By Lark P. Palma, head of school
From the Summer 2011 Caller
By Lark P. Palma, PhD, Head of School
From the Winter 2010-11 Caller
by Karen Katz '74, communications director
Catlin Gabel plans to build a new Middle and Upper School arts facility, something the school has needed for a long time. So far architect Brad Cloepfil and his Allied Works team have developed preliminary designs, and we are in the leadership stage of fundraising. Here Lark answers some important questions about the project.
Why we are building an arts center
What are the educational benefits of studying art, especially if you aren’t an artsy person?
Beginning School parent, noted artist, and Rhode Island School of Design alumnus Michael Lazarus explained it beautifully when he said, “We are developing one of the most important tools: a creative, problem-solving mind. The process of art making is great practice for life!”
We know that art education strengthens overall academic achievement and school success. Studies show that young people who participate in the arts are:
- Four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement
- Four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair
- Four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem
And, compared with their peers who do not take art classes they:
- Read for pleasure nearly twice as often
- Perform community service more than four times as often
In a still challenging economy, can we afford to invest resources in the arts?
One hallmark of a Catlin Gabel education is innovation. Another is our dedication to a comprehensive liberal arts and sciences curriculum. The arts are central to innovation and a well-rounded education. We cannot afford to ignore the arts. Can you imagine Stanford or MIT neglecting the arts? That would be unthinkable! In fact, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Pomona are raising money for arts facilities. We’re in fine company. Don’t think of this as investing in a building; we’re investing in our students.
What are the arts requirements at Catlin Gabel?
The arts are integral to our program schoolwide. Creative study is central to our mission. We require all students to be involved in the arts throughout their time at the school. Beginning and Lower School students take art, music, and woodshop. Middle School students rotate through a full complement of arts classes in drama, music, woodshop, fine art, and media arts. Upper School students are required to take at least two years of art — many take three or four years — and choose from a wide array of classes.
What does the future of the arts look like at Catlin Gabel?
Lower School head Vicki Roscoe is leading a two-year curriculum review of the arts. Arts teachers are working with Vicki to investigate best practice in arts education, examine the role of technology in the arts, and explore the role arts play in cross-disciplinary studies. We are excited that the curriculum review coincides with the arts center project, because it allows our teachers to think big.
Project nuts and bolts
I thought the arts center was going to be built two years ago. Why was the project delayed?
The economy! While a handful of generous families stepped forward, the downturn in the economy delayed the larger fundraising effort.
Where are we in the process?
We have selected an architect, approved a preliminary schematic design, formed a volunteer campaign committee, and secured some important lead gifts. Fundraising is one of my top priorities this year.
When will shovels go in the ground?
The board of trustees determined that we would only break ground when 80 percent of the funds are raised. The facility will cost $6.9 million total. We need about $4.1 million more to proceed. We hope to break ground next year; construction will take about 15 months.
Tell us more about the architect.
Brad Cloepfil and his team at Allied Works Architecture are known nationwide and are becoming internationally known for designing facilities that fuel creativity. An early local project example is the Wieden + Kennedy Agency headquarters in Portland. Current parent Renny Gleeson, global director of digital strategies at Wieden + Kennedy, describes their building as a spa for the soul. Allied Works also designed the Seattle Art Museum expansion, the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, and the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Texas.
Brad Cloepfil studied with Thomas Hacker, who created Catlin Gabel’s master plan in 1996, designed most of the Upper School buildings and grounds, and remodeled the Beginning School. It is fitting that Tom and Brad’s teacher-student relationship will be reflected on our campus.
How would you describe the early schematic design?
Brad Cloepfil and Allied Works has sketched out an elegant yet simple, open facility that will attract spectators, art dabblers, and serious artists alike. We’ve joked about naming the building the Magnet! The design includes an outdoor courtyard that mirrors the Upper School quad and an indoor gallery, both of which will serve as community gathering spots.
What will the new arts center house?
Middle and Upper School classrooms, including fine arts and media arts studios, vocal and instrumental classrooms, a computer music lab and music rehearsal rooms, a gallery, and an intimate black box theater with a spring floor for classes, rehearsals, and performances. The facility will be a great venue for interdisciplinary studies, collaborative project work, and independent study.
How will the building accommodate changes in the arts curriculum?
Allied Works is especially thoughtful about how arts education has changed and will change in ways we cannot even predict. Their design emphasizes flexibility so that different disciplines can be accommodated. The plans call for raw studio space that is like an artists’ retreat. The students and teachers who use the spaces will influence how they are used. A studio might house a filmmaking class one year and a painting class the next. The black box will be a haven for drama, dance, and music. For the first time students will be able to collaborate across disciplines on a single project, in the same space.
The Cabell Center is in great shape. Why do we need a black box theater?
The Cabell Center is in high demand for performances, classes, lectures, formal presentations, meetings, assemblies, rehearsals, and community events. It doesn’t accommodate our needs the way it did when it was built in 1973. For example, the Cabell Center is not available for the 19 performances produced by Middle School students each year. They make do in Chipmunk Hollow, a cramped and inadequate “temporary” building that was put up 42 years ago. The Middle School drama program will move to classrooms in the new arts center. Upper School students will also take classes in the new classrooms. Students in grades 6 – 12 will perform in the black box. The intimate size and flexibility of a black box is something we’ve needed for a long time, and will open up possibilities in our theater curriculum.
What is the location for the new arts center?
The building site is west of the Dant House and adjacent to the Middle and Upper School areas of campus. The building will link the Middle and Upper Schools, benefiting older and younger students academically, artistically, and socially. For the first time, Catlin Gabel will have a building that allows the arts faculty to work together in a central location. (Scroll down to see PDF of current arts facilities across campus.)
Will the new building free up space for other programs?
Most immediately, our computer science classes will no longer share space with media arts classes in the lower level of the library. It’s premature to make plans for the other 4,200 square feet of classroom space that will be vacated. We need to carefully consider what the greatest needs are before determining what programs move into current spaces such as Chipmunk Hollow, the Middle School art classroom, and the choir room.
Are we going to increase the size of the school when the arts center is built?
No, we are not planning to increase enrollment.
Funding the arts center
Is the new arts center a real need or a luxury?
Upper School students cannot paint on large canvases or do large three-dimensional works, because the art studio is too small. Film editors and composers collaborating on a project, for one example, must work separately in classrooms that are across campus from each other. Bringing the arts together in one facility will provide proximity, stimulating collaboration and increasing creativity.
During the past 17 years, the school has grown, but the square footage per student that is dedicated to the arts has decreased. The lack of adequate space for teaching the arts has been singled out in our last two accreditation reports as an important area for improvement. This project is not a luxury; it’s a necessity. We owe it to our students.
Have we secured any lead gifts?
Being in the leadership phase of fundraising means we are seeking families who are willing to be the first, and in some cases the largest, donors to the project. I am happy to say that several donors have stepped up with lead gifts. Campaign volunteers, trustees, the development team, and I are working hard to secure the 80 percent of funding we need to break ground.
Will everyone be asked to give?
In due course, we will ask all parents, alumni, faculty-staff, and friends to participate in supporting the arts campaign. I love how campaign co-chair Craig Hartzman talks about the responsibility shared by all community members to invest in our school’s future, just as others have done before us. People who cared about the future funded every building on this campus. That is what community responsibility is all about.
Does this mean the Annual Fund and the Gambol auction will ease up?
Absolutely not. Our first priority is to fund the operating budget, which includes $1.5 million in essential annual gifts. Historically, capital campaigns strengthen overall giving to programs like the Annual Fund and the auction.
Find out more
How can people see for themselves what our arts program is about?
The arts faculty welcomes drop-in visitors. They are very proud of the program and are eager for parents and friends to see why our students deserve better facilities. We want parents, especially of younger students, to see the amazing array of talent and artistic pursuit in our upper grades. Please e-mail or call arts department chair Laurie Carlyon-Ward to arrange for a tour, firstname.lastname@example.org or 503-297-1894 ext. 402.
Can you share the architect’s schematics?
We are not posting the current schematic design on the website because it is a preliminary plan, and building plans tend to evolve. We don’t want people to become wedded to something that could change significantly. But we are presenting the designs at a Lower School coffee on Monday, March 7, at 8:30 a.m.; at a Beginning School coffee on Friday, March 18, at 9:15 after Friday Sing; and at a yet-to-be-scheduled PFA meeting in the spring. Join us!
By Lark P. Palma, PhD, Head of School
From the Autumn 2010 Caller
By Lark P. Palma, PhD, Head of School
From the Spring 2010 Caller
What is a community? It’s undoubtedly different for every person, and each of us may have many different intersecting or distinct communities in our lives. A school community, like the one we have here at Catlin Gabel, distinguishes itself because in the process of education we explicitly teach children how to become good members of their society and their world, and we model behavior constantly for them. We show our students that we are always there for them, and that they are surrounded by caring adults who are ready to catch them if they fall, both literally and metaphorically. Students who have been at Catlin Gabel for any length of time feel that this school community, in which they have been immersed for hours every weekday, and maybe even evenings and weekends, is an enormous part of their lives.
Shortly before spring break, I traveled to the National Association of Independent Schools conference in San Francisco, then to Lakeside School in Seattle as a member of their PNAIS accreditation team. Both trips gave me the opportunity to look at Catlin Gabel from the outside and to gain external validation that what we do at our school is right and good.
I came away from conversations with school heads from other progressive schools, teachers at Lakeside, and CG alumni at a gathering in San Francisco with a renewed commitment to Catlin Gabel’s basic values of progressive, constructivist education.
In the elusive search for the perfect marketing hook, we sometimes shy away from these tenets because the words progressive and constructivist are unfamiliar to most prospective parents and students. In a culture of shrinking attention spans and a proliferation of information, we find it difficult to quickly explain what we all come to understand after we bear personal witness to Catlin Gabel’s essential qualities. The important educational ideals we must communicate, celebrate, and expand upon are:
• Education without emphasis on grades and tests
• Engagement as the number one factor in student success
• Excellent teaching and great student-teacher relationships
• Embracing students with diverse interests, learning styles, intellectual capacities, and social demeanors
• Flexibility to allow student interests to shape the curriculum and co-curriculum
• Giving students voice and trusting their wisdom—limited rules and regulations, judicial councils composed of students and teachers, and no hall passes.
• Commitment to our size: small enough for genuine community building and large enough to accommodate student interests and co-curriculars such as newspapers, robotics, athletics, and an array of social and activity groups
Many schools, including notable East Coast prep schools, are backing off from their traditional messages about prestigious college acceptance rates. Instead, they are focusing on messages about graduating students who know how to plan, self-evaluate, solve complex problems, and nourish their curiosity — the skills needed to succeed in college and career. I learned during my travels that thriving schools across the country are true to their missions. Schools trying to reconstruct themselves for market gain suffer from lack of identity and principle.
It has been good for me to get away from our little corner, join the national conversation, and renew my commitment to our basic values. I am heartened by Catlin Gabel’s commitment to progressive education–even if it is hard to describe in a 30-second “elevator speech.” We are in the enviable position of being a school that others look to for how to do it right. I couldn’t be more delighted.
This article first appeared in the April 2010 All-School News
By Lark P. Palma, PhD, Head of School
From the Winter 2010 Caller
Animals were my first great passion—and my parents allowed me to have them if I cared for them well and showed responsibility. I was filled with the same passion when I first played school in my room, lining up all of my stuffed animals and dolls, assigning arbitrary grades from A to F and relegating some to smart status, some not so smart. At school I watched with rapt attention how my teachers would teach us. At home I would either try to do it the same way or try to modify the techniques that didn’t work for my little class.
It was not until I became a teacher myself that I understood that, as someone with a passion for teaching, I could go beyond what’s expected and work with students to realize their own personal goals and passions. I finally saw that the very best model for teaching and learning centers on the relationship between the student and the teacher. What happens collectively as a class is important, but the one-on-one time a student and teacher have together is the most critical element.
It was a breakthrough for me when I realized that and learned—thanks to Roland Barthes, John Dewey, and others—that children are not receptacles for knowledge from adults, but teeming petri dishes of their own ideas and imaginations. How little my teachers in the fifties and sixties understood that—although teachers in Ruth Catlin and Priscilla Gabel’s schools certainly did get it.
Catlin Gabel is a school where teachers are drawn to teach, and we select them to do so, because they understand how children’s minds work, and they want to be surrounded by colleagues who feel the same.
This Caller is filled with stories of alumni and students who have pursued interests, passions, and yes, even obsessions. Graduates who fall into this category are legion, and the students and alumni represented here are just a small sample. Why would a school of this size produce so many people who lead with their passions and know themselves well enough to do that?
For one, Catlin Gabel provides an unfettered, free-ranging approach to solving problems, approaching assignments, and celebrating process over product. I learned to be a good rider because I studied my horse, paying heed to her temperament and the look in her eye, and treating her in a way that reflects that knowledge. In the same way, the students profiled here, whether involved in a sport, an academic pursuit, or an art, learn the value of deep concentration and focused attention. For example, visual artists, like the ones you’ll read about, see relationships among all disciplines, in color and in shapes, and takes those elements to create an original. But mostly, we at Catlin Gabel encourage students fully and unabashedly to follow their passions. And of course, there is the child herself, who has the gift inside. Parents, teachers, and the overarching ethos of the school only undergird those passions.
Alumnus, alumna, or current student, their uniqueness binds us all together and makes for a very, very interesting place to teach. Enjoy these stories.
Edited from a longer piece published in the December 2008 All-School News newsletter.
Students and parents frequently ask me about the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs and how they compare with each other and with Catlin Gabel. Prospective students and their parents ask Traci Jernigan Rossi ’83 and Marsha Trump in the admission office about these programs, too. To help explain to our readers, Karen Katz ’74, communications director, interviewed me about the programs.
What is the history of the AP and IB programs?
In the 1950s educators identified a widening gap between student achievement in high school and college expectations. The AP program was developed to offer college-level curricula and assessment to students in high school. The International Baccalaureate Programme was created in the 1960s at the International School of Geneva to develop consistent curricula at schools in different countries for students whose families moved around the world.
Can you describe the AP and IB programs?
The programs are quite different from each other. One commonality, however, is that both programs establish a point of comparison for students in different schools. AP and IB are offered in a mix of small and large private, public, and international schools.
Advanced Placement is a registered program sponsored by the College Board, which also administers SATs. The AP classes are promoted as college level courses, and some colleges give college credit to students who do well on AP exams. You don’t have to take AP classes to take the AP exams. In fact, we do not offer AP classes, but many Catlin Gabel students take the AP exams and routinely score 4s and 5s (the range is 1 to 5). Paradoxically, we were recently identified by the College Board as having one of the best student success rates in AP math, science, and technology in Oregon and were nominated for the Siemens AP High School Award. However, it turns out we cannot receive the award because Catlin Gabel does not offer AP classes.
The International Baccalaureate Programme offers programs at three age levels: a primary program for students ages 3 to 12, a middle years program for students ages 11 to 16, and a two-year “Diploma Programme” for students aged 16 to 19. In the Portland area only the Beaverton International School offers the middle program. No local schools offer the primary program, although a couple of schools are applying for certification. I will focus on the Diploma Programme, which is offered to juniors and seniors in the United States.
Let’s get back to AP and college credits. How does that work?
Individual colleges decide whether or not they recognize AP credits; some do and some do not. There are ways to advance in college without taking AP tests. Colleges offer their own placement exams, particularly for languages and math. The downside of AP is that you can test out of freshman and sophomore classes that are beneficial building blocks for future academic work. I am a good example of this because I tested into junior English when I entered college. But I feel like I missed the boat by not taking freshman and sophomore classes. I had to learn the hard way about critical writing and constructing a solid research paper. When I entered graduate school I had some catching up to do.
Are Catlin Gabel students at a disadvantage because we don’t offer AP classes?
No. We offer college level courses that allow students to enter higher-level classes in college if they choose. If you are wondering if our students are at a disadvantage in terms of college admission, they are not. College admission offices look at high school profiles to ascertain graduation requirements, grade distributions, college acceptance records, and most relevantly for this conversation, what classes and extras are available to students. If the high school offers an AP program then naturally the colleges seek applicants who have stepped up to the challenge. But if you don’t offer AP classes—and many of the finest schools in the nation do not—then the students are not in jeopardy.
How does the core curriculum for AP differ from Catlin Gabel’s curriculum?
That’s an important question because that’s how Catlin Gabel really distinguishes itself from AP. Students in AP classes are evaluated based on their test scores, pure and simple, so the curriculum is geared toward the test. AP classes emphasize absorbing knowledge and memorizing facts that will appear on the tests. At Catlin Gabel we emphasize depth of understanding, constructing knowledge, and making discoveries. The facts are put into context. In truth, and I am not embarrassed to say this, our students do not do as well on the AP history exams as they do on the math, science, and technology exams because the history test questions are so fact oriented. Our students are accustomed to writing, questioning, discussing, reasoning, and putting history into context — not just memorizing what the teacher or textbook tells them happened on such and such a date.
How does the core curriculum for IB differ from Catlin Gabel’s curriculum?
IB is more akin to what we do at Catlin Gabel. The program is progressive in its approach to learning with an emphasis on critical thinking and providing a liberal arts foundation.
Sounds like you are pretty impressed with IB. Convince me that Catlin Gabel is a better choice.
First of all, I congratulate schools that raise expectations for student achievement. That is vital to turning around education in this country. During rough economic times, I applaud public schools that have figured out how to challenge their brightest students through either the AP or IB programs.
To answer your question, the IB program is impressive, but there are several shortcomings compared to our program. The IB diploma requirements are standardized, and students are, for the most part, locked into a prescribed set of courses. At Catlin Gabel we offer a more individualized approach. For example, a student who is passionate about a subject area can take classes beyond the requirements. Remember, the Diploma Programme is only a two-year program for juniors and seniors. Many students in the IB track are not accepted into the Diploma Programme or fail to meet the criteria for earning the IB diploma, which can be a mark against them in applying to colleges.
One of the capstones of the IB diploma is an extended essay the students write at the end of their senior year. Our students write extended essays in ninth grade and even earlier if they attend our lower grades. IB classes cannot go into as much depth as we can because they have to follow a rigid curriculum. They have set scoring on their tests and projects so their teaching is more standardized. To earn the IB degree, students submit exams and papers to graders in a country other than their own. That means feedback on work is delayed, which is a real detriment to learning. Our students receive feedback quickly through post-test reviews, one-on-one conferences with teachers, and peer edits. Swift reinforcement and critiquing is so important. The IB program and how it is implemented varies tremendously from school to school based on the caliber of the students and the teachers. The local school board, parents, and students have no input into the IB curriculum. To put it in business terms, Catlin Gabel is much more accountable to our clientele
Who is admitted into AP and IB programs in public schools?
The AP and IB programs develop their own selection criteria that differ from school to school. It’s not uncommon for the programs to skim for the highest achieving students, which is fine for those kids, but what about everyone else? At Catlin Gabel we provide equal opportunity for every student to rise to his or her highest ability. One thing I love about Catlin Gabel is that students who excel or struggle in different areas are not segregated from each other. Students who are motivated to take advanced chemistry and biology as seniors hang out with students who finish the three-year science requirement and turn their focus to English and creative writing. We stay connected as a community and students value each other for whatever talents and interests they have.
How is teaching different at Catlin Gabel compared with AP and IB?
Our teachers can shape the curriculum to meet the interests of the students. They can shift the content of a lesson to make it meaningful and relevant to students by letting the students lead the conversation, try the experiment a different way, or present findings unconventionally. Of course, we have an end goal of what we want the students to learn, but getting there can take twists and turns that engage and excite. We allow our teachers the autonomy to teach what they are passionate about. That is the key to inspiring students. We depend on highly skilled, excellent teachers because they create the curriculum and are expected to teach to each student’s learning style and ability. Our teachers’ educations, our mission, small class sizes, student-teacher relationships, and the intellectual risk-taking we encourage generate the learning bonanza that makes Catlin Gabel exceptional.
By Lark P. Palma, PhD, head of school
From the Fall 2009 Caller
A day in school, Charleston, South Carolina, 1964
A picture of George Washington hung on the wall of my class in the antebellum home housing the high school I attended. As I took notes in my thick spiral-ringed notebook, I noted that Mrs. Morgan looked very much like the picture of George Washington hanging to her right: same skin tone, same hairstyle.
The bell rang, and I ran down the hall to French class, distinguished by the one male teacher in the whole school, Monsieur Fraises. Our special pencil for French class had a blue end and a red end. We were to put a blue check next to our correct workbook answers (that day’s lesson was all about the subjunctive) and a red X next to wrong answers. I do not boast, but I got most of them right every time, even though the class just didn’t hold my interest. I turned to examine the huge poster on the wall of Mont St. Michel and dreamed, as I often dreamed in class, of going there someday and eating coquilles St. Jacques, which I’d read about in books. (I finally did both!) In English class my teacher returned our papers on Keats, and they ran red with her comments. I had written that paper all at once, while I was talking to friends on my pink princess phone with the distinctive ring. I always got a minus mark on my papers, and I would ask myself, why try harder? What good would that do?
Lest I be too hard on my alma mater, I know I got a good education. Some of what I learned there came to play a role in my education later—especially when I studied English and more English and more English in college and graduate school. The annotations in my Hamlet and my Palgrave’s Odes and Lyrics began to make sense. I learned to love it all, and the study and teaching of English became my passion and profession.
But as I read through this issue of the Caller, I have to ask myself: Was I the unit of consideration in my South Carolina school, as is our philosophy at Catlin Gabel? I have to answer no—because I cannot think of one single time I was uniquely led or taught by one of my teachers. I learned the material because I was attentive and loved the books, the grammar, the orderliness, the femaleness, and the beauty of the school, and the sense that learning something was an extraordinary thing. Certain themes thread through this issue, which focuses on how we live up to our philosophy in the ways we teach and regard the children who move through our classrooms. Teachers break down the content for students, using their knowledge of how the brain works and how to approach subjects so the material makes sense for each student. We see here 3rd graders being taught as individuals in ways that work for them. Our libraries are troves of information and centers for contemplation and expansive thought, and librarians are the key to unlocking that information. Colleges are selected by students, with the help of college counselors, because they are the next home, not the place “to be.” Our learning specialists explore with students the ways they learn best. And although we haven’t mentioned them much here, our counselors—George Thompson ’66, Kristin Ogard, and Jonathan Weedman—provide additional support to our students, and teach them to care for one another in programs such as Peer Helpers.
When I look back at my young self as a student, I am proud of my own education. In contrast, however, I have come to see the depth and breadth of what Catlin Gabel students, from preschool through 12th grade, both give and receive as they spend their days learning—and I am even prouder of that.
Take advantage of the autumn weather to enjoy a campus walkabout. You’ll always learn new things about our school and see with fresh eyes the wonderful opportunities we provide our students—and the joy and intensity with which they learn and play.
by Karen Katz ’74 communications director, Rummage announcer, and former sporting goods department chair
This year, we celebrate the Rummage Sale’s 65th anniversary. As we mark this milestone, we will also commemorate the sale’s retirement. Yes, that’s right, Rummage is retiring at age 65 after the 2009 sale. I talked at length with Lark Palma, head of school, and Lesley Sepetoski, Rummage Sale coordinator since 2000, to find out why this amazing sale is being retired after this year.
Why are we retiring Rummage?
Rummage is such a great community event. How will we replicate that?
What were the factors that went into making the decision?
Who made the decision to make this the last Rummage Sale and what was the process?
Will there be less financial aid available without Rummage?
What’s going to happen to Lesley?
Is this the first time the school has considered retiring Rummage?
Then why didn’t we retire Rummage sooner?
Let’s get back to the volunteer question. Why don’t we have the volunteers in place to continue the sale?
As an alumna and the mother of one alumnus and one current student, I really value the lessons students learn through the Rummage Sale. What about that?
What about the way Rummage ties into our sustainability efforts?
What will happen to the sorting center?
Is there anything else you want to add?
Lesley: We need everyone to pitch in this year as we celebrate the many lives Rummage has affected so positively, in so many ways, over its 65 years. Join with us (if you can) to help Rummage retire with a hoot and a holler and a whole lot of fun.
By Lark P. Palma, PhD, head of school
From the Spring 2009 Caller
This edition of the Caller is dedicated to teaching and learning. Our mission and our values all emanate from the relationship between students and teachers. Here we celebrate and uphold that unique relationship.
A beloved retired teacher once said to me that it’s all about the students and their teacher—and whether that occurs on a log bench or a classroom isn’t important. It’s the daily back-and-forth, the challenges, the victories, and the trust that matter.
Now, of course we know that buildings, technology, and equipment can enrich and enhance the school experience. But they are all there to serve the learning process.
We have all been concerned lately with our shared economic problems. Here at Catlin Gabel we are also facing those realities, and we do so with the unwavering intention of keeping the essential elements of our school lively and vibrant. If you would like to read more about our approach to these economic realities, please take a look at the letters I have sent to the community, available on the school website (www.catlin.edu) under “Head of School.”
There’s a great scene in the David Lean film Dr. Zhivago in which Yuri and his half-brother Yevgrav talk about how the purpose of the revolution is to cure society’s inequities. The revolution has to be a deep operation, Yuri says, but no matter what, the people must keep living. In planning for the future, we must be vigilant to make sure that teaching and learning are always at the center, and always fully alive, at Catlin Gabel.
By being meticulous in our budget planning, we have made sure to never compromise what happens in the classroom. The board and staff started two years ago considering the importance of accessibility to all the families we want to serve. A major part of our thinking during this economic situation has been keeping the school affordable to families, so this year we increased tuition by the lowest percentage in 10 years. In order to become more accessible we are continuing to reduce expenses, which is particularly challenging in a budget model where revenues don’t change all that much.
I can report to you that we are in good shape financially for the 2009–10 school year and are planning for future years, as we always do, through a five-year financial plan that supports the educational goals of the school. We always keep in mind that donations make possible much of what happens at the school, and we are grateful to generous donors who have supported the school during good times, and during these leaner times.
In making all budget decisions, we ask ourselves: what is essential to teaching and learning?
We decided to continue to improve teacher salaries to meet a benchmark established five years ago: to be within 90 percent of the highest-paying local school districts. This is a strong indicator of how important our teachers are. And to demonstrate our commitment to our curriculum, we have added several school days to our teaching year. When we keep the focus on the students and their relationships with the faculty, what is essential comes into sharper focus.
How have we reduced expenses that we feel are sustainable into the future, not those done just in response to the current situation? Here are some examples, and there are many more.
- Printing and mailing costs have been cut through increasing reliance on our website as our primary mode of communication.
- Fundraising and community events costs have been cut by making them simpler and by requesting donated food and venues.
- Heating, cooling, and waste expenses have been reduced. We have saved over $10,000 so far this year in energy costs alone.
- We are relying more on in-house expertise instead of vendors and consultants.
Students at Catlin Gabel refer to all of us who teach and work here by our first names, an indication of what makes up relationships here—tremendous mutual respect, coupled with an easy familiarity that reduces the power barriers you find in most schools. At Catlin Gabel teachers and students are equal partners in the act of learning.
The pages of this issue are filled with personal stories of teachers and students, and their mutual admiration, respect, and faith in each other. Reading the reminiscences of our alumni, I am struck by the lasting impressions and influence teachers have on their students—and vice versa. Many of our teachers stay in frequent communication with our alumni all over the country and the world, some for 20 years or more. They have become friends.
We can’t predict the future, but there’s always a possibility that the economic situation may worsen—and we acknowledge that as we think about our financial planning. Although choices may continue to be hard, our guiding principle will always be to preserve the most important aspect of the school—the relationship between teachers and students.
How would you rate the year overall?
This was a great year. Catlin Gabel students and their families have been well served by dynamic, engaged teachers. Students at every level inspire us to give them our all. Our programs are strong and growing stronger. Even in this economy we are thriving.
What achievements stand out?
Where do I begin? I am so proud of our students and teachers. If you read the monthly “Congrats!” column you will remember that our athletes, scientists, mathematicians, engineers, poets, writers, chess players, linguists, and musicians took home numerous trophies and prizes including division and statewide championships, international best of fair honors, scholarships, and the honor of having their work published. In addition to awards and titles, our students and teachers have been dedicated community service volunteers, from gleaning for the Food Bank to running a homework club for low-income children. Catlin Gabel shines thanks to the decent and impressive way our kids conduct themselves in the greater Portland community. Those favorable impressions are so important to our reputation.
How does the college landscape look for seniors?
Our seniors are heading off to an array of colleges including big universities and small liberal arts colleges, both near and far. On average our seniors applied to about eight colleges each and had multiple offers of admission. They weighed their options carefully before deciding where to enroll (a few are still waiting to hear about wait list situations). We’re proud of the class of 2009 – and proud that even in this most competitive year for college admissions, our students were often admitted to very selective colleges at rates higher than the national admit rates those colleges post.
What are some academic high points of the year?
The daily teaching and learning is something to behold. The combined Lower, Middle, and Upper School experiential week is a great example of the school improving on something that’s already great. We christened a new Upper School science lab that enhances our program and gives students and teachers room to explore. Each division has a lot to brag about, so I’ll just give you one example of classroom projects or programs that are new this year.
Kindergarten students spent three months exploring everything about water including the physics of how liquid flows, water cycles, and conservation. Their study was inspired by the sustainable water feature they helped design.
Second graders visited Champoeg State Heritage Area three times during the school year to observe the seasons and deepen each child’s understanding of the historical significance of this state landmark. This intensive study of pioneer life and Willamette Valley ecology readied students for their year-end three-day, two-night class trip in late May.
Sixth grade literature circles focused on gender themes. Students selected one book from a list of age-appropriate works and formed small reading and discussion groups based on their choice. After becoming fully immersed in the topic, students made videos, posted them online, and invited 6th graders from other schools to comment. The integration of literature, gender studies, and technology led to exciting conversations about boys and girls and gender identity.
For the first time, the Upper School required all seniors to do a senior project. Previously, many students did senior projects but they were optional. Members of the class of 2009 spent the month of May interning, volunteering, and conducting research at law firms. They wrote daily blogs reporting their progress that have been such fun to read. Check them out on insideCatlin. Parents and alumni have been very helpful in connecting our seniors with great projects, and we hope to expand on those connections as the program evolves.
What were some of the tougher moments for you this year?
I was really worried that the economic crisis would cause hardship for families. I continue to worry about that. I know the school will survive this downturn, but I am truly concerned that our tuition will price people out of the school. I’m so pleased we have been able to offer financial aid to so many students. Another low point was the swine flu scare. Our students’ health and safety are always at the forefront of our decisions, so the potential for a pandemic created a lot of anxiety. We’re out of the woods for now, but we will be on extra alert for months to come. Another anxiety producer for me, personally, was the week we closed school due to weather. I err on the side of caution — it’s never worth risking life and limb to attend school, but when the snow was melting in my Northeast Portland neighborhood it was hard to imagine that things were as bad as they were on campus. I wish I could have enjoyed that unexpected break more and not have worried about how much we were inconveniencing working parents and how we would make up for the missed instructional days.
Is school enrollment stable for next year?
Our enrollment for next year is in great shape. Re-enrollment is strong schoolwide. Some families who thought they may have to leave because of monetary constraints are able to stay because we offered financial aid. We were able to provide enough financial aid to keep our community together. New enrollment is excellent. Fabulous new families are joining us in all divisions. We had wonderful candidates to choose from and strong wait pools. Word of mouth is so important in attracting new students, so I’d like to thank our community members for their role in promoting the school.
You talked and wrote earlier in the year about streamlining programs and belt-tightening with an eye toward long-term financial sustainability. How is the school saving money?
Every division and department head cut their budgets. Teachers were very helpful in thinking of creative ways to cut back. Small savings across the board really add up. Some of the big cost-saving measures include reducing our energy consumption enough to offset utility rate increases, postponing technology upgrades, extending the lives of the buses because they are so well maintained, purchasing less expensive paper for our letterhead and envelopes, cutting printing and design costs for the Caller magazine, posting jobs online instead of paying for print ads, and buying fewer new athletic team uniforms than scheduled. We have reduced our overall employee numbers by 4%, which amounts to a $400,000 savings. We have restructured slightly to use the talent we have in different ways. We are well positioned to meet financial challenges.
How are things going with respect to environmental sustainability?
We are using less electricity, natural gas, and water, and sending less waste to the landfills. Our annual combined savings as of mid May were $13,780, and our avoided costs were $15,881. Also, our traffic count is down 6.5% compared with last year.
How has fundraising gone in this economy?
I am grateful for the generosity of Catlin Gabel community members in a financially precarious year. Some donors have given more generously this year because they know others in the community had to cut back on giving. The Annual Fund is close to reaching goal, with just 10 percent to go before the end of the fiscal year, June 30. Just a few more people need to step up and we’ll make it! Now more than ever it is essential that we hit our goal. The Rummage Sale made goal, and the special appeal for financial aid at the Gambol met goal. The Gambol proceeds were less than we had hoped for this year, but given the economy it makes sense that auction spending and corporate sponsorships would be down. We are making headway with the campaign for endowment and the arts facility. We have scaled back our timing expectations but we are still talking to prospective donors and keeping the needs of the school on people’s minds. Our priorities have not changed. We remain focused on the vision of providing long-term fiscal strength for the school, investing in our teachers and programs, and making sure Catlin Gabel is accessible to our students.
How’s your new hip?
I love it! I’m almost ready to hula-hoop. The worst part of the surgery was being stuck at home recovering. Getting back to work is a tonic.
What are you excited about coming up?
Our initiatives in global education, sustainability, and urban leadership are developing nicely, and we will continue to refine these programs this summer, next year, and beyond. I am certain that we will continue to build momentum for the endowment campaign and the Middle and Upper School arts building. The IT and communications offices are working together to launch a new website this summer, which is exciting and will improve how we communicate with each other. I look forward to every year. When the children grow a foot during the summer, discover new passions, read a pile of books, travel, explore, play, and come back ready for another year of learning – that excites me.
We humans communicate in many ways, verbal and nonverbal, through body language, voice, visual art, dance, and infinitely on. But no other means of communication matters as much in education as the art and practice of writing. The act of gathering and analyzing thoughts, and crystallizing them into language, defines who we are and what we have learned in all disciplines, be it the sciences, the arts, or the humanities.
At Catlin Gabel we have a long history of placing serious emphasis on writing, both expository and imaginative, from our youngest to our oldest learners. Part of our students’ process in becoming bold learners involves developing the confidence and fearlessness to express their opinions and learn their own minds. They learn constantly how to clarify their thoughts in response to new information and new lessons, and how to translate that into the written word. In our high school the students improve their skills through the system of peer editing, multiple revisions, and paper conferences with teachers. By the time our students are through high school, they have pretty well mastered the art of writing creatively and academically. Ask our alumni if they were prepared for college-level writing, and the answer is usually that they were over-prepared!
I’ve seen firsthand how students grow in their written expression. The Upper School students I’ve worked with in independent studies come to me with superb skills, and because they have learned to cooperate and collaborate in their learning, they are always eager to work with me to hone those writing skills. I’m always impressed by their humility and understanding that they can always do better.
Those writing skills serve our alumni well in their adult lives, too. In this issue of the Caller you’ll read about a prolific and noted journalist who’s becoming a novelist; about a lawyer and wordsmith who became a publisher; about a young poet who teaches writing to rural youth; and a professor trained in law school who writes about women and human rights. We have many more stories to tell, beyond these fine examples.
This issue also explores exactly how Catlin Gabel teaches writing, in the words of the teachers themselves. You can see the seeds of our success in their approaches to fostering those skills, as well as the remarkable outgrowth of that learning: examples of writing from our students of all ages. I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do, and celebrating the written word at Catlin Gabel.
Dear Catlin Gabel families,
As we head into this holiday season and the turn of the year, it is uncertain how the current recession will affect all of us. But as John Kenneth Galbraith said, "The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable." It is good to know that a report from Independent Schools Management shows that independent schools tend to weather economic downturns well, if they are careful stewards of their resources and stay focused on teaching and learning.
Be assured that Catlin Gabel is doing everything we can right now to budget prudently for the coming year. I have asked those responsible in every department and division to think about how their area could reduce expenses as we begin to tighten our belts. This exercise has helped us clarify our thinking about which expenses most uphold our core mission and what we can trim. We're approaching this downturn in a spirit of clarity, community, and cooperation. We are boosted by the knowledge that we are well placed to come through these times.
The end of the year is when Catlin Gabel determines the tuition rate for the following school year. In November and December I meet with the director of finance and operations and the finance committee of the board, along with other staff members, to project the tuition figure and the rate of increase. We aim for a tuition rate that will respect the needs of our families while providing an appropriate amount of operating funds. In January the board of trustees reviews the tuition figure and either accepts it or suggests an alternative.
While comparative schools have raised their tuition rates dramatically since 2002, Catlin Gabel has held down tuition increases to between four and five-and-one-quarter percent. This year we hope to keep the increase to a minimum. Our biggest expense is people–our dedicated teachers and staff members–and we must make sure that they are compensated fairly. Especially in a down economy, we want to place as light a burden as we can on families, while never compromising the high quality of our students' educational experience. Setting the tuition rate is difficult, and we want to get it right.
Our families and our students are most important to us. Our priority is making sure that every one of those students remains at Catlin Gabel, regardless of changes in the family's economic situation. Among other concerns, the projected tuition rate depends upon the number of students enrolled at the school, the money we receive through our ongoing annual fundraising and our endowment, and the amount of financial aid we provide to families. In our quest to set the right tuition rate for the 2009-10 school year, I ask all of you to let us know if you anticipate a need for financial aid next year. I encourage you to speak about financial aid with me or Traci Jernigan Rossi '83, admission and financial aid director, if your situation should change.
I thank all of you. I am grateful to everyone who has volunteered for the school or stepped up to help us meet our fundraising goals. Know that we will continue to provide the best possible education for your child, unhampered by any economic circumstances. Our eternal touchstone is the inspired teaching and learning that takes place every moment our students and teachers spend together.
Head of School
This issue of the Caller features great news: Catlin Gabel plans to build a new Arts Center. This will affirm the centrality of the arts in student development and mark a lasting moment in our history.
In undertaking work on the Arts Center, we are acting on our beliefs about the vital importance of the arts and the role of creativity in all our lives. At Catlin Gabel School the arts have been core to the development of students’ minds and hearts. While we weren’t privy to brain research in the 1920s, Ruth Catlin and Priscilla Gabel set our course for vibrant performing and visual arts, fostering creativity, risk-taking, and new ideas by stimulating students to use their whole selves in pursuit of the arts.
I started teaching in the late 1970s. We understood some things about children’s brains then, but with the growing sophistication of brain scans and imaging, much more has been revealed to us. Our teachers have become active in learning about and understanding current brain research, and they bring that knowledge to bear in their classrooms. Many organizations are now devoted to the understanding of how creativity works. The Dana Foundation, a consortium of seven universities, is dedicated to the study of the correlation between training in the arts and improved math and reading skills. New studies find that children who participate in the arts also do well academically and suggest that changes in attention networks in the brain may be one reason. The studies not only look at children’s behavior, but also at the way their brains function as they pursue the arts.
While the arts are a priority at Catlin Gabel, the arts are at risk in our nation. Any museum director, art school president, or working artist will tell you so.
The history of the arts in American education tells us that with Sputnik, “artsy” pursuits were abandoned in many schools in pursuit of math, science, and technology. We simply were not keeping up with the Soviets on the world stage.
Since the ’80s we have witnessed a decline in arts programs of all kinds in elementary schools, secondary schools, and colleges. Music, theater, and visual arts programs are still being cut. Colleges are putting their resources in business, science, technology, and sports. The thinking is that the arts are just not as important and do not draw the same crowds. What can you do with an art major, they say, much less an acting degree?
I see three solutions to this problem in American schooling:
* Reposition the arts as central to the cognitive growth of students.
* Ensure that the link between arts and cognition through neural mechanisms is studied and explicitly put into pedagogical practice in schools.
* Ensure that the creativity needed to pursue entrepreneurial ideas is explicitly extended to the rest of the curriculum.
How do we do this at Catlin Gabel?
Our teachers learn more every year about the link between arts and cognition, and how to apply that in and out of the classroom to expand students’ capacities for original thought. Every child every year has an opportunity to delve deeply into visual and performing arts, with projects and assignments often linked to other disciplines. This not only provokes creative thinking in the classroom and school activities, it creates a habit of thinking that lasts a lifetime.
As one example, our robotics team had to conquer the problem of propelling a ball of a certain weight forward a certain number of feet. By trial, error, and mathematical calculation they got closer to the solution, but it was a flash of creative insight that revealed that an underhand throw gave the height and distance needed. See the article on page 16 about the many ways technology has helped to facilitate insightful thinking, with examples of students learning language, understanding complicated mathematics, and more.
An onlooker need only observe our children at Catlin Gabel pursuing arts with focused determination to see that imagination at work. In creating an artifact or performance, unlike playing a video game or participating in an athletic event, the child makes up his or her own rules. The act of making, creating, and imagining comes from the child, not from a system already in place.
In his new book, The Five Minds for the Future, Howard Gardner introduces the Creating Mind. He says, “More than willing, the creator must be eager to take chances, to venture into the unknown, to fall flat on her face, and then, smiling, pick herself up and once more throw herself into the fray. Even when successful, the creator does not rest on her laurels. She is motivated again to venture into the unknown and to risk failure, buoyed by the hope that another breakthrough may be in the offing.” The relationship between creativity spawned by the arts and Catlin Gabel’s unflagging belief that children must make their own mistakes and learn by trial and error intersect beautifully to educate and graduate such risk-takers.
This magazine is filled with stories about our alumni who have forged culture-changing businesses and creations. I think that Catlin Gabel can claim credit, since its founding and that of its predecessor schools, for understanding and continuing to believe that students’ creativity and risk-taking can create better possible futures. You can witness this creativity every day on the Catlin Gabel campus in places such as the new science laboratory, the media arts classroom, the environmental studies class, the Urban Leadership Program, and the Not as Easy as It Looks preschool circus. See it flower after Catlin Gabel in the lives of our alumni who risk everything to pursue an original idea, backed by the self-confidence they gained during their years on our campus.
Independent research has confirmed what we already knew: our community cares deeply about the arts, financial aid, and strengthening Catlin Gabel’s financial future. In addition to building the Arts Center, we plan to broaden and deepen our community by increasing our endowment for student financial aid—a pillar of a strong school. We will also focus on raising funds for general endowment, to support our teachers and programs and to make the school accessible. In order to benefit today’s freshmen and sophomores, and minimize rising construction costs for the Arts Center, we aim to raise significant funding for the arts by spring of 2009. Simultaneously, the school will raise money for endowment— and we are equally committed to both priorities. You will read in future Caller issues about our commitment to financial aid and the role of endowment in our school’s immediate and extended future.
Dear Catlin Gabel families:
During this period of economic uncertainty, I assure you that Catlin Gabel is in an excellent position financially and otherwise to provide students with an extraordinary education. We are committed to preserving our current level of excellence. Our highest priorities are our students and families.
Our resilience has been tested in the past, and we have demonstrated that Catlin Gabel is a robust institution. We are grateful to generations of guardians—trustees, financial advisors, and school leaders—who have made our financial security a priority.
We are currently operating from a solid cash position and have no long-term debt. Although our endowment has sustained a loss, the funds are diversified and well managed by Angeles Investment Advisors. Our endowment committee members, selected by the board of trustees, have strong ties to Catlin Gabel and extensive financial experience. They take their stewardship responsibility seriously and have provided superb oversight of the school’s endowment.
Just like most families, we are looking for ways that we can cut back. We are redoubling efforts to spend our resources efficiently without compromising the quality of our program. Our annual budgeting process is transparent and is scrutinized by the finance committee of parents, trustees, and business office staff members. Given the imprecise nature of economic forecasting, we are working on several budget scenarios that position the school to meet any number of contingencies before committing to the 2009-10 budget.
Catlin Gabel has been ahead of the curve in planning for financial sustainability. Long before the economic downturn began, we knew that rising tuition poses a challenge for some Catlin Gabel families. For the past 18 months we have been working to address the financial squeeze by raising money for endowment and looking at ways to slow down tuition increases.
Recently, many parents received an annual fund appeal in the mail. While the timing may seem awkward, reaching our goal is as essential this year as in years past, perhaps even more so. Maintaining our robust program for students depends on the annual fund. We are optimistic that those who can give will give.
People have asked if it is appropriate to go forward with the capital campaign during the economic slump. I say yes. (As a reminder, the campaign is focused on raising funds for endowment and for an arts center.) Raising money for the endowment—especially to increase our financial aid resources—is more important than ever. Parents affirmed this priority in their responses to last year’s affordability survey. Economic volatility does not change our need for a new arts facility. The current Middle and Upper School arts classrooms and studios are inadequate compared with our other facilities. Today’s students and future students deserve an arts building that reflects the high value we place on creativity and discovery. That said, I assure you that we will not take on debt to meet our building needs. We will build the arts center when the time is right. Our donors will set the timeline.
Parents at independent schools consider education a long-term commitment to their children. If your family has experienced a sudden economic hardship we want to do everything we can to help. Please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. Also, Traci Jernigan Rossi ’83, director of admission and financial aid, is available to help you plan for the future. You can reach Traci at 503-297-1894 ext 346 or email@example.com.
We will ride out this storm together, carefully stewarding our resources, adjusting as necessary, and doing what we do best: inspiring our students through innovative teaching and learning. Your confidence and support is heartening.