July 3, 2018
Dear University families,
This has been a momentous year. Under the leadership and direction of Board Chair Jeff Lewis, with the seemingly endless energy of Stacey Summitt-Mann and Board Vice-Chair Michael Mervis, along with the input of faculty, students and staff during the last 18 months, we now have a new Campus Master Plan, a confident, compelling, aspirational vision of our school’s physical presence and of its place in our community. In the early years of the school, we lived almost as aliens on our land, less conscious of it and its possibilities than of other parts of the school’s development. Then slowly there were butterfly gardens, an outdoor classroom, chickens, not to mention my rooster namesake, and eventually the southeastern exterior of Fairbanks Hall began to take shape, adding those beautiful outsized chairs and the soon-to-be completed congregation of hammocks, in memory of Audrey.
The Campus Master Plan expands what was started in that corner, incorporating 80 acres into dedicated environmental areas, which will include wetlands (ones that will complement those already across the street in West Park), prairies, farmland, new outdoor classrooms, and gathering places and learning laboratories. The master plan also shows, in abstract form, all the buildings and fields needed so that University can eventually become a school of 400 if future school generations choose that path. For now, we would like to reach 340 students in the next three to five years, complete the environmental work and continue to pay down debt. The sale of 36 acres in the southeast corner of campus will advance both of those goals.
Two other experiences that qualify as part of a momentous year are our third ISACS Visiting Team Accreditation Report, made every seven years, and the professional development experiences and programming work done by faculty as a result of the E.E. Ford grant and match. I was anxious about the visiting team’s response to our self-study and about their visit, not because of concerns about continuing to be accredited or about the quality of our report, but because I wanted those 12 teachers and administrators from a variety of independent schools – some very different than ours – to see us as we see ourselves – to have their visit of our school have an emotional impact. They were unfair expectations of a group soon to be weary educators from all over the Midwest, but there it is. Their responses were expansive and heartwarming. I received notes from faculty members on the team after their visit – not normal protocol – about how much they had thought of our school and about how open and generous our community was. And the visiting team chair’s summary report included many sentiments that were close to effusive, given the context of a visiting team report. Perhaps my favorite line was “there is obvious commitment to building and sustaining a supportive, energetic, joyful community that is evident in classrooms, common spaces, and personal interactions.” Followed closely by, “there is nurturing of excellence through robust curricular, co-curricular, and extra-curricular programs that reflect the school’s core values and honor student choice, and a compelling, student-centered educational vision embraced by the community and demonstrated in its programs.” Another point made in the chair’s summary is that he was struck by the longevity of so many highly talented faculty, staff and Board members.
The E.E. Ford grant has already led to better classes, better communication about teaching and learning, and to meaningful national associations and recognition. As part of the school’s approach, we want to move from stand-and-deliver, top-down teaching to teaching that causes students to think more deeply about patterns and explanations for the content they are studying, and to develop those thinking skills that they can manage and transfer to other disciplines and to other areas of their lives. Chris Bradley, an exceptional instructor, cut the content of his U.S. History course in half this year, allowing for many more student-directed learning experiences and to more immersion in the ideas that mattered most. Many of us have been altering our approaches for some time now in order to have more student engagement and to have the work be of more consequence. Courses like Graphic Novels and Race in America were modeled after J-Term classes, our world language faculty has moved its curriculum from traditional textbook-driven error analysis to a performance-driven classroom in which everyone speaks in the target language almost all the time. And the math department has developed several new courses to maximize student learning. I have posted Alicia’s report to the E.E. Ford Foundation. In it is more detail about the work behind the scenes to improve classroom experience and student performance.
One of the ways we evaluate teaching and student experience now is by assessing student engagement. The Wellington Engagement Index asks students to place a dot for each class on a grid with four quadrants – engaged, entertained, bored, and grind – and then to add free-response comments as well. We have done this now for a year in conjunction with 16 other independent schools. 71% of our students consistently rated their classes as engaging, and that measurement improved over the course of the year, from 66% in October to 74.1% in May. Only 2.7% said they had a class that was boring, and 94% of University students have an average score – counting all their classes together – in the engaged quadrant. Also not surprising, J-Term classes received the highest rating of engagement at 84.8%. These are exceptional scores. And they relate directly to highly effective learning. This data has led to better understanding of classroom dynamics and to better instructional performance. Kudos to Alicia for finding, developing and shepherding this powerful evaluative tool for University students and teachers. We have also been invited to play a part in the development of better educational practices through collaborations with Tim Fish, Head of NAIS’s Innovative Teaching and Learning Division. And let us not forget that we go to school in the most beautiful independent school building in the state of Indiana.
As they say on Marketplace, the business program on NPR, let’s do the numbers, and there are some remarkable ones. While enrollment is always a bit fluid in the summer, it looks like we will begin school with 315-320 students. Our retention rate for the year is 97%. While we don’t have new diversity numbers yet, last year’s percentage of students of color at University was 33%. Over 90% of University families made a gift to University this year, and $660,000 SGO dollars were raised, supporting 16% of the student body – almost all of those families could not afford to attend without the support of the Sagamore Education Trust and of the generous donors who gave to it. The E.E. Ford match last year included sixty-four donors, 51% of whom were current parents, 26% were alumni parents, 16% were grandparents, and 7% were alums. There were 150 donors for the Audrey Fund for Good, with over $71,000 donated. Sixty-nine seniors, nee alums, were offered over $14 million in merit aid and accepted $3.4 million, an extraordinary number. University had 23 academic all-state athletes, won five sectional championships, and of course the baseball team made a great run to Victory Field, accounted for themselves admirably in the championship game and left nothing on that field. The next day I received a call from the principal of Daleville High School, congratulating us on the game and particularly on our team’s behavior, saying that it was a pleasure to play against a team that played with heart but one that also cared about the game and their competitors. Kudos to Chris Estep and company – it was a great run. I was privileged to see another first – the academic team’s magical run in the national semi-final championship tournament in Chicago, which they won. And they were third in the country after the national finals in Orlando.
I wanted to let you know of a few title changes for people taking on additional duties next year. Stacey will now be our new Director of Campus and Community. She will continue to lead environmental education and land development, but she will also be coordinating freshman retreat facilitators, helping Chris Morrison with service learning, and handling some routine discipline and attendance management. Kirstin will be our new Director of Teaching and Learning. She will help craft our professional development here on campus, will be available to work one-on-one with faculty on specific topics and practices, and will be conducting some in-class observations. We are consolidating many of Jake’s duties as Stewardship Council adviser under the title Dean of Student Affairs. Jake will continue his work with Steward Council, help plan core values programming, and assist with discipline as needed. Justin is taking over for Wes as Director of Diversity and Equity. He will continue the good work of that committee, support Shannon in her work with international students, and continue to help Lade with the Affinity group. Thank you to Wes for his years of service in this role. Justin will also serve as Athletics Administration Coordinator, helping to coordinate the development of coaches and athletic team experience. And Brett is rejoining us in a full-time capacity as a second Director of Learning Support Services. Brett will continue to work with Ellyn to support students in our program, and she will have primary oversight of the study hall programming in room 110.
And a last word about our most recent senior class. So what’s happened to our school on this class’s watch? First of all, they had a watch – they consciously and deliberately thought about the impact they wanted to have on their school. They further closed the space between younger and older students, between faculty, staff and students, between teaching and learning. They redefined what it means to be a student here, deepened it, made it more authentic. They brought us closer together. Our seniors left a legacy of care, commitment, and love for University High School. And, on a final note, we are all members, honorary or otherwise, of Audrey’s Army.
Have a great summer,