Year Three Review

2019-20 Catlin Gabel Strategic Planning

by Tim Bazemore, Head of School

PS-12 Math Alignment

Last fall, two significant academic initiatives were launched: a schoolwide review of the math curriculum and a new instructional coaching program. Led by Kenny Nguyen, Upper School math teacher, teachers in every grade collaborated on establishing a schoolwide math instruction philosophy. This will inform curriculum choices and teacher practices to ensure a more seamless and successful path for each student up through the grades. This work already has led to agreement on new materials in kindergarten-grade 5, with training happening this week.

Instructional Coaching Program

Three instructional coaches began their work this fall and have partnered with over 50 teachers on areas of individual growth and small teacher groups on topics such as student feedback, building resilience in students, and culturally responsive teaching. The coaching program, a proven model, is part of our redesign of professional learning systems. Research shows that embedded, relevant, personal, and ongoing coaching results in better student outcomes than teachers attending large conferences or one-off training events.

Competency-based Learning

We also made progress this year working with the concept of competency, or mastery-based learning in the upper grades. Each teacher defined learning objectives and success criteria in one “throughline,” and then assessed and gave feedback to students based on their progress. Throughlines are based on strategic plan-related competencies, such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and cultural responsiveness. The long-term goal is to define competencies all graduates should master, and for which they could earn transcript credit. While we are still years away from changing grading practices and giving students credit for mastery of academic and non-academic skills and knowledge, we are encouraged by the potential of this approach to foster deeper and more personal learning.

Remote Teaching and Learning

The most obvious example of our educational laboratory culture was the design work and technology learning each teacher undertook to support remote learning. While some teachers had online teaching experience, most teachers were in a rapid learning and iteration mode from March through June. This led to adaptations in how we teach and assess, use technology tools, and support social and emotional learning. Along the way, teachers gained new expertise, and we realized the challenge of sustaining community and relationships in an all-virtual environment. This learning will inform our plans for the 2020-21 school year and beyond, as we incorporate online methods that have merit and happily return to the value of in-person learning.

School Culture

The 2019-20 year will prove to be significant in other ways for our students as well. I talk frequently about the importance of students feeling known and valued. This year we had both the need and the opportunity to work on improving the culture of the school to ensure student safety and well-being. Difficult issues in our younger grades in 2019 led to a schoolwide effort to define more clearly the school’s behavior guidelines and expectations, and how we respond when children fail to meet them. A climate culture guide was produced in the Beginning and Lower School and drafted in the Middle and Upper School to that end. The release of findings from a yearlong investigation into reports of former employee sexual misconduct accelerated ongoing efforts to develop employee training, student education, reporting mechanisms, and professional accountability systems.

Anti-racism Action Steps

In recent weeks, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis led to global protests against systemic racism in society and institutions. Members of the Catlin Gabel community raised their voices and shared experiences of inequity or mistreatment that require changes here in our community. As we develop action steps in the weeks and months ahead, we are inviting input from Black community members and people of color to ensure what we do leads to tangible, demonstrable, and permanent change. These steps will include efforts related to antiracist curriculum, as well as training, hiring, and accountability. In all these areas of school culture—student behavior expectations, safe boundaries between adults and children, and combatting racism here and everywhere—we need to make changes to more fully live by the values we espouse. This is essential for everyone in our community.

Institutional Excellence

We pursued institutional excellence this year in other ways as well. While the economic impact of COVID-19 will extend the timeline of major campus projects, we continued to plan and prepare for transformational improvements. We completed a schematic design plan that supports our vision to relocate the Middle School to the former OCAC campus and integrated that with our 2018 campus master plan. We developed a concept design for a new athletics and wellness center and endowment goals for teacher support, financial aid, and inclusion work for our nascent capital campaign. The board finance committee designed a ten-year financial model to help us to make sound decisions amidst unpredictable economic times. And thanks to leadership from the students, parents, and employees on our Sustainability and Environmental Action Team, we achieved our goal of reducing our campus carbon footprint by 5% and converted to 100% renewable energy sources.

Also on the institutional report card, I am pleased and grateful to report that we achieved our CG Fund goal of $2 million thanks to the generous support of many families, relatives, employees, alumni, and school friends and a surprisingly successful virtual auction. We have raised $5.7 of the $6.5 million needed to fund the East Campus purchase. And hundreds of donors stepped up in May, providing critical funding for emergency and ongoing financial aid to support families whose continuation at the school is jeopardized by the pandemic economy. Finally, family support through tuition allowed us to continue to improve teacher compensation so we can attract and retain the very best talent for our students.