picnics, commencement, the dances and banquets, the times when a school felt like a community. We have many wonderful traditions at Catlin Gabel, some of which you’ll read about in this issue of the Caller. And although we love our traditions, we also feel free to innovate and change.
 
The strong, resilient visions of Ruth Catlin and Priscilla Gabel underlie our philosophy. With our mission as our rock, we are able to embrace both change and tradition. Like the Constitution, our mission is an anchor—not a blueprint. It gives us the confidence to interpret that mission as we move from decade to decade.
 
Traditions connect the generations together, while change never ceases. Every year we welcome new students, new parents, new faculty, and new staff. Each year our world is challenged by conflicts, competition, and complexity. We cherish our beloved traditions in the context of the changing world, and the passion that helps us create traditions helps us change them. Our mission tells us who we are—but it doesn’t tell us what to do next.
 
Versed in our mission and the traditions, our creative, ambitious, and dedicated faculty and staff have the courage to welcome innovation. Innovation keeps the educational experience fresh and relevant for our students, as it was for students back in Ruth Catlin’s day.
 
We’re seeing change throughout the school, and it’s all steeped in our deepest tenets. Our urban studies and leadership program, PLACE (Planning and Leadership Across City Environments), has expanded our commitment to experiential education and service to others. Our school has had a tradition of reaching out to communities around Portland; now we serve the children of Hispanic migrant families in a homework club in Hillsboro. Global programs have begun to include significant service elements, from Costa Rica to Martinique, to Botswana and Senegal. We have had a long tradition of helping students connect with their learning styles and best approaches to learning. Starting this fall, professional development and learning services for children will be linked in our re-visioned teaching and learning center led by the dynamic Paul Andrichuk, who will be moving there from his post as Middle School head. We’ve always taught art with verve and respect for the powers of creativity; now students create that art in film and video, computer graphics, photography, and other new media.
 
The school has long sought mission-appropriate students who can bring their unique talents to this unique community. You will read in this issue about the new Knight Family Scholars Program, which will help us bring outstanding students to Catlin Gabel from a variety of communities. The program will expand our Upper School curriculum with innovative seminars and intensive off-campus experiences. The Knight Family gift is extremely generous, but it does not mean that it’s a time for us to rest. Resources for financial aid continue to be a longstanding, urgent need. Having sufficient funds for aid will allow our school to develop a diverse student body, in all senses of that word, and ensure that we are able to offer admission to our top student candidates, regardless of their financial situation. We are grateful to the Knight Family for setting a high bar for us—and there is so much more to be done.
 
The Knight Family Scholars program, our new Service Corps volunteer program, and our curricular innovations represent the best of what change can bring to a school. Our hearts are big enough to enjoy the traditions that define us, change with time, and build the best future we can for our students.